Rachel and the Kindergarten Buddy, Part Two
by Jule Ward
“Remember in first grade when the class guinea pig got sick and was throwing up his food all over his cage. Your teacher, Mrs. Iris, thought he’d have to go back to the pet shop, but you begged to take him home. You promised her you’d make him all better. You asked Dad and me to take to the vet to learn what he needed and followed all his instructions. Only you could get him to take his medicine. Because he was so sick, his cage got disgusting.” Mom held her nose. “Again and again you clean it up without complaint. You hand fed him until he started eating on his own again. He was happy, healthy and back in the classroom in three weeks. All the kids loved George. They would have been so sad if he had died or been given back to the pet shop. Mrs. Iris gave you a hero badge for saving him.”
The memory filled Rachel with pride. “He was so little and cute. He was miserable. It made me feel really bad. I just wanted him to feel better.”
Mom picked a blossom from the purple hydrangea and buried her face in it. “I’m thinking that maybe Sally’s like George. Kindergarteners are usually pretty happy go lucky kids. Just the fact that Sally is so unsmiling and rather uninterested in most things might mean she’s a little heartsick for some reason.”
Rachel sat up straight, shaking her head. “I don’t think so. She seems to have too much energy to have something wrong with her heart.”
“That’s not what I mean. I’m wondering if some important thing in her life is not working out somehow. That could make her so sad that the other things that would usually be good things can’t make her feel happy or glad.”
“Should we find out what makes her heartsick?” Rachel asked.
“Well, honey, it’s most likely very private and not a problem Sally or her family want shared with others. But we could find out what kind of things she usually likes when she’s feeling good and try to help that way.”
Rachel still hated the idea of asking the teacher for help, but couldn’t think of anything else. It was, at least, way better than spending a whole year with a buddy who didn’t like you and didn’t want to do anything.
The next day, Miss Winterbrook announced that they were going to do an art project with their kindergarten buddies after lunch. Mom had not talked to the teachers yet and remembering Sally’s drawings, she dreaded the afternoon.
When they went down to the kindergarten room, each table was set with piles of construction paper in every color, red, blue, pink, orange, purple, green, aqua, while, black, brown, yellow, tangerine, lime, and some colors that Rachel didn’t know the name of . There was also a pair of scissors for each buddy pair. On Mrs. Lacey’s desk was a funny, weird colorful sculpture made all from construction paper. It looked sort of like a robot, but not really.
But that indeed was what it represented. “Today we’re going to do three-dimensional art pieces,” she said. “Our inspiration will be robots. In the center of each table I’ve put some photos and drawings of robots, but they are there just to get you started. Nobody has to try to exactly copy any of the pictures. You can cut the construction paper in any shape and then fit the shapes together. The third graders can help their buddies design “a sculpture, a piece that stands up from the bottom piece of paper.” With that she held up the structure on her desk.
It looked like a fun thing to do. Rachel saw Sally sitting at a back table near the big windows. She was already cutting the construction paper in front of her – into tiny pieces! That wouldn’t work. Rachel hurried over to her. “Hi, Sally. Let’s look at a picture of a robot. You can choose which one you want to do.”
“It’s a dumb idea. I can’t make anything like Mrs. Lacey’s. It’s too hard.”
“No, it’ll be easy, you’ll see. I can help you do it.”
“I don’t want to do it. I want to make a collage like we did on Tuesday. See I’m cutting up rain drops and I’m’ going to paste them on this piece of paper.” She picked up a neon green sheet of construction paper and dropped dozens of drops of blue paper all over the sheet. It did look cool.
“Okay, let’s begin there. But it’s going to be kinda hard to paste all those little pieces.”
“I can do it!” Sally insisted.
“All right, why don’t you get started and I’ll cut some other shapes. It can be the ground we build our robot on.”
“But I don’t want to build a robot.”
“You’ll see, it will look nice on the pretty ground you are making.”
“No it won’t, it will spoil it.”
Rachel felt boiling hot inside. She wanted to shout at Sally, but she made herself think of George instead. “Why don’t you just start making the rain and we’ll see what happens next.”
Sally glared at her. It was clear she didn’t trust Rachel, but she picked up the glue stick and began carefully putting a dot on each piece of blue paper and putting it precisely in place on the lime green sheet.
Rachel watched her for a while, somewhat mesmerized that anyone could be that patient. Then she pick up a bright pink sheet and was about to cut it into strips for the sculpture when Sally looked up. “I hate pink. I don’t want any pink in my art project.”
“Pink looks really good with neon green.”
“No, it doesn’t. I don’t want it.”
Rachel tried picturing George’s little quivering nose on Sally’s face. She took a deep breath. “Okay, how about you choose three colors for the rest of the project.”
Sally picked three pieces, one, brown, one navy and one mustard yellow. Yuk, thought Rachel. But, oh well, she told herself, it’s modern art. She cut the brown sheet in wide strips. When she was done, she folded them accordion style to spring up when pasted on Sally’s bottom sheet. By now, Sally had pasted several raindrops in precise lines across the top of her paper. A huge pile of drops remained. Rachel glanced at the clock. Twenty minutes to go before the bell. They’d never make it. Quickly, she cut the yellow piece into squares and rectangles to make a body, a head, feet and hands. She drew a pumpkin like face on one of the squares.
“What’s that?” Sally shouted.
“It’s the robot’s head”
“I don’t want to do a robot.”
“But that’s the assignment.”
Sally’s nostrils flared, but she didn’t say anything. She glued another raindrop to the green sheet.
Rachel took the navy sheet and cut small wiggly lines for hair. Robot didn’t usually have hair, but maybe it would be something that Sally would like. She carefully cut several different lengths. Now she was ready to construct the robot. Across the table, Sally continued to glue raindrops. Rachel checked the clock. They had five minutes to finish!
“Sally, I think that’s enough raindrops.”
“No it isn’t. I want them to cover the whole page.”
“But we won’t be able to finish unless we put the rest of the pieces on right away.”
Sally pulled the green sheet closer to her little chest. “I don’t want those pieces on my paper. Make your own.”
“I can’t,” Rachel reached for Sally’s paper. “This is a cooperative art project – that means something we do together.”
“Don’t grab.” Sally yanked her paper toward her before Rachel could let go. It ripped in a jagged line down the middle.
“All right, class,” Mrs. Lacey’s voice rang out. “Time to put your supplies away. We can throw the scraps of construction paper in the recycling bin. Put you names on you finished piece. We’ll keep them on the table by my desk. That way your families can view them when they come for open house this Friday.
What? Rachel wasn’t putting her name on a piece of neon green paper with just some blue dots on it. But it seemed Sally didn’t care. She took the glue stick and pasted the two halves of the torn sheet together. In tiny letter she wrote SALLY BENSON across the bottom of the paper. She walked it up to Mrs. Lacey, leaving all the clean up to Rachel.
Rachel looked at the yellow, brown and navy pieces she had so carefully created. Maybe she could take them home and make a robot sculpture. But no. It was a kindergarten project. Hot with embarrassment, she swept them into a pile, carried them to the front of the room and dumped them in the recycling bin. She wanted to hate Sally, but she didn’t. She felt confused and empty. Mostly she was just relieved to be going back to her own classroom. She usually dreaded math, but today it was a welcome break from being a kindergarten buddy.
Rachel was very happy that there was nothing to do with kindergarten buddies on Wednesdays. On Thursdays, though, they had their first library day with the kindergarteners. Teaching a younger child how the library worked, helping her choose books, and best of all reading to them had sounded like fun until she was assigned to Sally. She imagined that Sally like really gross books about worms or, even worse, she wouldn’t let Rachel read to her. Feet dragging, she followed Kyle Hufferson the slowest kid in class down the stairs.
“Come on Rachel. Hurry a little.”Miss Winterbrook called. “We don’t want to make the kindergarteners late for library.”
Rachel usually tried very hard to be on time for everything. Being on time meant you got the first choice in a lot of things like seats at the movies, apples on the lunch counter or art supplies for a project. Mostly though, she just like the good warm feeling it gave her. But today she didn’t want to be on time. In fact, she didn’t want to go at all. The library would no longer be a special haven, the best part of school because now she had to share her time there with a bratty little girl. Sally would probably embarrass her because she didn’t even know enough to be quiet in the library.
But she couldn’t get out of it. There was Sally waiting at the kindergarten door with Mrs. Lacey. She scowled angrily, “You’re late.” Reluctantly, Rachel reached for her hand, but Sally pulled it away and marched out the door on her own. She turned to the right in the opposite direction from the library.
Rachel scooted after her. She caught Sally’s shoulder. It’s the other way.”
“Leave go of me,” Sally shouted.
“I’m just trying to help,” Rachel told her.
“I don’t need help.” Sally shrugged away from her hand and walked back toward the library. At the door Rachel whispered, “Remember, use your quietest voice.”
“I know that, stupid,” Sally said. “Just because I’m in kindergarten doesn’t’ mean I’m a baby so you can just stop treating me like one.”
Rachel didn’t think she had been treating Sally like a baby, even though she was acting like one. As they went in, she pointed to the high desk in the center of the room. “First, you apply for your school library card. She walked toward the desk, hoping Sally would follow her. Mr. Boneness the school librarian, moved from behind his commuter to a lower part of the counter. “Good afternoon, how can I help you?”
“This is Sally Benson, sir,” said Rachel.
“I can tell him my name,” Sally interrupted. ““I’m Sally and I want a card.”
“That’s very commendable young lady, it’s important to remember our manners when asking for things in the library.”
Sally flushed red. Rachel didn’t know if she was angry or embarrassed or upset, but her face was the color of beets. And her scowl, which Rachel thought to have been as deep as it could possibly be got even more creased and crinkly. She almost looked like a little old lady. And then Rachel realized she was trying not to cry. Sally had been hurt by Mr. Boneness’ sharp words. Rachel had thought Sally was too tough to be hurt. After all, she wasn’t ever ice to anyone. Still, when she thought about it, Rachel realized that grown-ups, at least the ones at school, were always being kind and patient with Sally. The librarian’s mean tone had really shocked her.
It serves her right, thought Rachel. But as quickly as thought flew through her head, a sad feeling twisted her stomach. She remembered a time she brought a book back when she was a kindergartener. Mr. Boneness had looked through the book and noticed that there was a smear of chocolate on one of the pages. “People who are respectful of books do not consume sweets while reading, he had intoned. “Reading is treat enough for any child. There are children in this world who never have the privilege of reading and you should be ashamed of yourself for ruining a book this way.”
Rachel burst into tears right there in the library. Mr. Boneness told her to not cause a commotion. This was a quiet place and her crying was disturbing the other children. Mrs. Lacey had hurried over from where she was helping Kyle pick out a book. She put her arms around Rachel and led her out into the hall and held her until she stopped crying. Then she dampened a pretty lace handkerchief in the school water fountain and wiped Rachel face clean of tear streaks, saying, “There, there.” But Rachel had been afraid to go back to the library for a month.
So, now she kind of understood what Sally was feeling. And it was weird to think that she and Sally might have something in common. Maybe Sally just acted tough because she was scared of being so small. After all just about everybody in the whole school was bigger than her.
“Ouch,” she yelped as Sally stomped her foot.
“Aren’t you supposed to be helping me find some books,” Sally hissed.
Rachel sighed, “They’re over here.” too
She took Sally to the section where big picture books were stacked on low shelves and scattered across small tables. “What do you like to read about?”
“You know I can’t read.” said Sally.
Oh, brother, thought Rachel. “Well, what kind of things do you like to do?”
“I like to climb the jungle gym and the trees in my back yard and ride my bike and chases birds.”
“It’s not very nice to chase birds.”
“But it’s fun to see them all fly away into the sky.”
Rachel remembered running along the coastal beach and the thrill of the gulls sweeping away over the crashing waves of the Pacific. Birds! It was a place to start. She almost ran back to the front desk. Thankfully, Sally followed sullenly behind her and didn’t wander off. A student librarian, Lisa Marie, helped them use the computer to search for “birds.’ Rachel, proud of the new typing skills she was learning, quickly typed using both hands. And birds was a fun word because you used only your left hand. A huge list came up. How would they ever choose from all those books?
“Now,” said Lisa Marie, “we narrow our search.” She typed in “Easy Reader” in the search box. The lights of the letters and words on the screen flashed. The list shrank. “What kind of birds do you want to read about?” Lisa Marie asked
“Big ones,” Sally blurted out.
“Okay,” Lisa Marie agreed. “Let’s try eagles. “There’s usually a lot written about eagles.” Right away she found a book about rescuing eagles caught in traps. She showed Rachel how to find the author’s name and the Dewey decimal system number to help them find it on the shelves. “If you have trouble finding it, come get me.”
Rachel found the “Ks” on the bookshelves because Betty Kingman had written the book they wanted. As they looked, Rachel was really afraid it would be already checked out. Then they’d have to start all over and maybe leave without a book because library time would be over. Then Sally pulled a big square book off a shelf. There it was and on the front was a beautiful color photo of an eagle soaring through the air over a mountain with its wings spread across the whole page. It was so beautiful it took Rachel’s breath away and beside her Sally want ‘OHHH’
Sally liked the book! She like something. Rachel felt all warm inside. Come-on she said, let’s find a reading place.
As she and Sally looked for a place to read, she saw all the beanbag chairs were used up. Finding the book seemed too important to simply read it at a library table surrounded by other kids. Just when Sally looked like she might lose her original enthusiasm, Rachel saw the sun shining brightly from a big window in the corner of the library. It shone on a big rocking chair and the chair was empty. She hurried over, sat down and, holding her breath, she invited Sally to sit on her lap. For a full minute, Sally just stared at her. But then she looked longingly at the book and crawled up on Rachel’s’ lap. “In the wild, eagles,” Rachel began. She and Sally were still engrossed the story when Mrs. Lacey found them. The teacher had a big smile on her face. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you two. I thought you might have left the library, I’m so glad to see you right here. There’s a little bit of time left, if you want to find another book to check out.”
“Do you?” Rachel asked.
Sally turned her head and looked at Rachel. Sally turned her pretty blue eyes up to Rachel. For once, they didn’t glare. They twinkled. “Yes, please,” she said and she smiled. She smiled. Being her buddy might be going to work out after all.