By my third week of second grade, I was in the groove. I bought lunch every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday (Pizza, Sub Sandwiches, and Hamburgers) and brought lunch on Wednesday and Friday (Chalupa and Fish Sticks), I was the fourth-best kickballer in my class, and I learned that Sundays were no longer real days off.
Second grade had homework, including a book report due every Monday. All week I told myself I’d get the work done early. I’d agonize over which book to pick on Monday. I always tried to find books I’d read before, but Dr. Hasentstab told me no more Dr. Seuss books after the first week. By Tuesday I’d read the entire Table of Contents. Wednesday I practiced baseball with my team. On Thursday I would write down both the author and the illustrator on the book report form. Friday was reserved for treehouse time. By the time Saturday rolled around, it was my only real day off, so I spent it eating string cheese and watching cartoons. And then came Sunday. I dreaded Sunday. I had to watch two football games on TV, eat a grape popsicle, and play the Jimmy invented game of “ball,” for at least two hours (I planned on turning professional).
I knew it was time for business in the late afternoon when I heard the ’60 Minutes’ promo play in the afternoon football game. I slunk over to the bar, grabbed my book, and sat down to skim a book I didn’t even want to open.
So it was that third Sunday of second grade. The football game ended and I grabbed my book, “Many Moons.” I read the front and back cover and had a good starting point for my book report. Princess Lenore and moons.
I started to write: “The book I chose to write my book report about this week is Many Moons. The author of Many Moons is James Thurber. His friends probably call him Jimmy. I liked reading this book very much. Many Moons is a very good book about Princess Lenore and moons.” I paused, hoping I could write more without reading the book.
“Jim, what are you doing,” mom interrupted, “I told you all weekend that you had to clean your room. It’s Sunday night. Now’s the time to do it.”
I hated cleaning more than homework. “Mom, you want me to go to college, right? I have to do this homework. It’s due tomorrow.”
I closed the book. “Fine, if you want me to fail, I’ll go clean my room.”
She handed me a trashbag and I slowly walked down the hall.
I shared the room with Jake and Jean. I got the half with the big tree wallpaper and they got the half closer to the bathroom. Their half was clean because mom still picked up after Jake and because Jean was a girl. I had my tiger blanket, baseball cards, legos, my giant fighting pillow, my giant sleeping pillow, and my two baseball trophies on the floor on my side. It would probably take me all night to clean up the room. I opened the closet door and started shoving things in there.
Mom had given me the trashbag because she wanted me to donate the stuff I no longer used. I always gave the trashbag back to her empty because I never knew when I was going to need my kindergarten textbook or my worn out tennis shoes.
The closet was getting full and I still had more stuff to put in there. I looked at the trashbag. I thought about putting some of Jean’s stuff in there. If her dolls or her dresses were gone, there’d be plenty of room for the rest of my stuff. Then I saw it. My Ball O Shapes.
I remembered my mom telling me about that toy while Jake was playing with it. “That was your favorite toy. You liked it more than Jean and Jake. We took that toy everywhere. We couldn’t leave home without it, even to the store. You could get all the pieces in by the time you were eight months. You’d bring it to me to open up to get the pieces out and you’d race to put them back in again.”
I reached up and grabbed the Ball O Shapes. Blue and red and yellow. The ball was smaller in my hands now. I smiled at the toy.
And I picked up the trashbag and set the Ball O Shapes in.
My room was still a mess, but I knew mom wouldn’t care. She would see the toy and start crying, thinking about how big I was getting. I walked down the hall. “Look mom, I finally threw away something.” She smiled and grabbed the bag. I smiled. She looked in. And her expression changed. Not exactly angry or sad. I knew what was next. She would start telling me all the stories about how I could say, “triangle and square” before I was two years old.
She pulled the toy out of the bag. “Jim,” she said, likely on the verge of tears.
“I know, Mom, that was my favorite toy, but I’m in second grade now and growing up. I need to make room for new things.”
“No, Jim. This one is Jake’s. I have yours in my closet. It was missing pieces. Get back to your room.”
I walked back and cleaned as fast as I could. Everything went in the closet. The doors were bulging out. I picked up my baseball card album, the big one with 12 Pete Roses and two Bobby Griches, and forced it in the closet. I leaned against the door and it clicked shut just as mom said, “Ok, time for bed.”
“Moooom!” I whined, “I only finished my introductory paragraph for my book report. I need to put a title, a conclusion, and a cover page on!”
“Brush your teeth,” she said and went to go get us our three pink plastic cups of water. We lay down. Dad came by to tell us a story. Mom tucked us in. I turned my cheek when she tried to kiss me. And I thought about the book report.
I woke up the next morning and wrote down all the ideas I had for my book report. I wrote about Princess Lenore’s Uncle Jack. I decided to make up a character because Dr. Hasenstab probably hadn’t read the book, because I always wanted an Uncle Jack, and because I had only read the front and back cover. He was a great guy, with so much money that he gave Princess Lenore a moon for each birthday and Christmas, but Princess Lenore learned that he was stealing the moons from kids’ science projects. Princess Lenore gave the moons back at the end and all the kids got “A’s.”
I slapped a title page with an illustration on my report and slipped it into a nice, clear covered binder. I thought about accidentally leaving some baseball cards in the report, but wasn’t sure if Dr. Hasenstab collected them. As long as she hadn’t read Many Moons, this book report was some of my best work.
I was early to school that Monday morning. I played kickball with Eric until the bell rang. Before each kick, I prayed for both a good kick and that Dr. Hasenstab had never read Many Moons.
The bell rang and we went to class. We had to drop our book reports in the “Book Report” bin. Even though I had the nicest folder, I slid mine somewhere in the middle. And exhaled. She corrected the book reports at lunch.
I was an extra good student that morning. I rose my hand for every spelling word and competed with Robbie for the fastest math test. I got my pizza at lunch. It was a folded rectangle piece of pepperoni, cheese, and juice. I squeezed it together to drink the juice off the top, then licked the cheese. I ate the toppings and left the bread. I forgot a bit about my book report as we ran out to play kickball again. Scott and I were captains. We were just about to win when the bell rang.
I was the last one in line on the way back from lunch. Our book reports were on our desks as we entered the room. I held my breath. I peeled back the clear cover.
I peeled back the title page.
I saw it in red. A capital “F.” And question marks around every mention of Uncle Jack. And a giant “SEE ME” in the top right hand corner.
It was my first “F” in my whole school career. I was in a haze until the school day ended. The bell rang. On my way out, I threw the book report, fancy folder and all, into the trash.
I knew I should have included some baseball cards.