Mom and I were sitting in one of those “office” places, like dad’s in the basement. But this one was in this regular school place called “Bach School” (pronounced like “Baugh”). I was supposed to go to school here, but mom and the other grownups here had to figure out whether I was going to be in “kindergarten” or “first grade”.
This older woman with black hair all piled up on her head sitting behind a big desk said to mom, “The score on Jonathan’s Weschler IQ test is sufficient for us to consider starting him in first grade instead of kindergarten.”
“Good” mom said nodding, “He is a very bright kid. I think he would be bored to death in kindergarten.”
I remembered when we had come to this place two days ago and I went in a room with this grownup man who asked me a bunch of questions and showed me some pictures and asked me about those too. When he was talking to mom before that they called it a “test”, but when he talked to me he only said that he was going to ask me “some questions”. I didn’t know what a “test” was, and in this strange place I was worried to ask, but I did remember dad saying sometimes that he had to work and “grade his students’ tests”.I told the man the answers to all the questions except one. He asked me, “Tell me the name of a woman.” I was worried about telling him an answer, though I knew my mom’s name and Molly’s mom’s name. I thought that if I knew a woman’s name that was somehow naughty, so I didn’t say anything, and he wrote something on his piece of paper and asked me another question.
The woman behind the desk said, “I AM concerned that Jonathan hasn’t had socialization with other kids in a classroom setting.”
“Well”, mom said, “He’s been going to Towsley Play School for the past year and is doing really well there.” She looked at me and asked, “Do you enjoy it at Play School?”
I knew she wanted me to say yes so I started to nod. I figured I should talk too and said, “I like it a lot. They have really neat toys and we all play with them together.”
I could see the woman behind the desk watching and listening to my words. She smiled and nodded, like that was what she wanted me to say.
“Well”, said the woman, “This is an unusual circumstance, but if this is what you think best Mrs. Zale, for Jonathan that is”, and then looking at me, “I don’t have any objections to him starting in first grade.”
The woman behind the desk did some more thinking for a minute and looked kind of worried. “I am concerned”, she said, “That we are already two days into the term, so it would be best if he could start as soon as possible.”
Mom pushed her lips together and looked at me. “Well Coop, what do ya think? We’re here. Do you want to stay and go to your new class and I’ll pick you up at three?” she asked.
“Three fifteen”, the woman said, holding up her finger.
I didn’t want mom or this other woman to think that I was afraid and couldn’t do things by myself. I figured that if I said I was okay staying here, mom would let me keep doing stuff on my own. And since mom and I had walked here from our house, if I had to, I could walk home by myself, even though it was kind of a long way.
“I’m okay staying here”, I said, and then thinking I’d use that word I heard grownups use a lot I said, “It’ll be interesting.”
The woman behind the desk did a little laugh through her nose when I said that and then clapped her hands together and said, “Let’s take you two down to Miss Zimmerman’s classroom and I’ll introduce you.”
We walked down this big hallway with this hard floor that wasn’t wood or that rug stuff. It was more like the floor in our kitchen. As mom and the woman talked more their voices sounded noisier somehow than they had in that office place. The doors on either side had a window in the top part so I could see into the rooms. Through a couple of the doors I saw a grownup woman talking, though I couldn’t really hear what she was saying. Down at the end of the hall were two windows that went all the way down to the floor, which I think were also doors like the ones mom and I had gone in the other part of the building. We walked down to the end and the woman opened the door on the right side, just next to those big window doors.
I could hear lots of kids talking, and a younger grownup woman who had been sitting on a desk on the other side of the room nodded. I figured she must be the teacher. She stood up and came over to us, while the kids still talked. A few kids looked at me. They were all sitting in small chairs with these small tables in front of them, one for each of them.
The woman with us said to her, “Miss Zimmerman, sorry to bother you, but this is Jonathan Zale and his mother Jane Zale. Remember we discussed this situation yesterday. His mother is hoping to start Jonathan in your class, today if that’s okay.”
“Yes, I recall the discussion. Today? Wow. Okay”, the younger woman said, looking kind of worried.
“If you think it’s better to wait…”, said the older woman, but she looked like she really wanted her to say it was okay.
“Well…”, the younger woman said, thinking, and looking at mom.
“Didn’t I see you at that League of Women Voters event a week ago?” she asked mom, not looking worried anymore.
“Yes, I remember”, mom said, “You’re Hannah.”
“That’s right”, she said, “You’re Jane. I loved what you said about Kennedy.”
“You two are acquainted?” asked the older woman.
The younger woman nodded. She seemed more like an older kid like Margie than a grownup like mom. Then she looked at me.
“So Jonathan”, she said, “You’re five years old and you haven’t been to kindergarten?”
I wasn’t sure whether to shake my head or nod.
“But he’s been in Towsley for a year”, mom said.
“Oh wow”, the younger woman said to her, “That’s such a great program!” Then she looked at me and asked, “Did you like it there, at the Play School?”
I nodded, but figured I should say something too. “I really like it. They have lots of neat toys and we all played together with them.”
“That DOES sound neat”, she said, but then put her hand on her cheek like she was thinking, “But first grade is going to be different. It isn’t all just playing and doing what you want.”
I nodded, and she could tell I was thinking about that. “I want to finish figuring out how to read”, I said to her.
She smiled at me, put her hands together and said, “Well okay, then you’ve come to the right place!” She looked at mom and the older woman, “I think it’ll be fine. We have a couple extra desks. I just need to get you your books and supplies.”
“I’ll take care of the supplies, Miss Zimmerman”, said the older woman.
“Thanks so much, Mrs. Sanderson”, said the younger woman.
“You’re welcome dear”, said the older woman, “I’m glad this worked out.” Then looking at mom she said, “Why don’t you come with me and we can fill out the paperwork.” Mom nodded.
“And Jane… Mrs. Zale…”, the younger woman said.
“Call me Jane”, mom said, before she could finish.
“Great”, she said, looking at mom and doing a big smile, “Jane it is. The afternoon session ends at three fifteen.”
“Got it”, mom said, “I’ll be back to pick him up.”
The younger woman nodded. “Okay, great. Make sure you touch base with me when you pick him up and I can tell you how everything went.” Mom nodded and looked at me.
“You okay, Coop?” she asked, looking a little worried. I nodded. Mom and the older woman headed off down the big hall and the younger woman closed the door to the room behind them.
“Your mother calls you Coop?” she asked me. I nodded.
“So would you like us to call you Jonathan or Coop?” she asked.
“Coop”, I said, “Or Cooper, that’s my WHOLE nickname.” I wanted to say more because I liked talking to her, “Jonathan is my REGULAR name, but nobody calls me that very much.”
She got down on one knee in front of me, and said quietly, “I’ll tell you a secret. MY regular first name is Hannah, but my friends call me Hannie. How about that?” Then she made a sad face and said, “But here at school they call me Miss Zimmerman, so I’d like it if you’d call me that, Cooper.”
I nodded and said, “Okay.”
She stood up and looked around the class. Everybody was talking to each other and it was pretty noisy.
“There’s a free desk right here or a couple over by the window”, she said to me, “Which would you like.”
“By the window”, I said. I liked windows. I walked over and sat down at one of those desk things. It was weird because the chair was hooked onto the table part. There was a kid sitting in front of me with curly red hair that stuck out from her head. I figured she was a girl, and she turned around to look at me. She was wearing glasses like dad did, and her eyes looked bigger through the glasses. She pushed her lips together thinking as she looked at me.
“You weren’t here yesterday OR this morning”, she said kind of fierce, “Why not?”
I didn’t know what to say, and the way she asked me, like I’d better tell her or she’d get mad, made me feel shy. So I just raised my shoulders and lowered them.
“Figures”, she said, shaking her head, “Anyway… do you know how to open your desk?” I shook my head.
There was a kid sitting at the desk next to her who turned around and said to her, “Manda, you ask too many questions.”
She looked at him with an even fiercer look and shook her head and made a clicking noise. “It’s A-MANDA, not MANDA, and I do not, Gabriel”, she said to him, “You ask questions too.”
Then she looked back at me again and said, “You don’t talk very much. You need to talk to be good at school.” She reached over the top of my table to the part by me and pulled it open like a door and then put it back down. “Simple”, she said, and smiled at me.
I knew I had to say something, though I couldn’t think of the best thing to say, so I just said, “I can talk.”
“Okay everyone”, the teacher said with a loud voice, “We need to do something important. Quiet down please!”
She was the teacher, so she was being in charge like the older kids had said. Some kids were still talking.
“This is important”, she said with a loud voice again, “So I need to see that everyone is listening before we talk about it.” The last people who were talking stopped. The two kids I was talking to turned back to look at her.
“Now this is just our second day of class together”, she said, “So we’re still getting to know each other. Well we have a new class member today, Cooper Zale.” She held her arm out towards me and said, “You want to raise your hand Cooper so everyone can see who you are?”
I raised my hand, but just looked at her, because I didn’t want to look at everybody else looking at me.
Now she raised both hands and said, “Let’s all say ‘HELLO COOPER’.”
Most of the other kids in the class said it, though some said it louder. Both Amanda and Gabe said it really loud. It all seemed so strange to me, I had never been in a place like this before.
So then the teacher wanted us to say all the letters in the “alphabet”. First she wanted us to sing the “alphabet song”. I knew it, because mom and dad had sung it to me, and it sounded like most of the other kids knew it too.
“One more time!” she said when we finished. So we sang it again.
“Great”, she said, “Now I’m going to point to each letter up above the chalkboard. First I’LL say it, then YOU say it, okay?” She took this long stick thing and pointed at the “A” way over on the left side above her. It had a picture of the big “A” next to a picture of the little “a”. She said each letter and then we said it.
Mom and dad already had done this kind of stuff with me a lot, so it was easy for me. But I wanted to show her how much I already knew so I said the letters, really loud I could tell other kids were doing and thinking the same thing. It was kind of fun hearing all of us kids saying the same thing at the same time, like we were an army or something.
She even had us say each again pointing at the “Z” first and going across to the “A”. Most of the kids could do it that way too, but some weren’t as sure.
Then she had a row above the chalkboard of two letters together and pointed to each pair of letters and made the sound, like “shhh” for the “S” and “H”. She pointed at each pair with her stick and said it herself the first time and then had us try the next time.
“Very good”, she said smiling, “We’ll do this every day so you all will know all your letters and how to say them without even having to think about it!”
Then she took a book from her desk and held it up so we could see the front part and said, “Does everyone have their ‘Fun with Dick and Jane’ book? Raise your hand if you DON’T.” Then she looked at me and said, “Cooper, I know you don’t have one yet.” Two kids raised their hands, but I didn’t.
I’d never seen kids or anyone else raise their hand to answer a question, but I did remember seeing it on that “Romper Room” show on TV in the morning before Captain Kangaroo. Then this girl on the other side of the room raised her hand really quickly and moved it back and forth so the teacher saw her. She also said, “Ooo… ooo”.
The teacher looked at her and just laughed a little bit out of her nose and asked, “Mary, do you have a question?”
The girl nodded her head up and down really fast and asked, “Can I give them their books?”
“Sure Mary”, the teacher said, “Thank you for helping out.”
Mary got up from her desk chair and ran over to this pile of books on a table in the corner of the room and took three of them. She gave one to each of the two kids that had raised their hands and then gave the last one to me. She reminded me of Molly, and the way Molly liked to run everywhere. But she looked more like a girl, because she was wearing one of those dress things, had longer hair than Molly did and she had one of those bow things in her hair. She smiled at me like she was happy she could help me, and then went and sat back down in her seat, her shoulders still wiggling, like she was still excited about getting to do that.
Then the teacher looked at all of us and said, “Okay, now open your books and turn to the first page of the story. The page looks like this.” She held up her open book so we all could see it and pointed at one of the two pages. All the other kids except the two that raised their hands opened the top part of their desk to an inside part that had that book. Everybody opened up their books and turned pages to find the one she was pointing at. You could hear the swishing sound of all those pages turning. I opened my book too. It was strange watching all the other kids doing it all at the same time.
“Okay”, said the teacher, “I’m going to write the sentence from that first page on the board.” She turned to the giant chalkboard on the wall behind her and started writing words with a piece of chalk. Finally, after she’d written all the words she made a tiny circle at the bottom after the last word.
She turned back to look at us. “Does anybody know what this little dot at the end of all these words is called?” she asked. That Mary girl’s hand went up, and the girl sitting in front of me and the boy next to me put their hands up too. Mom and dad had told me about that little circle, and I wanted to show the teacher that I was smart, so I just answered her question.
“It’s a period”, I said. Mary made a funny sound like she was scared and she was breathing in air really fast.
“He didn’t raise his hand”, she said, still holding her hand up as far as she could and moving it back and forth.
The teacher blew air out of her mouth and then nodded slowly, and I got worried that I was going to get in trouble.
“Well”, she said, “This is Cooper’s first day and we are all still learning how to do things in class.” Her eyes looked at me and then she looked at all the other kids who were looking at her wondering what she was going to say next. “To be fair to everyone, and give everyone their chance to talk, all of you should raise your hand when you want to say something, so I can make sure that everyone has their chance to say something and one person doesn’t do all the talking.”
She didn’t look back at me after she said that, but that Mary girl put down her hand like that was what she wanted the teacher to say.
“Okay?” the teacher asked, putting on a big smile and still not looking at me. Some of the other kids nodded to answer what she asked. Then she finally looked at me and said, “Cooper, you’re right”, pointing her finger in my direction, “That is a period and we always put one at the end of a sentence of words.”
“I knew that”, said the girl sitting in front of me looking back at me.
“Me too”, said the boy sitting next to me, but he kept looking at the teacher.
But I was still thinking about the raising your hand thing. So all us kids were supposed to raise our hands and be called on by the teacher before we talked, but she could talk whenever she wanted to, because she was in charge.
The teacher walked over by the left side of the chalkboard and pointed her finger at the first word she had written. “Now I’m going to read the sentence and point at each word while I read it. Then I want you to do the same thing in your book. You can use your finger too to point at each word in the book. Okay, here goes!” she said, and said each word that she pointed at.
She held her hand out to us and said, “Now your turn. Maybe you can whisper the words when you read them so it isn’t too noisy.”
I looked around and some kids were using their fingers like she said and others were just looking at their book. I could see some of their lips moving like they were talking. So I looked down at the page in my book and read the words of that sentence quietly, a lot of them I already knew.
We kept going through pages of the book like that, she wrote the words in each sentence on the chalkboard and then we read them in our books. It was exciting thinking that I was really learning to read now and would be able to read all those books in dad’s office and those books in the library or even that giant “bookmobile” car. It also was exciting that we were all doing it together so it kind of made us the same and we could talk about it later with each other. I knew we needed to do this if we were going to be in charge one day instead of the grownups.
While we did reading, I looked out through the window and I saw some other kids outside playing. The kids looked older than I was, and I could hear their voices through the window, even though it wasn’t open. They looked like they were having fun, some playing on the monkey bars, swings, and other stuff, some running around together, and others just sitting or standing around talking to each other. There were also a couple grownups out there, but they looked like they were just talking to each other, kind of like those “coach” grownups at the park who gave you balls and bats and worked on the baseball fields.
Finally we stopped when it was time for “recess”. I had heard that word before from some of the older kids when they talked about school. Some of them said it was the best part of school because the teachers weren’t in charge of you and you could just play outside and do whatever you wanted. I noticed the older kids were gone by the time our teacher had us lineup by the door to go outside. When we were all standing by the door, she opened it and led us out into the hall and then to the right to the big glass doors at the end of the hallway, then out to the sidewalk and to the right to the playground part of the outside of the school. Once we got to the playground some kids started to run. Some girls ran to get to sit on the four swings and some boys to get to the monkey bars. I noticed that some of the girls were screaming a lot. I didn’t remember girls doing that so much in the park. Other kids came out from another room in the school to play on the playground too. They didn’t look like older kids.
The boy who sat next to me looked at me and asked, “You want to see the neatest place?” I nodded. He started to run towards the playground.
“I’m sure he does”, said the girl who sat in front of me. I looked at her, but I also wanted to run and follow that boy to that neatest place. She could tell I was trying to figure out what to do.
“Go follow him if you want”, she said, wrinkling her nose, “Maybe I’ll see you guys later if I feel like it.” It was kind of a strange thing for a kid to say, more like a grownup, and I nodded.
“Your Cooper and my name’s Amanda”, she said, kind of fierce, “Not Manda. A-MANDA. His name is Gabriel, but he says his name is Gabe.” She wrinkled her nose again and shook her head. I nodded but didn’t say anything.
“You can talk to me”, she said, “I don’t have cooties.”
I figured I better start talking so I said, “I know. My babysitter Margie said that girls don’t really have cooties.”
“Good”, she said, “Because they don’t. Or at least I don’t.”
I nodded again as I looked for the boy who sat next to me, and he was on the other side of the playground by a shiny red tube thing waving for me to come.
“Go”, she said, “Maybe I’ll stop by later.” Again, sounding more like a grownup, I had never heard a kid say “stop by” before. I felt like I should say something else but I started running instead.
By the time I got to the red tube thing, he had already crawled inside it and was sitting with his legs crossed against one side of the inside part of the tube. He was right, it was really neat, like a tunnel or even the inside of a submarine or a rocketship. I crawled in and sat next to him, crossing my legs the same way.
“This is my favorite place in the whole school”, he said. I nodded.
“It’s really neat”, I said, “It’s a good pretend submarine or rocketship.” He nodded.
“For Tom Swift?” he asked. I nodded.
“I really like his stories”, I said, “I want to finish figuring out how to read so I can read his books myself.”
“Me too”, he said.
We heard someone else walk up to the end of our tube. She got down on her hands and knees and looked at us. It was that Amanda girl.
“I hate this thing”, she said.
“Why?” asked Gabe, “It’s a great pretend submarine or rocketship. Cooper thinks so too.”
“I’m sure he does”, she said, starting to crawl into the inside of the tube, “But if I sit like you two with this dress on you’ll see my underwear.”
“You should wear pants to school”, Gabe said.
“My mom says I should wear a skirt or a dress because I’m a girl”, she said, trying to sit inside the tube across from us with her legs together instead of apart like ours.
“My friend Molly wears pants all the time”, I said, “And she’s a girl. Except when she goes to parties her mom makes her wear a dress.”
Amanda wrinkled her nose and moved her legs a little bit and pulled down her dress closer to her knees. “I’m okay”, she said.
Then she looked at me for a minute like she was thinking and asked, “You didn’t learn to raise your hand in kindergarten?” she asked. I shook my head.
“I didn’t go to kindergarten”, I said, “I went to play school. They don’t make you raise your hand. We just play all day with lots of neat toys and the teachers sometimes read us stories.”
“I think it’s like nursery school”, Gabe said, “Only better.” Amanda nodded.
Gabe looked at me and now he was thinking. “I think I’ve seen you in the park”, he said. I nodded.
“Our house is next to the park”, I said.
“Which park?” Amanda asked kind of fiercely, “There’s more than one you know. I live near a park too. West Park.”
“Allmendinger”, Gabe said.
We continued to talk about where we lived and what were the neat things in her West Park and our Allmendinger. Then we talked more about how this tube would be a great submarine or rocketship for pretending.
“Well”, Amanda said, “If we pretend that it is, I get to be the captain and sit and look out the front part.
“Why’s that?” asked Gabe like he was pretending to be mad, “You’re a girl.”
“Maybe so”, she said, wrinkling her nose again, “But if we’re pretending things, then I can pretend I’m the captain.” I could tell Gabe didn’t know what to think about that or what to say back to her.
I remembered my 5th birthday party in the park and said, “My friend Molly pretended she was Captain Nemo.” Amanda smiled and nodded, like she was telling Gabe that she was right and he was wrong.
“Besides”, she said, “If I sit in front and look out I don’t have to sit like this and you still can’t see my underwear.”
Another person walked up to one end of the tube. We could tell it was a grownup. “Hello in there”, she said. We all looked at each other but didn’t say anything, but Gabe started to laugh so Amanda and I just had to laugh too. The grownup got down on her hands and knees and looked in the end of the tube. It was the teacher.
“Is this a secret meeting?” she asked, smiling.
“Uh… kind of”, said Gabe.
“Well sorry to be the party pooper”, she said, “But it’s time to come back into class.”
“Okay”, said Gabe, nodding. Amanda and I nodded too. The teacher walked away.
Gabe looked at Amanda and me with his mouth and eyes open really big and said, “Miss Zimmerman said pooper!”
Amanda waved her finger at us like we had to go out first. I guess we had to so we couldn’t see her underwear.
When we got back to our classroom I could tell all the kids had more energy and most were smiling. The teacher gave each of us two pieces of paper. Mary raised her hand and wanted to hand the sheets of paper out, but the teacher said she would do it herself, but Mary and some other kids would have a chance soon. The first paper had what the teacher called “adding problems” on it. I knew about that because mom had shown me how to “add” numbers and also how to “subtract” them. The second sheet of paper had a big “plus sign” in the left part and a big “equals sign” in the right part.
The teacher wrote each adding thing on the chalkboard. She said each one was called a “problem”, which I thought was funny because they were easy to figure out. But she talked about how you got the “answer” to each “problem” by adding the numbers on either side of the “plus” and writing the answer on the other side of the “equals”. She also had colored blocks and did more adding with them. Then each of us got stuff to do our own adding. Blocks, pencils, erasers or pennies. She let Mary give the kids in her “row”, that is all the desks behind hers, blocks. The other kids sitting in the front got to do the same thing with the pencils or erasers or pennies for the kids behind their desks. She said to give each kid five of them, and to count out the numbers as they gave them to each kid from one to five. It got pretty noisy but most of the kids thought it was fun.
Then once we all had our five things, mine were blocks, she had each of us use them to do the “addition problems” on our piece of paper. If there was the number “1” to the left of the “+” in the problem, I was supposed to put one of my blocks to the left of the bigger plus on the piece of paper. If there was a “2” on the other side of the problem’s “+”, then I put two other blocks on the right of the big “+”, but to the left of the “=”. Then to do the adding I just took all the blocks from either side of the big “+” and put them to the right of the “=” sign, and counted them. So then you counted all those blocks and wrote the number “3” to the right of the “=” in the problem on the top part of the sheet. We did more problems like that on other pieces of paper she gave us, and she did some other problems with bigger numbers on the chalkboard to show us that it worked the same way for those bigger numbers.
It was all pretty easy, because mom had shown me a lot about how numbers worked. She had even shown me that one quarter plus one quarter is one half of something. Stuff with numbers had always made sense to me. The teacher called it “math” and I remembered mom had called it “math” too.
I was telling Gabe and Amanda that I already knew about “adding”, and that I could even add one quarters together. I also told them I knew about “subtracting”. They said they knew that kind of stuff too. So we started thinking about adding and subtracting “problems” to figure out.
“How about seven plus six”, said Gabe. Amanda and I both knew that was thirteen.
“How about seven MINUS six”, said Amanda. Gabe and I knew that was one.
“How about one quarter plus one quarter”, I said. Amanda said that was one half. I don’t think Gabe knew the answer until Amanda said it, but he said it made sense.
Then he said, “What about seven minus seven.” Both Amanda and I said “zero” at the same time, which was funny and we both laughed.
“Okay smarties”, Gabe said, “What about seven minus EIGHT.” We didn’t know what to say.
Amanda finally wrinkled her nose and said, “You can’t take eight things away if you only have seven.”
Gabe did a silly look like he might know that there might be an answer and asked, “Are you SURE?”
We were too busy talking to see that the teacher was standing near us listening. “Wow”, she said, “You three know your math. Good for you!” We all smiled because we liked that she said that.
Still looking at the three of us she said, “But now I’d like to move on and do something else.” Then she looked at everybody and talking louder said, “Okay everyone, enough math for now, let’s move on to storytime.” Amanda, Gabe and I wanted to keep talking about doing stuff with numbers, but the teacher was being in charge, like all the older kids told me teachers would.
So the thing she did next was read all of us the second chapter from a book about these really small people called “Borrowers”. I was used to dad or mom reading to me, or to me and David, at bedtime, so it was kind of strange that the teacher was reading it to all of us at the same time and in the daytime. She said we could ask questions, if we raised our hands first, but nobody did. I didn’t either, because I got worried about all the other kids that I didn’t know hearing my question.
But it was an interesting story, so I stopped thinking about all that other stuff and just listened to her read it. There were these really tiny people called “borrowers”, because they took stuff from the house of the regular people that they all lived in. They called the regular people “human beans” or “big people”. That made sense and was really interesting, because I didn’t think of myself as being big, but to them, or even to small animals in the real world, like ants or squirrels I would seem like a giant.
The borrowers were small enough to be able to live inside the walls of the house so the regular people didn’t even know they were there. I didn’t even know that walls in houses had inside parts, but that was neat too. So when the “big people” weren’t around, or were sleeping, the borrowers would sneak out of their little place in the walls and take things they needed. Like they took letters to make walls and stamps to stick on their walls to be like pictures on the wall of a regular person’s house. They took a potato to eat, and since they were really small they could all eat it for a long time.
It was also interesting that they called themselves “borrowers”, because when you borrow something you’re supposed to give it back, like when mom or dad borrowed books from the library. But they were just taking stuff and not giving it back. But the stuff they took didn’t really mess up the “big people”, because they had a whole box full of potatoes so they didn’t even know one was missing.
She got to the end of the chapter and stopped reading. She said it would be time to go home in a few minutes and that she’d read the next chapter tomorrow. She said we could all talk with each other until the “bell” rang. All the kids started doing that. Some stood up so they could walk over to kids they didn’t sit next to so they could talk to them. Then I saw her look at me, push her lips together, put up her hand and wave her finger for me to come over to her. Gabe and Amanda where busy talking with each other as I walked over to her regular desk in front of the chalk boards on the wall.
She sat in her chair behind her desk but turned her body towards me at the side of her desk. She put her knees together and her arms on the top part of her legs and leaned toward me and asked, “So how was it, your first day?”
I didn’t know what to say. There were so many things I was thinking about. Liking that she was showing us how to do real reading. Liking that “recess”, so we could play outside in the play yard. Excited that I had two new friends. Thinking that I was really smart because I already knew all the numbers stuff that she talked about. Liking her reading that “Borrowers” story. Worried that she made all the choices and we were supposed to do what she said. Worried that mom and dad really wanted me to like school, because they liked school, and would they be mad if I didn’t.
I was used to telling grownups things that I liked that they did for me, so they would keep doing those things. But I wasn’t used to telling grownups about my friends, because that wasn’t something I wanted them to think about, or ask me about. My friends were just for me, not for them. And the things that I worried about were about grownups, so I couldn’t tell them, or they would think that I thought they were bad. But I liked my teacher, because she wasn’t too much like a regular grownup. She wasn’t like that woman mom talked to in that office before they took me here.
So I figured out what to say to her. “I liked figuring out how to read and going outside to play”, I said, “Also that story about the Borrowers.” She nodded and looked at me like she was trying to figure ME out, which I wasn’t sure I wanted her to do.
Still nodding slowly, finally she said, “Well, we’ll do all of those things every day.” Then she did thinking and said, “And I noticed that you really know your numbers, adding, subtracting and even some fractions?”
I nodded and said, “Mom showed me. She really likes numbers.”
She pushed her lips together and did more thinking. Then she said, “Well I think you’ll do fine in first grade. I think your mom made the right choice not having you start with kindergarten. You’re a bright young man.” I nodded.
I heard a loud bell ring outside the room in the hallway. The teacher could tell it surprised me, and she laughed a little bit through her nose.
“That’s the bell telling us that school’s over for today”, she said, “It also rings in the morning to let you know it’s almost time to start and then again when it’s time to start. AND when we break for lunch and again when it’s almost time for the afternoon session.” Finally she said, “You’ll get used to it after a while.”
It seemed strange to me that she couldn’t just tell us it was time to go home. All the other kids in class started going out of the room. Amanda and Gabe waved at me from across the room as they left. After they all went out mom peeked her head in the doorway.
“Jane”, the teacher said, “I mean Mrs. Zale. Come in.”
“How’d it go? Mom asked, walking towards us.
The teacher put her hands together right under her mouth and said, “Well I think it went fine. I feel you made the right choice putting him right into first grade.”
“Oh good”, mom said, “I’m relieved actually, I wasn’t sure how it would go. But Coop’s such a bright kid.” I didn’t like it now when she said that about me to other grownups, like it was something good she did instead of me.
The teacher nodded. I wondered if that meant she thought I was bright too.
“Thank you Miss Zimmerman for helping make it all work”, mom said.
“My pleasure”, the teacher said, making a big smile.
“C’mon Coop”, mom said, “I’ve got some chores to do before dinner.”
“Bye bye Cooper”, the teacher said, “We’ll see you tomorrow. Eight thirty for the morning session.” Then thinking of something and looking at mom. “Will he be staying for lunchtime?”
Mom wrinkled her nose and shook her head. “I don’t think so”, she said.
“Okay then”, said the teacher, nodding. She looked at me again, smiling, waved her hand and said, “Bye bye Cooper” again.
I saw mom look at me with her eyes open really big like I should say something back. “Bye”, I said.
“Well”, mom said, looking at the teacher, “He’s not always one for a lot of words!”
The teacher nodded and said, “No problem. I think he’ll be a good addition to the class.”
Mom and I walked out of the room, her hand just behind my shoulder. I walked fast so she couldn’t touch it like she was in charge of where I was going.
We walked together up that long street that went up to Allmendinger Park. The tops of the big trees above us always made it feel like a giant green tunnel. Mom asked, “So how was your first day?”
I nodded and said, “Okay.” I knew she wanted me to say more and I tried to figure out if I needed to say more or mom would get mad at me. I decided to just say the things I had said to the teacher. “I liked figuring out how to read”, I said, “And we got to go outside to play. The teacher also read this book about the Borrowers.”
I could tell she wanted me to say more and she asked, “So did you meet any of the other kids, those two that waved at you?” I just nodded.
“What were their names?” she asked. I thought about it but couldn’t remember.
“I forget”, I said.
“Well”, she said, “I’ve found it’s very important to remember people’s names. They like it much better if you know their name the next time they say ‘hi Coop’.” I nodded, but didn’t say any more.