The Good, the Bad, and the Crazy

An interactive reading, by Amy Freeman Kalb

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My father buzzed around the kitchen like an agitated bumble bee, knocking from task to task in a disorienting morning routine. He dumped as much cereal on the floor as he did into the bowl, dribbled hot coffee down the front of his tie, and reduced our chips to crumbs as he shoved them down into our lunch bags. “Daddy,” I said, “sign my test.”

“Just a minute, baby– " as he globbed peanut butter onto a slice of wheat bread for my sister.

“But it’s a good grade. We don’t have to talk about it, you just have to sign it,” I pleaded.

“Put it on the table and go get your sister’s coat. I will sign it, I promise,” but he just kept making lunches, and a generally messy production.

I went to Beth’s room, retrieved her coat, and plopped it down on the dining room table – right beside the still unsigned test. “Daddy!” Now I was annoyed, but I wasn’t the only one.

“Amy Freeman. You know that you do not take that tone in this house. Take Beth out to the car and get her buckled in. I will sign your test and put it in your backpack. If I say I will do something, I will do it. Understood?” I didn’t understand at all what was so hard about signing a test right then, but I did understand that he wasn’t in the mood to be interrogated, so I stomped and spun on my Keds, yanked up my sister, and huffed and puffed my way to the car. After what I considered to be a totally inappropriately long period of time, he came out to the car, tossed me my backpack, and we were off. I was seething. He didn’t even mention my test, or apologize for being such a terrible parent who couldn’t pay proper attention to my educational needs. I guess he thought I was going to check the backpack, and then he could yell at me again for not trusting him, but I wasn’t falling for it.

As my little section of the M.E.S. third grade filed into Mrs. Peete’s classroom, she took her position at the front of the room, and began her weekly tirade against every student’s favorite thing about school: Popcorn Friday. In just a few hours, we would burst out of the school in a tidal wave of excitement and jingling quarters, ready to buy our popcorn and head out onto the playground. Well, most of us, anyway. There would, of course, be the usual group of Bad Kids – the slackers, misbehavers, and general wrong-doers who would not be allowed to get popcorn, and would have to stay on the sidewalk with Mrs. Peete. This, combined with the fact that she had to check everyone’s punch cards, was at the heart of her distaste for Popcorn Friday. She didn’t want to sit with those Bad Kids any more than we did.

Now, the punch cards were a whole other issue, too. They were your ticket to Popcorn Friday, basically. They were nothing more than little rectangles of laminated construction paper, about the size of a credit card. They had each day of the week written on them, with three little circles drawn underneath each day. Teachers then wielded hole-punches against us instead of paddles, punching out one of the little circles for any number of indiscretions. Talking in class? Punch. Fight in P.E.? Punch. Throwing food at lunch? Punch. Refusing to get your spelling test signed because your grade was going to get you in trouble at home? Punch. Naturally, I never got a punch, nor did my friends. We weren’t Bad Kids.

So, when Mrs. Peete concluded her weekly tirade by calling for our signed spelling tests, I glanced around the room, mentally tallying the kids who probably didn’t have theirs and would get a punch. As she called Scottie Fotchmann’s name, I knew I was next, and I shoved my hand down into my backpack pocket. And came up empty. WHAT THE - ?! I grabbed my backpack and started pulling out everything, flinging papers and books everywhere in the process. But, it was no use. The test was not there. I trudged up to Mrs. Peete, dreading having to explain how my terrible, inattentive, borderline-neglectful father had forsaken me. How I had so dutifully performed my due diligence, but had been let down. I was sure she would hug me, sympathetic to my plight. And of course, she wouldn’t give me a punch. I’m not a Bad Kid, afterall.

I approached her, crafting my story and working up my tears. I was all ready to begin when she snatched the punch card out of my hand and mutilated it before I could even explain my sad circumstances. The shiny laminated surface was breached, and the cheerful orange construction paper was now my worst nightmare! How was I, a GOOD KID, supposed to sit on the sidewalk all through recess with the BAD KIDS? An innocent and impressionable third-grader should not have to be subjected to the dregs of elementary school society. What kind of things do those kids even talk about? Spitballs and loogies? And I couldn’t even let myself think about the cootie factor. As the awful image of myself sitting on the sidewalk with Mrs. Peete and the criminals formed in my head, a tiny terror made its way up from my belly, choking my throat with sobs, and forcing hot tears out of my eyes. I was in my desk now, though I didn’t remember how I got there, and I was sobbing uncontrollably. Some time must have passed, but next, I heard my father’s voice. I don’t remember what he was saying, but I remember the concern I heard. And that day, I didn’t have to take my turn sitting with the Bad Kids, but I came to the realization that was something else – I was a Crazy Kid.

About the Author

Amy Kalb is currently a student at the University of Alabama, majoring in Secondary Education, English Language Arts. She is somewhat mentally stable now, and occasionally even enjoys being "bad," "crazy," and a variety of other labels. As a teacher, she hopes she never has to punch a card, and she hopes students leave her class knowing they are never truly "bad kids."

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