Sunday, February 18, 2007

Fortunately ... but Unfortunately

All three of our sons had Mrs F as their first-grade teacher, a very proper lady whose straight spine and large hair were equally stiff. Each year, sometime during the spring semester, Mrs F religiously gives an assignment called “Fortunately ... but Unfortunately ...”. In this exercise Mrs F presents each child with a folded piece of 8.5x11-inch card stock with the word “Fortunately ...” written just beneath and on the outside of the fold. Opening the fold reveals the words, “but unfortunately ...”. The assignment for the child is to write two short sentences: one on the outside under the word “Fortunately ...”, and the other on the inside under the category “but unfortunately ...”. Each child is free to write and/or illustrate whatever strikes him as things fortunate and unfortunate. The assignment is intended to encourage creativity and critical thinking in the child, plus it lets each child practice and demonstrate the penmanship and spelling skills he has acquired under Mrs F’s tutelage. Fortunately, this assignment is perfect for its intended purpose, but unfortunately it fails to take into account the kind of humor that six-year-old boys are prone to.

And lo into Mrs F’s elementary class matriculates my middle son James, a young man with neither guile nor shyness, a boy who feels it his calling both to bemuse and to be amused. James thinks hard (though not wisely) about Mrs F’s instructions as he stares at his folded canvas. Inspiration suddenly strikes, and with fevered strokes he sets about crafting the most memorable submission Mrs F will ever receive in all her forty years of teaching first grade. Within the hour the assignment is completed and handed in. James is pleased; Mrs F is not.

So onto the stage enters the matriarch of our household. My wife Joyce is a volunteer worker at the elementary school and is presently in the copying machine room assembling scrap paper that will wend its way through classrooms and into homes, where it will ultimately end up as crayola’d refrigerator art or mounds of paper with too much sentimental value to be used as kindling, but not enough to earn its place in the baby book. Just days ago Joyce has handled a special order of “fortunate, yet unfortunate” card stock for Mrs F. The wheel of life comes round, and over the public address system she hears, “Mrs W, please report to Mrs F’s classroom.”

Turning the corner into the first/second-grade hall Joyce spies the very rigid Mrs F looking down (both literally and figuratively) upon a very disheartened little boy named James. When my beloved arrives at Mrs F's door, the stern little frau hands Joyce the unfortunate object of this hallway reprimand, along with the admonition, “We simply can not tolerate this kind of bathroom humor in class.” Looking at the folded card stock Joyce reads:
Fortunately ...
I have a bodm

Opening the fold she reads:
but unfortunately ...
I frtid

Stifling a laugh, Joyce promises Mrs F that she completely understands her distress, and that James's father will speak to the boy that evening. Poor James is now convinced that his life is near its end.

That evening at supper Joyce (who has somehow managed to keep her composure all this time) hands me James's handiwork with an indignant, "Just look what your son did at school today." Expecting to have to issue a stern lecture, I glance down at the offending item. James looks at me with a mix of terror and mortification. Then I snort as I read his set-up line. I explode with laughter at his killer punch line. "Well done, James."

This being Wednesday night, we head off to church for our weekly Bible study where I share James's accomplishment with everyone we see. The verdict is unanimous, the boy has a bright future as a comedy writer. Though James seems pleased that he has somehow redeemed himself, he's just as perplexed about what he's done right as he had been about what he'd done wrong earlier that day.


shoe said...

i love it!! prolly because i've fielded a LOT of calls on bathroom humor.

what a sharp cookie, he really got the assignment.

Theresa said...

Hey, at that age, that bathroom humor is normal. I loved his answers. And I think you handled it quite well!

LadyBugCrossing said...

LOL!! That's so funny! I'd have given him an A+.

Hula Doula said...

I can so relate!! BAHAHAHA I'm getting the stern lectures from HB's teachers!! LOLOLOLOLOL That's hysterical

Natali said...

I laughed out loud, sooo hard just now! There was actually a whole kids book I had growing up Called Fortunately.... Same theme. I LOVED that book!!!! Great post, wiping up my tears now, hehe.