The TARDIS Doghouse

As the school year is completing, I visited each of my four younger grandchildren at their respective schools and brought lunch. Today it was Jonathan’s turn. His last day of school is Thursday. 

As soon as we were seated in the cafeteria, this bright and creative boy informed me that he had gotten a low grade on a project he had just finished. He seemed genuinely surprised by his teacher’s assessment. As he shared his story, I was deeply touched, more than a little dismayed…and so glad that I chose this day to have lunch with Jonathan. 

The TARDIS Doghouse
The assignment was to build a doghouse out of foam board and paint it. In my family we have many Whovians…fans of the long running British TV show, Doctor Who. Jonathan came up with the clever idea of creating a TARDIS doghouse, making his project taller, and thinner, and painting it the bright blue that is characteristic of the Doctor’s traveling time and space machine. 

Jonathan’s doghouse hints that it just might be bigger on the inside…a classic Doctor Who reference…and he even added the light atop the roof. 

The TARDIS Doghouse
Listening to Jonathan as he described his project, I was impressed. However, his teacher was not. He is not familiar with Doctor Who, or the TARDIS. Giving Jonathan low marks, he said this 5th grade boy didn’t do the project in the right way, that he didn’t measure and cut correctly. In short, he told Jonathan he messed up, made a mistake, failed. 

I understand that Jonathan might not have followed directions exactly. And his project didn’t look like everyone else’s. However, he chose to think outside the box and create something unique…and meaningful to him. He expressed creativity when perhaps following directions was the real assignment. 

I am so proud of my grandson! 

The TARDIS Doghouse
We spent the rest of lunchtime discussing creativity and expressing ideas and chatting about Doctor Who. I shared with Jonathan that sometimes people don’t understand those who think creatively but that doesn’t mean we have to conform. I’m not trying to turn my grandson into a rebel. However I wanted him to know it is okay to be different, create something different, and have a vision. I love his ideas. 

Fortunately, another teacher, a Whovian, recognized his project for what it was and expressed delight with it. Jonathan’s teacher raised the creativity score, but did not change the overall grade. My heart felt this boy’s pain at not being recognized for his work. When he invited me to pop up to his classroom after lunch to see the TARDIS doghouse, I was thrilled. 

The TARDIS Doghouse

In the empty classroom, a row of doghouses lined a shelf. They all looked exactly the same…square boxes with peaked roofs…except for one bright blue taller thinner doghouse that really stood out. What an extraordinary project, from an original thinker. 

After much praise and many hugs, I left Jonathan with his teacher. Had the teacher not been in the presence of children when Jonathan joined his classmates, I would have had a few words with him. Nothing raises my ire like unfairness toward children. My words would have been civil, however, I would have loved to have asked him some questions. 


Why is it more important to teach kids to always follow the rules rather than express creativity? Why not encourage, rather than condemn? And why not acknowledge that there are many ways to create a doghouse, other than making them all identical? Jonathan did measure. And his measurements were exactly right for the creation he had in mind. 

I hope Jonathan will keep being his shining, creative, unique self. He will always be graded on his performances, by someone. I want him to know there is so much more to life and living joyfully and freely, beyond receiving marks, or grades, or scores on a piece of paper. 

I think his TARDIS doghouse is beautiful and amazing, just like him. And I know a certain faithful Doctor Who companion who would absolutely love it…just as I do. 

The TARDIS Doghouse

Surrender 134: Nachos for Joey, Cheeseburger for Oliver

Today I finished up lunch time with the grandkids at their schools, with a double treat. Grandsons Joey and Oliver attend the same school. This year, their lunch times are back to back. I showed up with the boys’ orders: Nachos Bellegrande from Taco Bell for Joey and a cheeseburger meal from McDonalds for Oliver. Dr. Peppers and chocolate chip cookies completed their meals. 

Oliver, who is finishing up second grade, had lunch first. His class was entering the cafeteria as I was and he called out to me. As soon as his teacher gave him permission, he joined me and selected a place to sit. 

We had fun catching up. I asked him all about his recent activities and he asked me about mine. As school is ending, I asked him what he had most enjoyed about the past school year. He was quick to tell me about the fun classes he goes to that change with the days of the week: PE, art, music and computer lab. He’s especially enjoying computer classes, now that they are allowed to play games. As he ate, Oliver, who likes to try unusual food combinations, created the chocolate chip cheeseburger! He assured me it was delicious. I’d like to let him sample a donut hamburger, made with a beef patty between two glazed donuts. 

Our conversation turned to sports. Oliver will be playing football for the first time this summer, as a Tiger. We discussed sportsmanship, after Ollie told me about a classmate who displays anger when he loses, arguing about the rules or the call, and ultimately stomping away to seethe. Oliver’s eyes softened as he told me it’s not about winning or losing. The fun is in getting to play. Just play. I’m so proud of his attitude. I’m looking forward to watching this bright and wise boy play.

Oliver was the last child to leave the lunchroom, before the next group arrived. His amazing principle chatted with us, took a picture of us for me, and let Oliver stay a little longer. Inquisitive and charming, Oliver lingered to talk and hug on each other until the fourth graders filed in. After a final embrace and a non-embarrassing kiss on the side of his head, he tossed his trash and trotted away, just as Joey arrived at the table. 

Joey, completing fourth grade, is looking more and more like a young man. As he started on his plate of nachos he began our conversation with questions about how I was, how was my day going, what all had I been doing. He got the jump on me, this sweet, creative and thoughtful boy! 

We discussed a broad range of topics, from school to summer vacation to movies to sports. I love these one on one times of talking with each of my five grandkids, watching their earnest, expressive faces, listening to their thoughts expressed. I value what they have to say. I marvel at their keen intellects and perspectives. I asked Joey what his favorite thing about the past school year was, and he shared about the fun day his class had yesterday at the 40 Mile Party. 

Intrigued, I wanted to hear more. Apparently each child in the class set a goal of running 40 miles this semester. Every day they ran a mile or two at recess or during PE. For completing their goals, the whole class had a day long field trip yesterday, that included time at the park, a pizza lunch and time at the Y. I was impressed! What a great way to encourage kids to set healthy goals and accomplish them in small, manageable steps. And how fun, the celebration.

In fact, today seemed to carry over that party atmosphere. Everyone was in high spirits and casual dress, students and teachers and the principal all, as the last days of the school year are winding down. I’ve never seen a school principal who engages so well with his students. He interacts with them, in fun and educational ways, as they eat lunch. He let the kids play a game called Pick a Door, in which 6-8 kids at a time leave the cafeteria and one by one, they re-enter from the hallway through one of four doors. The kids in the cafeteria hold up fingers to indicate which door they believe the child will enter through. They love it, laughing as they count up how many guesses were correct. I only guessed when Joey entered in, and I guessed correctly. He came back into the lunchroom through door number four. 

As lunch with Joey concluded, I hugged him and kissed the back of his head. He cleared away his trash as I gathered my things to leave. Suddenly he was behind me, slipping his arms around me for a last tight hug. I love how affectionate each of my grandchildren are. They freely give and receive love. Delighted, I turned to embrace Joey again. His face lit up with a beautiful smile. 

As I drove away after those fun lunches, with a smile on my face and tears in my eyes, I thought about all five of my grandchildren. These kids. These fun, smart, talented, loving kids. I believe I am at my most authentic self when I am with any of my grandkids. They allow me to be me, fully. They allow me to be my quirky, creative, loving self. I hope they know that with me, they can do the same, be exactly, and fully, who they are at this moment…and in every moment throughout their lives. I love each one dearly. I am loved in return. 

I am a blessed, and grateful, Yaya. 

Journey 27: School Lunch Adventures

“You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a lunch and eat with a child.” Dr. Seuss

That’s not exactly how the famous Dr. Seuss quote goes, which in reality encourages adults to pick up a book and read to a child. However, the concept is the same. I discovered that truth today as I picked up meals for my grandsons, Oliver and Joey, and joined them for lunch at their school. Armed with chicken nugget dinners from Chick-Fil-A and a couple of drinks, I visited them for the first time in their school cafeteria, for lunch, fun and great conversations.

Oliver, who is in first grade, appeared first for lunch. This bright eyed boy had forgotten, he said, that I was coming, so there was a bit of the element of surprise as I watched him walk into the cafeteria. His grin was infectious when he spotted me. He selected a place for us to sit and I sipped on my tea while he tucked into his lunch. The throng of children in the busy cafeteria was overseen by teachers on lunch duty and a man I later discovered was the school principal. The atmosphere was a balanced mix of cheerfulness and efficiency. The children have about 30 minutes to eat and they are, thankfully, allowed to talk amongst themselves.

Oliver and I visited while he ate and he shared about his day and then his weekend. He is a good conversationalist and knows the “trick” that I taught my children when they were small to ensure a continued flow of words…he asks questions. While we chatted he asked me about my weekend and what I had done. As our lunch time wound down, I promised to watch him perform stunts on his bicycle when I brought Aubrey home later in the afternoon, after picking her up from school. It is very important to Oliver to be seen and appreciated for what he can do. I love being a witness to his life and offering praise and encouragement for his feats and accomplishments. With a warm hug and another flash of his charming smile, he sauntered out of the cafeteria and back to class.

School lunch with Oliver

I had 15 minutes to wait until Joey’s class had lunch. I swung around on the picnic style bench I was seated on and observed the kids and the adults who walked among the tables, talking to the kids, giving instruction and mopping up the occasional spill. I was impressed with the interaction between the teachers on lunch duty and the kids. And the man whom Joey identified as the school principal was amazing, actually. Wearing a mic so that he could be heard over the chatter of kids and the lines of feet moving in and out of the large room, he was part informant, part traffic director and part entertainer. He kept up an easy banter and watched over the room with practiced expertise. I enjoyed watching him. Joey informed me this is a daily ritual in his school and I found that refreshing. Rather than being seen as just the authoritarian in the school, this upbeat man was more an ally for the kids and the teachers and certainly respected by the children as well. They also laughed at his jokes.

Joey was looking for me as he entered the room and we immediately moved to a new spot among the tables. This sweet boy is a third grader this year. He shared stories with me as he ate his chicken nuggets and like his brother, asked me questions as well. Joey is a budding artist and we spoke of art class and he also explained his rotating schedule to me. He enjoys PE class and music along with art. Today he had computer lab immediately after lunch. This generation begins working on computers while they are learning more traditional subjects like reading and writing. It is no surprise that my grandchildren are the ones who show me new technology and computer and phone shortcuts. They are growing up with it.

After Joey finished lunch and cleaned up our table area for both of us, he offered to give me a quick tour of his classrooms. I was delighted! I saw the computer lab and the music room, the art room and his homeroom. In each classroom, I met his teachers who were polite and welcomed me in, and I had the privilege of chatting with them for a moment. After we left his homeroom, Joey, ever helpful and thoughtful, walked me to the end of the hallway and pointed me in the right direction for the exit doors. I got a hug and a cheerful grin and unknown to him, I stood and watched him walk back the way we had come, a smile on my face.

school lunch with Joey

Lunch with the boys was so fun that I intend to make this a monthly habit, along with lunch with Aubrey at her school, and lunch with Jonathan in his, if it is allowed. Dayan, alas, has grown beyond wanting to have lunch with his grandmother at his school, although we certainly enjoyed that ritual when he was in elementary school. It is such a small adjustment to make to my schedule to get to spend fun yet meaninful time with these kids. The thing that struck me today, sharing lunch time with Oliver and Joey, was that many kids would enjoy having an adult, whether a family member or a trusted friend, spend a little time with them, showing an interest in their lives, laughing and chatting with them. The children seated around the boys and me were very willing to join in our conversations. While I occasionally chatted with them as well, I also was careful to protect the time with each grandson. During that 15 minute gap between boys, I talked to kids and answered questions and defended Joey’s lunch from a young man who did his best to trade a school lunch for it! I believe there might be an organization that pairs caring adults with school kids at lunch time. I’m checking into that! In the meantime, I look forward to many more lunches with the grandkids, and more than that, the chats and laughter that accompany them.