If I had ever nursed the hope that my son might turn out to display leadership qualities, this is not what I had in mind. Yet when I made a remark to this effect, Miss Fabricant was in no mood for drollery. I felt that in general her early twenties exhilaration at molding all those receptive little moppets into multiculturally aware, environmentally responsible vegetarians driven to rectify inequities in the Third World was beginning to fray around the edges. This was her first year of flaking poster paint from her eyebrows, going to sleep at night with the salty taste of paste in her gums, and exiling so many children at a shot for a "time-out" that there was no longer any activity to take a time out from. After all, she had announced at our introduction in September that she "simply loves children," a declaration of which I am eternally dubious. From young women like Miss Fabricant, with a blunt snub of a nose like a Charlotte potato and hips like Idahos, the infeasible assertion seems to decode, "I want to get married." Myself, after having not a child but this particular one, I couldn't see how anyone could claim to love children in the generic any more that anyone could credibly claim to love people in a sufficiently sweeping sense as to embrace Pol Pot, Don Rickles, and an upstairs neighbor who does 2,000 jumping jacks at three in the morning. After relating her terrible tale in a breathless stage whisper, she clearly expected me to leap to cover the cost of the tea set. Financially of course I could afford to, whatever it was worth, but I could not afford the attendant assumption of total blame. Face it, Franklin, you'd have had a fit. You were touchy about your son's being singled out, or as you would say, persecuted. Technically he had only broken the one setting, and covering one-twelfth of the loss was the most compensation you would countenance. I also offered to speak to Kevin about "respecting the property of others," though Miss Fabricant was underwhelmed by this assurance.
Maybe she intuited that these set lectures of mine had begun to lilt with the swinging, mocking cadence of the one-potato, two-potato rhymes to which girls skip rope.
"That wasn't very nice, Kevin," I said in the car. "Breaking Muffet's teacup." I've no idea why we parents persist in believing that our kids yearn to be thought of as nice, since when we ourselves commend acquaintances as very nice we usually mean they're dull.
"She has a stupid name."
"That doesn't mean she deserves — "
"It slipped," he said lamely.
"That's not what Miss Fabricant said."
"How would she know." He yawned.
"How would you feel, kiddo, if you had something that you cared about more than anything, and you brought it to show to the class, and then someone smashed it?"
"Like what?" he asked, innocence tinged with self-congratulation.
I reached casually in my head for an example of a possession that Kevin especially cherished, and it wasn't there. Searching harder, I felt the same rising dismay of patting down all my pockets after discovering that the one in which I always kept my wallet was empty. It was unnatural. In my own rather underfurnished childhood, I was a fetishistic custodian of the lowliest keepsake, from a three-legged windup donkey named Cloppity to a rinsed-out four-pack of food-coloring bottles.