“Ivan! Are you getting ready?” called his mother from the kitchen, preparing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
He stood hiding, small enough to be unnoticeable, behind the wooly grey of the living room’s love seat. Red pajamas enveloped his entire body, except for his head, with its matching red hair, and his hands. Every once and a while, he would peek over to see if she was watching. When the top of her brown head was no longer in view, he trudged through the house seeking her.
“Can I wait to start til tomorrow?” he asked upon finding her in her room, her petite frame half naked, dressing for the day.
“Honey. You’re a big boy now and this is a big day for you.”
“I don’t want to go!” exclaimed Ivan. “I won’t let you take me.”
“Why, Ivan? Why are you being so persistent?”
“I’m afraid of other kids, mommy. They won’t be any fun and they won’t think I’m any fun and we won’t have any fun like we have fun.”
She slumped with a sigh, lightly grabbed him by the arm, and pulled his limp body to his room where she removed him from the pajamas and then redressed him in clothes he had picked out. His first day of school attire consisted of dark denim overalls, which covered a white t-shirt that had two cartoon horses walking away from each other printed on it. The shoes his mother had bought him the previous week, red Converse all-stars with dinosaurs on them, were already filthy, and his mother wanted him to wear his nice Sunday shoes, but Ivan insisted that if she was going to make him to pre-school that he must wear the dino shoes.
As they left the house, feet sinking into the sandy beach of the driveway, they both squinted from the brightness of the day. Ivan closed his eyes hard, trying to stop the orange-pink from poking through. Realizing he could block it out with his hand, he raised one to his forehead and the other to his mother’s palm, swinging near his shoulder.
In the car, she listened to male radio voices talking about things Ivan was too young to understand or care for. His mother probably did not care either, but she seemed to enjoy the man’s voice. Perhaps it was for Ivan’s sake, to have a masculine voice telling him about the world. She’d later claim to have never been with a man since Ivan was conceived.
He watched the scenery move by outside, noticing mailboxes, fences, weathervanes, and a fallen tree, broken from its stump still stuck in the ground. He wondered if he could take a nap at pre-school and thought about his toys, especially his Duplo blocks, wishing that he had them to play with.
When they arrived at the school, Ivan noticed two little kids inside the fence, his age, playing tug-of-war with a piece of rope. They pulled and pulled each of their ends until finally the rope broke and they both tumbled down. As his mother opened the car door, he could see the teachers running over to the small children to see if they were hurt.
“Come on now, Ivan,” said his mother. “Let’s go meet your teachers before I have to go to work.”
“Mommy, I don’t want you to leave. I don’t know these people.”
“It’s going to be okay sweetie. They’re nice people. I’ve met them. It’ll be okay,” she said, pulling him into the fenced courtyard before the building. “Mrs. Johnson. I’d like you to meet my little Ivan. Ivan, this is Mrs. Johnson.”
Ivan stood behind his mother’s left leg trying to hide, but he was too big. His face was a flushed pink, mixing with the orange of his skin’s freckles.
“Well hello Ivan,” said Mrs. Johnson, leaning down closer as if to examine him. “You’re going to have a fun first day today. We’re working on crafts today. But first, we have a playtime. Just promise to be a good little boy for us and you’ll love it here.”
“Yes Ivan, make sure you be good. Mommy’s got to work now, but I’ll be back to pick you up this afternoon. If you are good maybe we’ll stop for some ice cream before we go home.”
Ivan still didn’t want her to go and clung to her legs as she walked back to the fence.
“Ivan, honey, please,” his mother pleaded as she lifted him off her, exiting the gate.
He stood at the fence, watching her enter the car. The faux wood station wagon kicked up clouds of dirt as it headed down the dirt road, back toward the highway. Watching it disappear after making its turn, sweat building on his brow, he held hard to the cold of the chain link fence, crying for her return. The daycare teachers rushed over, pried him away, and took him inside with the other children to begin the day.
None of the other children were crying; plastic toys filled their hands. Boys in the corner pushed yellow, metal dump trucks while girls on the opposite side played house with dolls and child-size dinette sets. A few children came to Ivan and asked him what was the matter. He told them, through pouting fits, that he wanted his mommy to come back. The other children reached out their toys to him, wanting to play. One boy showed Ivan a rubix cube, but he did not really know what to do with it. Another handed him a GI Joe figure, but after Ivan began playing with it the boy ripped it back from his fingers.
Ivan moved toward the back of the room where he found a large plastic tub full of Duplo blocks to play with. With the blocks he began to build a town, starting first with the street layout and then the buildings, side by side in rows. He used red blocks on one side and blue on another.
When he was nearly complete, some other boys came over to ask him his name. When he told them, they giggled and asked what he was building. He told them he was building a big city and then a dinosaur was going to come and destroy it. The boys sounded with “oohs” and “ahhs,” asking him where the dinosaur came from.
“I am the dinosaur!” said Ivan as he got up and smashed all that he had built so far.
At first the boys stood there watching him, but then they joined in, smashing the city Ivan had built.
They all giggled together until Ivan asked, “would you guys like to help me build an even bigger city and we can all be dinosaurs and all destroy it together?”
All of the boys began building a big city, requiring some boys to sneak over to the girls’ side of the room and seize some of the pink and pastel Duplo blocks they had stashed with their toys. It took them all day long, progressing around naptime and craft making, but they finished their city.
Just as the boys were discussing their attack plan, parents began showing up to pick up their children. With some of the boys leaving, they decided to make their attack the next day. When Ivan’s mother arrived, he told her all about the friend’s he had made like Steven who liked building houses with flat roofs and Paul who chewed on blocks as he thought about his next placement. He even told her how excited he was to go back the next day.
“I can’t wait to go back tomorrow mom for our big attack. Our big city that we built, we’re all going to attack it.” Ivan’s excitement quickly subsided however when his mother told him that the teachers probably clean up all the toys at the end of the day, just like she’s always reminding him to do at home. Ivan thought about this, hoping it was perhaps untrue, that the city would still be built, ready to demolish in the morning, and he realized that if it was true, then the city must be built again, but this time quicker, and maybe more efficient. Either way, it would be built and they would demolish it, together.