When I’m president

I don’t think I ever wanted to be the president of Finland, and I certainly didn’t know what a president did. Just goes to show that while sixth-graders know a lot of stuff, there’s a lot of stuff they don’t know about the stuff they know. What I did know, though, was that it was the highest praise the school nurse could have given me, and that made me feel good.


Her office was in the basement of our school and that alone was a little scary, but going down the stairs to meet a big and boisterous woman didn’t make it any less so even if there was nothing to be afraid of. She was really nice and all she did was check our eyesights and hearing, and measure us.

And chat a little.

Nothing special with my checkup, except that I was, once again, the second shortest boy in my class. (She didn’t say that, though, I knew that before walking in her office.)

“Well, 146 centimeters, you’ve grown a little, I see,” she’d say and smile at me.

Then she’d ask me some questions, and I’d answer them and we’d talk, and then she’d say, “you’re such a clever boy, I’m sure you’re going to be the president one day.”

“Maybe,” I said because I didn’t know what else to say.

And then I walked out of her office, happy and feeling at least 148 centimeters tall.

While I never really wanted to be the president, Son does. His early dreams of becoming a teacher and a historian have now given way to his goal of becoming a politician. He stays up to speed on current affairs and he debates things with me and Wife at the dinner table – and the breakfast table, since we are a family that subscribes to and reads a morning paper.

He’s a clever boy, too, and while he’s the shortest boy in his class, he’s taller than 146 centimeters.

He’s also 13, which means that getting up early on a Saturday morning to help Wife and me be race officials at Daughter’s track meet, isn’t anywhere close on his list of things to do. But since he’s still just 13, Wife and I can make him do it.

And that why Son and I were walking along the path by the water to our station last Saturday, wearing reflective vests with “race official” on the back. Our job was to control one of the changes: take time, record the order of teams, and make sure none of the seven-year-olds got lost in the park.

“Do you have to look at your phone all the time?” I asked him at one point (having just put mine into my back pocket).

“No,” he said, and put his phone in his pocket.

We walked in silence for a few seconds, and it occurred to me that Son and I were on the verge of a teachable moment.

“Hey, you want to be a politician, so it’s good for you to be here where your people are. You have to walk among us common people, and be a part of your community,” I said, only half-jokingly, and with my arms waving.

“Right,” he said, “but I have to say that I really don’t see the point in this,” he said.

“In what?” I said.

“The point in being here, standing at a crossroads, and pointing to people where they should go.”

“But Son, that’s politics for you. That’s what a leader does, he stands at a crossroads and points to others where they should go,” I said, very proud of this new motivational tool I had come up with.

“Fine,” he said, and added after a pause, “I’d just like to do it figuratively.”

He walked past me to our change station, and then, leaning against a light post, pulled up his cell phone and started to check his snaps.

I could swear he looked a little taller.

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