The Boy Wonder in a Paper Bag

TOWER GROVE — The boy wonder, all of 7 now, returned home from his first day of second grade with a paper bag and an assignment.

He had to pour himself into it.

His teacher had asked each member of the class to take home a paper bag, one about the size of a lunch sack. The students could use markers to color their bag however they wanted. Ian covered his in colorful stars. The outside was decoration, not the purpose. What they put inside was the challenge. The boy wonder’s teacher asked each of her students to put five things — and five things only — in the bag. Those five things had to define the student. She wanted the boy wonder and his classmates to introduce themselves to each other and to the teachers with five things that revealed who they are. This wasn’t the five things they would want on a deserted island or their five favorites things in the world, but five things that said who they are.

With help from his mom, here are the five things the boy wonder put in his bag and his explanation on why each one matters to him:

1. Wooden Tree Frog from Costa Rica. “Stands for going on trips,” he said.

2. Stars Wars Lego figure. “Stands for building Legos and Star Wars,” he said.

3. A baseball. “Because I like sports and baseball is my favorite,” he said.

4. A drawing. “Because I like to draw,” he said.

5. Calvin and Hobbes book. “Because I like to read and I like to read Calvin and Hobbes,” he said.

The last item, a collection of comic strips that really didn’t fit in the paper bag, is a new addition to the boy wonder’s catalog. We’ve been reading the classic comic in two-week chomps for about a week now. He cannot stop giggling. I wasn’t sure when to first introduce him to Calvin and Hobbes, but judging by the laughs and the paper bag I chose the right time. Though, knowing this little guy, it would be hard to find the wrong time. After all, I have first-hand experience. I had the same experience at the same age when I read Bloom County or a few years later when Calvin and Hobbes first appeared in papers.

Sometimes it seems like I’ve been through this all before.

I imagine he could have found 500 things to fill his paper bag. Superheroes would need a representative. Some of his favorite movies would be stuffed in there. Pictures of friends. Chicken nuggets. Icebreakers are his current treat of choice. A plastic cutlass for those Jack Sparrow jags he’s goes on. But he had only room for five, and the five he picked are familiar. Had I been asked to put five items in a paper bag to define me, they would be different — a passport not a tree frog, a newspaper not a drawing, The New Journalism not Calvin and Hobbes, a baseball not … OK, a baseball — but the themes would be the same.

The outside of my paper bag would be dull — who has time to decorate these days — but distilled to five items the insides of our paper bags are familiar.

It’s hard not to be proud of that.


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