Dan Conradt: A nugget’s worth of kindergarten time — not bad

May 5, 2019

“Shucks,” said the bunny, “I might just as well stay where I am and be your little bunny.” And so he did.

“Have a carrot,” said the mother bunny.

I turned the book so the kids could see the picture; mother and her runaway bunny were safe in their rabbit hole at the base of a gnarled tree.

“The end,” I ad libbed, and closed the book.

“Boys and girls, what do you say to Mr. Conradt?” the teacher prompted.

“Thank you, Mr. Conradt!” 18 tiny voices chorused.

My knees protested as I pushed myself out of a kid-sized chair that was far easier to get into.

“Boys and girls, please line up at the door,” the teacher said. “And who is our line leader today?”

A little boy with unruly red hair and a spray of freckles moved to the front of the line with obvious pride.

“Mr. Conradt, would you like to join us for lunch?” the teacher asked. Eighteen little faces looked hopeful. “Chicken nuggets,” she said, raising her eyebrows.

“I’d love to,” I said.

I moved to the end of the line, and as we left the room a little girl with a pink scrunchie holding her long blonde hair in a ponytail held out her hand. I took it.

The hallway smelled of floor wax, rubber boots and crayons, and I followed a line of kindergartners into the lunch room.

“You picked a good day to come for lunch!” the cafeteria lady said. “It’s Chicken Nugget Day!”

She used a gloved hand to grab a pile of nuggets off a metal baking tray and drop them on my lunch tray.

I followed my classmates to a table in a corner of the cafeteria and sat next to Ponytail Girl.

“My dad drives a firetruck!” a little boy wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle T-shirt announced. I decided not to get into a conversation about careers; his dad already had me beat.

I dipped a nugget in a puddle of ranch dressing. I ate half of it and understood why Chicken Nugget Day was a big deal.

“I like that book about the bunny,” a little boy sitting across the table mumbled. He was missing his two front teeth and had a nugget tucked into the corner of his mouth, gnawing at it with his back teeth. The things you take for granted when you’re a grown up.

“One time my gramma’s cat got locked in the basement,” a boy sitting on the far end of the table said. I waited for the rest of the story, but when he started chomping on a carrot stick I realized I’d never know what happened to the cat. I drank some milk right out of the carton. “What do you like best about kindergarten?” I asked the kids around me.

“My teacher!” Ponytail Girl said.

“Riding the bus!” the red-haired line leader said.

“When it snows and school is canceled!” the fireman’s son said.

I ate a spoonful of diced pears in syrup and my curiosity got the best of me. I leaned over my tray and looked down toward the end of the table: “What happened to your gramma’s cat?” The boy held up his hand to let me know he was chewing, and after an exaggerated swallow he said, “He came out when my gramma went into the basement to get some pickles.”

I was expecting more.

“What did YOU like most about kindergarten?” the blonde girl asked me.

“Well, I grew up in a really small town,” I explained. “And when I was your age we didn’t even have kindergarten. The first time I ever went to school was the first day of first grade. I didn’t even know my ABCs.”

“I knew my ABCs when I was 3!” the nugget gnawer said. To prove his point he started singing the alphabet song. By “G” his classmates were joining in. By “N” they were all singing. I joined them at “S”.

The teacher appeared at the end of the table.

“Boys and girls, if you’ve finished eating please return your trays and line up at the door. If you can get ready quickly we’ll have …” she looked at her watch, “… 15 minutes on the playground.”

I ate my last chicken nugget and got up with the rest of the kids.

“Thanks for coming, Dan,” the teacher said.

“Thanks for inviting me … and for lunch.”

“We’d love to have you come read to us again some time,” she said. And with raised eyebrows: “We have chicken nuggets about once a month …”

“I’m also free on grilled cheese sandwich day.”

I think I would have enjoyed kindergarten.