The move from age six to seven was rough. I was getting too big to be a little kid, too little to be a big kid. I had to ride third on my dad’s back to make sure Jean and Jake didn’t fall off. But Jeff was still too cool for me.
And so October 1982 rolled around and school was beginning to agitate me. I was still the second smartest kid in the class and the third best athlete, but I was tired of working. I wanted to play kickball all day and memorize the US presidents in order. Dr. Hasenstab wanted English and math and handwriting. The problem was that I could pass all the tests without doing any of the work. The only thing that kept me going was competing against the other kids. Well, really, competing with the smartest kid, Brian. He was the only one in a higher reading level than me, reading level 11! I wanted to be in the highest reading level. The problem was, that required work. Each reading level had 35 skills you had to complete and many of the skills required pages and pages of workbook exercises.
Brian finished two skills a day and was always working on the exercises. I tried hard to catch up to him. I hid his workbook for two days, but he was a better looker than I was a hider.
I finished all the level 10 skills that didn’t require workbook pages and then I slowly plodded through the ones with one workbook page. I had seven skills left when I woke up on Tuesday, October 12, my birthday. I made a resolution. I was going to focus on the last seven skills and spend all day finishing my workbook pages. I put my underwear on backwards and wore my knee-high green striped socks. Today was the day I was going to catch Brian.
I got to school and grabbed my workbook before I noticed that there was a substitute teacher. Substitutes were hit and miss. Sometimes they were easier for signing off on skills, sometimes they were harder. I did the two pages for task 29 and went up to the sub. “I’m ready to test for skill 29,” I said.
And she handed me the test without asking to see the workbook pages. I almost screamed with joy. I sat down and finished the test in less than five minutes. I took it back up. “I’m ready to test for skill 30,” I said. Skill 30 had four workbook pages. Again, she just handed me the test.
I quickly took the test. I walked back up to the substitute. Brian had seen me walk up twice and knew I was doing skill tests. If I kept going back up, he’d tell the teacher to check my workbook pages. This was probably my last chance to get a skill test without him telling. “I usually do about seven skills a day,” I told the teacher, “because I’m so smart. Can you just give me skills 31 to 35 now so you don’t have to keep going back to the filing cabinet?”
“How thoughtful you are!” she said and brought me back all the tests. I took them back to my seat and completed them. I decided to take the rest of the day off. I didn’t do my math or handwriting because I knew Dr. Hasenstab wouldn’t believe I finished all of those workbook pages and the other work. I did get all the way up to James Garfield on my memorized list of presidents. The bell rang. I asked Brian on my way out, “Do you like being the only second grader in level 11?” I laughed before he could answer and ran to my mom’s car.
My birthday was special: Hamburger from McDonald’s, fries from Carl’s Jr, cake, school clothes, and my first two He-Man action figures: Skeletor and Man-at-Arms. And my life changed.
I had never had any dolls before because they were for girls. These were different: action figures! It was like my imagination turned on. I played with the toys all night. Even though Skeletor was evil, I was Skeletor and Dr. Hasenstab was Man-at-Arms because Skeletor was so skinny and Dr. Hasenstab was not.
“I see you finished the seven hardest reading skills today, Skeletor. Good job! You can go play kickball for the rest of the year!”
“Thank you Man-at-Arms. It was hard doing all that work, but it was worth it to be a Level 11 reader.” And then Skeletor cut off Man-at-Arms legs.
For the first time in a long time, I woke up excited to get to class. Dr. Hasenstab would probably bring me up to the front of the class because I worked so hard yesterday. I put my action figures in my backpack and went to school.
I sat through the morning lessons. She didn’t mention me. It was getting close to recess time. I thought about raising my hand and asking her if she had anything to say to me.
Just before recess, Dr. Hasenstab said, “Jimmy, I’d like you to stay after I release the class for recess.”
I smiled and said, “Ok.” I realised she just wanted to thank me in private.
The bell rang, she let the class go. I folded my hands and waited proudly at my desk. She walked over.
“Jimmy, I saw you finished all the level 10 skills yesterday.”
“Yes, Dr. Hasenstab. It was hard work, but yesterday was my birthday and I knew I would be extra good, so…”
“Jimmy, did you do the workbook pages?”
I held my breath. “Of course, Dr. Hasenstab.”
“Let me see them.”
I was caught, I didn’t know what to do. I thought quickly. I reached into my backpack. “Look, Dr. Hasenstab, I got two He-Man figures for my birthday. This is Skeletor and this is Man-at-Arms. Don’t you think you look like Man-at-Arms? I think you…”
“Jimmy. Let me see the workbook pages.”
I was quiet. I put my head down. “I didn’t do them.” I said and I started to whimper.
“Then I’m not going to count the tests you took.” I cried harder. “You can go to recess now.”
I stood and walked toward the door, a He-Man figure in each hand. I looked back at my teacher. “Dr. Hasenstab, did I pass the tests?”
“That’s beside the point Jimmy.”
“It’s important for me to know whether I passed them.”
“Because I need to know if I should try on the workbook pages.”
“Go to recess, Jimmy.”
I went outside. On my way out, Skeletor laughed. And pulled out his sword.