The Dreaded Bear Report
I tried to explain to her what life had taught me about the Algebra Regents. It really hadn’t mattered one bit in the long run. She looked at me, rolled her eyes toward the ceiling, and stamped her foot. "You don't understand, Daddy," she said. "This is really important. If I don't get it right, I'll fail."
"That's what I thought about the Algebra Regents, sweetheart," I said, but she wasn’t buying any of it. I held her chin softly in my hand and looked into those troubled young eyes. "It seemed important to me back then, too, Kelly, but now, I realize it wasn't all that important. It just seemed that way. Can you understand?"
She rolled her eyes again, and a tear appeared. "I can't write about these bears, Daddy. I don't know where to look!"
It would be years until she had to face the Algebra Regents. She first had to get past the Dreaded Bear Report, which was required of all second-graders attending Saint Martin of Tours Elementary School.
"Let's work on it together, okay?" I said. She calmed a bit. "We can do this together, can't we?" I put my arm around her. "We can do anything together."
"You'll help me?" she asked sheepishly.
"I'll help you. But I can't do it for you. In the end, you’ll have to do it for yourself."
"Okay," she said, "Team Holohan?"
"Yep," I said as I gathered her up in my arms. "There's nothing we can't do if we use Team Holohan."
At some point, I don't remember exactly when, "Team Holohan" had become the antidote for loneliness and fear in our home. Any member can call the Team together at any time. During particularly hectic days, we sometimes have to remind each other that we’re all members of that Team, but so far, Team Holohan has always come across for everyone who lives here. And so we would use it to deal with the Dreaded Bear Report.
We wound up in the library for a few hours, learning about books, and bears, and card catalogs, and good work habits. We talked about staying calm and keeping things in perspective. We worked hard, and we had fun.
And all the while we were working, I was thinking about the Algebra Regents and Summer School, and how the laughter of the smarter kids sounded out in the schoolyard on those early July mornings. I thought about how the tar on the road shimmered in the heat of a Long Island day, and how, during the Sixties, you could push a stick into it and smear it on your black Keds high-tops. I thought about how long the summer can be when you have to spend a good part of it in remedial classes, and how I hoped my kids would never have to go through what I went through during those long-ago summers.
I didn't want them to ever have to feel dumb.
The Dreaded Bear Report comes at an early time in a father's life. It comes along quickly, and if you're not paying attention – if you're too busy at work, or with that ball game on the TV, or that six-pack – you might miss it. And that would be a shame.
It’s a simple project, the Dreaded Bear Report. Write about a bear of your choice. Make a drawing of the bear. Show where the bear lives. Tell about what the bear eats. It’s all pretty simple for a grown-up, not so simple for a second-grader. It’s no problem whatsoever for Team Family.
But while you’re helping with the Dreaded Bear Report please realize that it is only preparatory work. After the Dreaded Bear Report, the winters will melt into summers that seem much too short. Fall will come around too quickly and you'll be relearning how to conjugate your verbs, and how to spell better. You may even learn your multiplication tables for the first time. If you’re conscientious, you’ll get your world history straight, and you’ll remember smells long forgotten – the inside of a schoolbag, Crayolas, mimeograph paper, poster paint, oaktag.
You’ll also meet teachers who are your age, or perhaps younger. They’ll remind you of the teachers who tried to pound this same material into your head so many years ago. If you let your grown-up guard down, you'll realize that you’re actually a bit afraid of these teachers because teachers can hold you with a grasp that reaches across time.
If you’re paying attention, you’ll learn your lessons well during the days of the Dreaded Bear Report, and for years afterwards. You’ll relive your first dance, your first date, and your first kiss. If the Team is working properly, the younger members will tell you things you used to say only to your best friends. If the Team is working properly, you’ll be that best friend. You’ll remember. And you will become young again.
The Algebra Regents wasn't so important. I passed it (squeaked by actually) and I moved on. I finished school, fell in love, got a job, got married, and became a father.
I got involved in a career that seemed so much more important than the Algebra Regents had. For a while there, my job consumed me. I gave it most of my time.
But then along came the Dreaded Bear Report, the most important thing in Miss Kelly Holohan’s life at the time. Just like the Algebra Regents had been to me so very long ago. Just like my job had once been.
I reminded her of the Dreaded Bear Report the other day. She barely remembered it. It’s just not important anymore.
But I know for certain that she’ll remember it someday. If I do my job well, she'll remember. It will come flooding back to her in a most wonderful way.
Some second-grader will remind her.
(I wrote this story in 1985. Kelly received her B.A. and M.A with honors from the University of Notre Dame. She joined the Alliance for Catholic Education, which is a part of Americorp, and taught for three years as a volunteer in rural Oklahoma and in Tallaght, Ireland. She taught second grade. - Dan Holohan)