Parenthood has taught me many things, but sometimes lessons can be quite embarrassing. My oldest daughter had just started kindergarten when they were given an assignment that I’m sure many of us did during our first school years. The teacher asked them to draw a picture on a paper plate that would then be collected and sent to be printed onto a plastic one that would be kept.
I was unaware of this project until one morning I happened to take her to school. It seems things have a way of working out; the aligning of planets, so to speak.
We arrived at school several minutes early, something that had happened very few times up to that point and very few times since. “Will you walk me in to school, Daddy?” my daughter asked, brown eyes glistening with love. Usually I only had time to drop her off with the monitor at the door and hurry on down the road to work, but I decided to indulge her since we were early.
I strolled down the hall while kids zipped to and fro, getting to their pods before the bell rang. I opened the door to the Kindergarten pod and allowed Lexi slip inside and join the sea of knee-highs seated in the floor watching a cartoon and waiting for the bell.
I helped Lexi take her backpack off, and she gave me a hug and seated herself at my feet.
“I’m leaving Lex, I love you!”
“I love you too, Daddy,” she replied.
As I turned to walk out the door, Lexi’s teacher, Mrs. Green, came bustling toward me with an irresolute look.
“Um, did Lexi give you her note that I sent home?” Mrs. Green asked, eying me suspiciously. I looked down at Lexi, who by that time was completely absorbed by the cartoon.
“Did Mrs Green give you a note yesterday, Lex?”
“Oh yeah, I forgot,” she said, not taking her eyes off the screen.
“Well, where is it?” I asked.
“In the front of my book bag.”
I picked up the bag and unzipped the front pocket, which had probably only ever been opened by Mrs. Green. I reached in and pulled out a folded paper plate. Unfurling it, I looked at the masterpiece my daughter had created on its front.
A horizon line split the middle of the plate, signifying land and air. Several men stood upon the ground, holding strange, blocky objects. I quickly identified these as pistols, noticing that several other men with what appeared to be bleeding bullet holes littered the ground. The gunmen sported sinister looking scowls and V-shaped eyebrows while the victims had only small x’s for eyes, obviously indicating their demise.
Overhead, several planes soared, dropping bombs onto the seemingly unsuspecting people below. A large, red bat (whose presence has never truly been understood) hovered in the middle of the bewildering scene, its face clad with the only discernable smile on the plate. Alongside the bat-creature shone a single word that was punctuated with an exclamation point!, as if uttering the word with deafening volume would offer an explanation as to what the heck I was looking at.
I looked at Mrs. Green, still eying me suspiciously. “We were doing our plates yesterday,” she said, “and I started going around the room looking at what the children were drawing. There were several with teddy bears and butterflies and flowers and such. Then I got to Lexi.”
I glanced down at my cherub sitting innocently as the cartoon danced across the television.
“I asked her what she was drawing,” Mrs. Green continued, “and she told me, ‘It says it right there,’ and pointed to the ‘NOSES!’ I asked her what ‘noses’ meant and she said, ‘Not noses. Nazis!'”
It took a minute for Mrs. Green’s last comment to sink in. My five-year-old daughter had depicted a Nazi / Bat skirmish as the one memory she wanted to immortalize. Where had that come from? What did this mean? How did Lexi know about Nazis? Why was a bat involved?
Then it dawned on me where the idea for the plate had come from. Several nights prior, Lexi had walked in on my nephew Christopher as he played an Xbox game called Call of Duty. The player battles through World War II as a soldier of the Allied forces. The objective, as Lt. Aldo Raine so succinctly stated, is killin’ Nazis. Lexi witnessed the carnage, which naturally piqued her curiosity.
“What are you playing?” she asked.
“Call of Duty,” Christopher said.
“It’s a World War II game.”
“What’s World War II?”
“It’s when we fought the Nazis.”
And so it went.
Standing in the mass of kindergarteners, my consciousness seemed to float above the scene as it unfolded; me, shaved head and goatee, standing with my five-year-old daughter sitting on my toes, trying to explain to her teacher that Lexi was drawing pictures of Nazis for her memory plate because she saw her cousin playing a video game. Things did not look good. Mrs. Green probably would not have been surprised if I had given a shouted “Heil Hitler” and goose-stepped out of the pod.
Finally, Mrs. Green appeared to accept my explanation (I think) and somewhat nervously laughed it off. I apologized and told her that I would have a talk with Lexi when she got home that afternoon, which I’m sure Mrs. Green wondered what exactly the talk would include.
I turned to leave, the plate still clutched in my hand. I noticed a small yellow paper clipped to the back of it. I detached it and read the note Mrs. Green had scrawled, probably while suffering from post-traumatic stress:
“We were making memory plates today. Just thought you all might like to take a look at Lexi’s Nazi plate. I took it away and gave her another one. The second one was much less violent.”
The second one was much less violent, I thought. I’m so proud.