by Jay O'Toole
This is chapter #7 of The Quest for Home, my NaNoWriMo novel for November, 2017.
Kindness is the teacher's tool.
Give and get, again.
Harshness invokes harshest rule.
Folks like this don't win.
Tying His Shoes
"It's been HOW LONG?" snorted Molly Muskrat. "It has been at least 30 to 45 minutes! I have demonstrated how to tie your shoelaces three or four times,...maybe more! YOU STILL CAN'T TIE YOUR SHOES!!!!"
"I,...I,...I,...I...know, Miss Molly, but I still don't understand how to tie my shoelaces!" Quest quavered, covering his head in shame. "Please, give me a little more time! I can I'll get it!"
"YOU...WILL...NEVER...GET...IT!!!!" stormed Molly. "You are SO DUMB! You are HOPELESS!" Quick as a wink, Molly Muskrat ran off "to find a more intelligent student."
Quest fell into a heap on the soft grass,...dejected. He curled up into a fetal position. "Why did I have to come to this TERRIBLE PLACE! School,...who needs it? I don't want to come here any more! I can work with my Daddy! I don't need these people! Why, Muskrat? Why? I'm doing the best I can! I almost got it!"
In that position Quest was soon fast asleep.
Miss Jaguar got busy with the afternoon lessons, but when the other children were focused on their seat-work and very quiet, she realized that someone was missing. "QUEST! Where is Quest? Does anyone know?"
"He's out under the Gnarly Juniper Tree, Miss Julie," said Tommy Tiger. "He was fast asleep the last I saw him, and he was clutching his tying shoe in his fore paws."
"Why haven't you told me this before now, Tommy?"
"You didn't ask me before now, Miss Julie."
Losing Her Job
"Alright, Everyone, please keep fast at your lessons. Continue to be quiet. I'm going to get Quest," said Miss Julie. "Molly, why aren't you still with Quest like I asked you to be?"
"I lost my patience with him, Julie!" hushed Molly. "He worked on that practice tying shoe for 45 minutes, and still he couldn't tie his shoes! He's so DUMB! He's HOPELESS!"
"'Lost (your) patience,' did you, Molly?" Miss Jaguar chewed the words with a stern face. "That's not all you've lost today, Miss Muskrat! YOU'RE FIRED!!!! That's child abuse! Clean out your desk! Leave and NEVER COME BACK!!!"
Crestfallen, Molly Muskrat slinked out of the classroom, while Julie Jaguar bolted through the door with no limb on the ground.
"Wake up, Dear Quest," Miss Julie called as she gently rubbed his back. "Are you okay?"
"NO!" Quest cried and cried and cried and cried in her arms, until he had no more tears left to cry. Finally, the words slowly came out. "Miss Molly was mean to me when I was trying to learn to tie my shoes! I almost had it! All I wanted her to do was to let me try a little more because I knew I could 'get it!' Then, she hurt me very badly, when she said, 'YOU...WILL...NEVER...GET...IT!!!! You are SO DUMB! You are HOPELESS! I am off to find a more intelligent student.' Miss Julie, I have never seen a shoe before today! This is the first time I've tried to put one on my hind paw. I tried to tie it in place. Did she really have to be that mean to me? I don't want to come back here ever again!"
"I don't blame you, Quest" assured Miss Julie. "I wouldn't want to return to an environment like this, either, but I would like to ask you to forgive me for letting that happen to you, today, because it will never happen to you, again. When I found out what Miss Muskrat had said, I fired her on the spot! She...is...gone!"
"Thank you, Miss Julie! I forgive you. You are nice. I...I...love you. Thank you for helping me to feel better," Quest said. "I don't really hate Miss Molly, but I don't want her to hurt anybody else."
"I have seen to that, personally!" affirmed Miss Julie. "You are very well spoken for a little bear! I love you, too, Dear One!"
Respect is a Gift, Not a Wage
The days following the dismissal of Molly Muskrat saw a great change in the environment of the school. Both Mrs. Blair and Miss Jaguar expressed the importance of respecting others as the unique individuals God had created each person to be. The children and the adults of Miss Blair's Play School acted as though they were taking the words to heart.
Whining reduced to a minimum.
"Yes, Ma'am;" "No, Ma'am;" "Please" and "Thank you"
were common expressions from all, who shared the daily environs.
The children asked for things, like books, crayons and toys with a polite tone of voice,
rather than simply grabbing, if an object could be reached, screaming, "Gimme it!"
However, even with this great improvement in the school, Quest still had a few challenges to surmount. For one thing, he had a nearly constant twitch in the fur above his right eye. The headmistress, the teachers and the assistants all believed that the twitch was due to the shock of the incident with Miss Muskrat. Yet, it proved to be so unusual that occasionally a child would forget himself or herself and exclaim, "What's wrong with your eye? It looks funny!"
The corrections were instantaneous, and even Quest knew the child was not trying to be intentionally hurtful, but the comment always made the twitch worse, not better.
Quest had another obstacle to good health. Mrs. Blair was notorious for insisting that the children be fed the best food available because "Good healthy bodies are the best tools for promoting excellence in learning!" It sounded nice, but the children didn't have the heart to tell their headmistress that they really didn't understand what she meant by all of those fancy words. However, since she spoke this life principle in a teacherly way every day right before she asked the Blessing for the noon meal, they all guessed it must have something to do with the food.
Quest enjoyed the apples, bananas, pears, oranges, grapes and watermelons as much as the other children did. He even enjoyed most of the vegetables, but the way the school's kitchen monkeys always served up the spinach caused him to write spinach off of his dietary list for many years.
What was wrong with the spinach? Didn't it still have all the wonderful nutrients that were created for good healthy bodies and strong minds? No doubt the "good stuff" was still in there,...somewhere,...but Quest couldn't get past the look and the taste of the spinach.
From this early life experience Quest defined spinach as an awful-looking, black, stringy, nasty-smelling pile of mush that made him cringe more, when it landed on his plate with a squishy, sloshy, thoroughly wet SPLOP! "I know we're supposed to be nice at this school, now," Quest thought, "but I feel sorry for the 'spinach.' It looks like somebody beat up those poor leaves with a big, ugly stick, and then threw them into a pot of really hot water. They looked too hot and they looked like were drowned. I feel like praying for them at the grave rather than to try to eat them. Rest in piece, You Poor Little Leaves."
The rest of the year flew by. Quest enjoyed playing chase and Hide-N-Seek with his new friends. Coloring and drawing was a little challenging with his big bear paws, but the teachers and assistants always found something good to compliment about his pictures in art class. He always enjoyed hearing Miss Julie read stories right after lunch. Her voice was so soothing that he often fell asleep for a long hour. (Just between us, I think that was why she read that way. Young children receive great benefit from an afternoon nap.)
Anyway, the year came and went all too quickly for the enjoyment of little boys, like Quest. When Dad picked him up from school on the last day, he cried and cried and cried because he had grown to love his teachers and friends. Yet, summer break meant some amount of working with his Dad as well as being introduced to the idea of moving his educational career to a new school. "Where am I going to school next, Daddy? What do they call the next year after 'Kindergarten'?"
Casa wanted his son to enjoy the summer. He simply said, "Rest. Play. Enjoy the summer. I'll be looking. I'm sure your next school will be even better than this one was!"
"Better than Mrs. Blair's Play School? How is that possible?" But all the same,...it really proved to be so.
Carrier Elementary School
"First Grade, Quest!" Dad finally shouted. "That is what the next year after 'Kindergarten' is called. 'First Grade.'"
"Why is it called, 'First Grade,' Daddy, when 'Kindergarten' was the first class I went to school to enjoy?" Quest was truly puzzled.
"Well, Dear One, you are not the first person to ever ask that question, and I don't rightfully know the answer," Casa said. "Maybe, it has something to do with the fact that in 'Kindergarten' the learning process is 'kinder' because you spend all of your time playing and coloring with crayons and sleeping through story time. Don't you think that might be it?"
"Maybe,...but...now you're starting to scare me a little, Daddy,..." Quest broke off. "Do you mean the learning will be really hard in 'First Grade?'"
"I doubt that seriously, My Boy!" Dad reassured him. "'First Grade' simply means that it's time to take a more school-like approach in the way we learn the heavier subjects of Math, Language Arts, History and Science. I have found Carrier Elementary School in the deepest part of the thick forest. Your teacher is a gentle raccoon, named, 'Mrs. Dickerson.' You're really going to love 'First Grade,' Quest. I promise you!"