|Image courtesy WikiCommons|
On the first day of kindergarten, Porpoise McAllister fell in love. That’s to be expected when a boy leaves his mother’s side for the first time, but it wasn’t his teacher, Ms. Pride, he fell for, though plenty of the other boys, and many of the girls, did. And it wasn’t little Jeannie Hesacker, the doe-eyed brunette whose pink fake fur coat hung on the peg next to his. It wasn’t even a boy-crush on Jason Moyer who towered at least a head above the other 5-year-olds and who had “Most Likely to Break Many Hearts” written all over his face.
No, the object – and it was an object – of Porpoise’s ardor was a red miniature tractor, so tiny, so detailed, that he almost peed his pants when he saw it. As it was, the poor boy had to choose between running to the bathroom that had the picture of the little boy on the door, or holding it in so he could claim the toy before anyone else did. It was no contest. Fortunately, Ms. Pride was a perceptive teacher. She was also raised with five brothers; she knew how boys were.
“Gerald,” she said gently, when she saw Porpoise with his knees locked together, bouncing slightly as he pushed the tractor around the play table, “how about I hold onto the tractor for you while you go to the little boys’ room?” She smiled down at him, holding out her hand for the toy. Reluctantly, but trustingly, Porpoise placed the tractor in his teacher’s hand, then bolted as fast as circumstances would allow to the toilets.
As he zipped up, Porpoise had to make his next difficult decision: to wash or not to wash. The entire family, from Grandpa and Grandma to his parents and even his uncle, had trained him to always wash his hands – with soap! – after using the bathroom. It had become second nature. But how long would Ms. Pride hang onto the tractor for him? How long before some other kid asked her for it and she gave it to him? The thoughts raced through his head.. He turned from the toilet and went right to the door, ignoring the admonishments in his head.
Ms. Pride’s perception proved right again as the boy held out his hand for the vehicle.
“Why don’t we use the little room sink to wash those hands?” she said, holding the tractor behind her back. She pointed to a small sink in the corner of the room.
Porpoise knew it was useless to argue. Besides, now he could keep an eye on the teacher and the tractor while he scrubbed his hands.
“Just a few more minutes of play time,” Ms. Pride said as she put the toy back into the boy’s (nearly) dried hands. “I’m glad you like the tractor,” she added, “it used to be my grandpa’s.”
“Really?” Porpoise’s eyes went wide as he hugged the toy to his chest. “How come you have it?”
“He gave it to me,” Ms. Pride told him, “after he got very, very sick. He gave me that toy horse that Jeannie is playing with, that black car that Jason has, and a few others. I brought them here so my students could play with them.”
“Wow, nice grandpa,” Porpoise said. “My grandpa has a tractor, too, and it looks just like this, only it’s big and he drives it.”
“Is that why you like it so much, it looks like your grandpa’s?” Ms. Pride asked him.
Porpoise shrugged as he went back to pushing the tractor around. “I just like it,” he said.
While Ms. Pride circulated through the play area, Porpoise built a barn and roads out of blocks for the tractor. He pretended he had to get the corn planted before it rained. He eyed the horse that Jeannie was using, wishing he could put it in the barn.
A boy came over and stood next to Porpoise as he maneuvered the tractor across his pretend fields.
“Nice tractor,” the boy said. “I’ll let you play with this dog if you let me play with that,” he added. He held out a black and white stuffed dog.
“No thanks,” Porpoise said politely. He angled his body away from the boy, willing him to go away.
“Well, pretend this is a giant monster who’s coming after the farmer and it crushes him,” the boy said. He held up the dog over the barn and brought it crashing down on top of it, sending blocks flying.
“No!” Porpoise cried. “Stop that!”
“Michael Streiter,” Ms. Pride said, striding toward them, “are you playing nice?”
“He broke my barn,” Porpoise said, gathering up the blocks.
“Tattletale,” Michael said.
“Okay, that’s enough,” Ms. Pride said, gently prying the dog from Michael’s hands. “Class,” she said in a loud voice, “time to clean up and get back to our tables. Put the toys back where you found them. I’ll come around to help.”
Porpoise moaned. He stacked the blocks neatly into their box with one hand, while still clutching the tractor in the other. He put the box away and went back to his seat at the table he shared with three others. He put the tractor in his lap. If he put it back on the shelf, someone else might take it. They might even break it!
The class worked on tracing letters and numbers with big, fat pencils for a while. Porpoise already knew all his ABCs and numbers, but did it anyway. Sometimes he made a small “b” instead of a small “d”. He forgot all about the tractor in his lap.
Ms. Pride went around to the tables and stapled each child’s worksheets together. “You can take these home to show your family,” she told them, “but right now it’s time to wash our hands for snack time.”
Porpoise couldn’t wait for his snack. His mama had packed cheese crackers, raisins and red juice, his favorite. He jumped up with the others, sending the tractor skittering across the floor.
“Teacher! Teacher!” Michael Streiter cried, chasing the tractor down, “this boy took the tractor!” He held it aloft for the Ms. Pride to see and pointed at Porpoise.
“I was just holding it,” Porpoise said, tears springing to his eyes. Tattletale, he thought. He sat heavily back into his seat and put his head down on the table, covering it with his arms.
Although Ms. Pride didn’t say anything – she simply put the tractor back on its shelf – Porpoise just knew that he’d never be allowed to play with the tractor again. He sobbed quietly until the teacher patted him on the back and told him to wash up then get his snack from his cubbyhole. He did, but only because he was thirsty for red juice.
The next day, Porpoise pretended not to notice the tractor in its spot on the shelf, but in the hours before play time, his gaze wandered there as if drawn by magnets. He trembled slightly as the class was released to the play area. He wanted to run to the shelf, but he walked, fast, his eyes on the toy the entire time. Then he blinked and stopped short, startled to see another hand reach for the tractor before he could get there. It was that Michael! The boy flashed Porpoise a wicked grin before he retreated to a corner of the area to play with some other boys.
He didn’t want to be a crybaby, but Porpoise’s eyes filled with tears anyway. He saw Ms. Pride watching him, though, so he grabbed a puzzle from a shelf and took it back to his seat. By the end of play time he’d done six puzzles.
Every day it was the same; Michael always got to the tractor first. And he didn’t take care of it! He and the other boys crashed it and other vehicles together and raced them right into walls! He wasn’t going to be a tattletale, but his eyes made silent pleas to Ms. Pride, who didn’t seem to understand.
Finally, one day Michael wasn’t at school. Porpoise fairly flew to the shelf and snatched up the tractor, cradling it in his hands. His heart sank when he saw that some of its paint had been chipped and one of the wheels didn’t turn any more. No matter, he still loved the little toy and took it over to the play table. Just then a loud buzz sounded. Buzz! Buzz! Buzz!
“Attention, class!” Ms. Pride shouted over the racket. “This is a fire drill. It’s not a real fire!” she assured the children who looked panicked. “Put down your toys and walk quickly to the door and form a line. No running or pushing!”
Porpoise looked down at the tractor and sighed. The buzzing was hurting his ears and some of the kids were screaming and running around with their hands over their ears. He left the tractor behind and got in line next to Jeannie Hesacker, who was shaking all over and crying.
“It’s okay,” Porpoise told her, then reached for Jeannie’s hand. She crushed his in hers and held on, even after they got outside.
Naturally, there wasn’t any time left to play once they got back inside. Ms. Pride tidied the play area while the students worked on letters and numbers again. Porpoise sighed when she put the tractor back on the shelf. Maybe that Michael boy won’t come back tomorrow, he thought.
But he did, and Porpoise, who’d already gone through all of the puzzles, reached for the basket of finger puppets.
“Can I play, too?” Jeannie said, coming over to where he’d dumped the puppets on the floor.
“I guess,” Porpoise said. He wondered why she wasn’t playing with that stupid horse she always played with.
It was hard to tell what some of the puppets were supposed to be – one looked like a cross between a chicken and a crocodile – and Jeannie liked to use a high-pitched voice for the voices, but after a while Porpoise forgot all about the tractor.
He forgot until the next day, that is, when he came into the room and didn’t see it on the shelf. He looked everywhere, but it was gone! Did that Michael take it? Should he tell Ms. Pride? Was that being a tattletale? Even during morning science where they got to see real tadpoles and frogs, Porpoise fretted. What should he do? When play time came around, Porpoise stayed at his table, sitting on his hands.
“Teacher! Teacher!” Michael brayed from the play area. “The tractor is missing! Someone took it! I bet it was that boy!”
Shocked, Porpoise swiveled in his chair. “I didn’t take it!” he declared. “You ...”
“I took it,” Ms. Pride said, coming between them. “I took the horse and the black car and the others, too.”
Michael and Porpoise had the same exaggerated flabbergasted looks on their faces, jaws dropped and eyes wide open. It was all Ms. Pride could do not to laugh.
“Sorry,” she said. “I know you liked the toys, but I found out that they’re made out of something called lead and it’s very harmful, so I took them back home, put them in a box and high up on a shelf.”
“Darn!” Michael and Porpoise cried at the same time.
Ms. Pride went to her desk and took a box out of the drawer.
“I brought some different toys,” she said, opening the box. The two boys, Jeannie, and several others gathered around to peer inside. There was another horse, except this one was black, not white; a blue car, a yellow boat and, yes, another tractor, two in fact.
Michael snatched up one of the tractors, but Porpoise held back. And Jeannie didn’t reach for the horse. The tractor was nice and all, Porpoise thought, but it just wasn’t the same.
“Want to play puppets?” Jeannie asked him.
Porpoise shrugged. “I guess,” he said, “but I get to be the crocodile bird.”