A First-Grade Lesson I Still Use

I finished my work before most of the other students each day. So sometimes I whispered with Nathan and Gertrude and Ruth. We had been assigned seats together between the first graders and the second graders. This whispering didn’t seem like a big problem to me until I opened my first report card for the year. I liked all my grades, except the one for citizenship. I had a feeling my parents­­ wouldn’t like that grade, either. They were big on good behavior.

To my surprise, they didn’t say anything about my bad mark that evening. After supper while Mom rocked the baby, Dad dropped to his fours on the braided rug to roughhouse, my little brothers riding him like a horse and him bucking them off. Then Dad turned into a growling dog, pinching his bushy eyebrows together in a dark slash across his face and chasing them up the stairs to bed. I usually played these games, but not tonight. In bed, I wondered, had my parents read my grade wrong? Not seen it? Was I conscience-bound to point it out to them?

The next evening, though, they asked to speak with me. In her rocker by the window, Mom pulled my brother’s holey sock over her wooden darning egg and wet a thread so she could push it through the needle eye. I watched the needle flash in and out of the sock closing the hole. Dad rummaged in the desk for a package. Then he sat on the couch beside me. Both of them looked at me.

They surprised me again. We think we know, Dad said, why you have a bad grade in citizenship. How could they know? They hadn’t seen me at Yoder School. We think, my mom went on, that you finish your work too quickly. Then you don’t know what to do, so you talk to Nathan and Gertrude.

I was overcome with relief. My parents understood me exactly. I wanted to climb up on my mom’s lap, but I just nodded. Then they showed me their solution. A beautiful, shiny, brand new workbook. About birds. With stickers (which I had never seen before) and puzzles and diagrams and facts. I was awestruck. A wondrous book instead of a scolding.

“Do your school work as quickly as you can,” my dad said. “And then do this workbook. When you finish with this workbook, we’ll find you another one.”

And,” Mom added, “don’t talk to Gertrude and Nathan.”

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