The Seeds of a Tall Tale Take Root in a Schoolroom

I've entered the world of little people. Everything around me is designed to accommodate small hands and bodies. And every time one of these little people gathered around me speaks, I have to bend down in order to hear her clearly.

It would be easier if I could sit down in one of their little chairs, but my wife washed my jeans, despite my warning. I told her they would shrink unless they were dry cleaned.

"They didn't shrink, because I didn't put them in the dryer. You must be gaining weight," my wife said, as I struggled to put on my pants this morning.

So I stand stiffly, a giant in a sea of bobbing heads, tugging hands, and soprano voices crying, "Mr. Strachan, Mr. Strachan, can you help me?" "Is this a six or a nine?" "Jordon took my number tiles and she won't give them back." "Are we on a rainy-day schedule?" "When will our teacher be back?"

Good question, I'd like to know that myself.

For weeks my daughter had asked me if I would be a teacher's helper, and for weeks I had said, "We'll see, we'll see." Finally, one night while I was putting my daughter to bed, she asked again after saying her prayers, "Daddy, will you please come to my class and help the teacher? Oh please? I really would be very happy if you came to my class. Other parents come all the time. Enrique's father has been to class twice already. Oh please?"

Well, here I am. And let me say I am glad to be here. Nothing could be more important than being here with my daughter in her classroom, watching her work and interact with the other kids. Thirty-two other kids, to be exact.

But I am not here just to watch; the teacher has put me to work at the math center. My job will be to help five or six students at a time complete their math assignments.

The math center consists of the small table, seven chairs, and a wide file box, which looks suspiciously like a plastic container you might use for leftover pot roast. The teacher has cleverly disguised the container with colorful papier-mch numbers and math symbols.

I thought the kids would be a little apprehensive about taking instruction from a total stranger, especially a man with a beard. Not at all. They were quite friendly and very inquisitive. They wanted to know why I made a face every time I sat down. Before I could answer, my daughter chimed in from the next table (evidently keeping a protective eye out for her dad), "My mom said he's getting too big for his pants."

One look from me is all it took for my daughter to turn around and finish whatever it was she should be doing. I then offered my own explanation, which included my wife's "incredible shrinking machine."

After hearing my story, they were eager to share amusing incidents regarding their parents. I don't know if the stories were truth or fantasy, but I was fascinated. If their parents only knew.

Lest you think that it was all fun and games at the math center, I'll have you know my kids accomplished more work that day than any previous day at the center. After perusing their worksheet scores from previous teacher-helpers (especially Enrique's father), I decided their productivity could be improved. So together we set goals we felt were attainable and then worked to achieve them. After we met our goals, everybody got a high five, and then I showed them how to do an end-zone dance.

Not that I wasn't having a great time, but after four hours of nonstop kids, I was ready to say my farewells. My daughter wanted me to stay. In fact, she got teary-eyed when saying goodbye.

The night before I was to help my daughter's teacher, my wife had sat me down and made me promise that I would behave myself. I don't know what she thought I was going to do - she couldn't quite put her finger on it - but she was worried I might embarrass my daughter in front of her friends or the teacher. "And please, keep your imagination in check; no tall tales. Save them for home."

The following night, my wife couldn't wait for our daughter to go to bed, so she could debrief me on the day's events.

It seems that after school my wife and daughter had a nice chat with some of the other parents of my daughter's classmates. Their kids wanted to know where they could get an "incredible shrinking machine" like Mrs. Strachan's.

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