Bella in a Sticky Situation
Bella leaned on her elbows, stifling a yawn with the palm of her hand. It was only 9:00 a.m., but she was already bored to tears in 5th-grade social studies class. She knew all these facts. Slyly, she tried to sneak a peek at her trove of books concealed in her green and pink floral book bag under her desk. Later, her eyes drifted outdoors. The rain’s dampness and the chilly air created droplets of condensation on the windowpane. Bella daydreamed of its wet coldness.
“C -O-N-D-E-N-S-A-T-I-O-N,” Bella silently spelled.
“Bella McClure,” Teacher Harrison’s voice rang out. “Your head is in the clouds. What did I just say?”
Bella had no idea what Teacher Harrison’s buzzy voice had been droning on about. Still, Bella knew if she wanted to be valedictorian one day, she must pay better attention. Bella was small for her age but full of boundless, unquenchable curiosity.
She was an old soul in a copper-skinned body. Grandma called her bookish because she loved to read and use encyclopedic vocabulary. Her dimpled smile emerged with every new word she learned.
Bella’s unique personality caused her to stand out and not always in a good way, like now. Her classmates all snickered about her being singled out for not paying attention again. DeeDee whispered, “Yeah, Dork! Who dressed you this morning, Big Bird?”
Bella looked down and smoothed her soft bright yellow cotton overalls and sighed. Just then, a fellow teacher, Mrs. Pulaski, asked Mrs. Harrison to witness a student receiving a needed reprimand. Mrs. Harrison instructed her class to remain at their desks quietly reading from their textbooks. Announcing she would return shortly, she pinned every pupil with daggerlike eyes, declaring, “I expect complete quiet while I am away.”
But after Mrs. Harrison exited the classroom, a commotion erupted by the name of DeeDee Johnson. Deedee had a singular gift of imitation and loved to make fun of Teacher. Grabbing the cuffs of her pants tight to give herself a wedgy, she began walking in a crooked tip-toed waddle with mincing steps. Next, she placed her glasses at the tip of her nose and spoke with prim grace, just like Teacher. But the highpoint was when she let out a whooper of a fart. The whole class howled like hyenas.
Except Bella- who didn’t notice DeeDee’s antics as she was nose-deep in a National Geographic magazine she had stealthily slid from her book bag with her foot. Without warning, a foul smell wafted her way, cutting off her breath. Darting her eyes behind her glasses, she had the temerity to ask, “Who had flatulence?”
At that moment, Teacher returned to class.
DeeDee tried to sneak back to her seat but was caught. “DeeDee, to the office at once,” Mrs. Harrison roared. Without losing a beat, “Bella, you can
join her. I told you absolutely no talking while I was away.”
Teacher’s presence should have stopped everyone’s tomfoolery. Instead, all the pupils sang in unison, “Oow, you’re in trouble now.”
A thwack of Teacher’s ruler silenced everyone.
“Darn that DeeDee Johnson! Trouble at school means discipline at home,” muttered Bella.
Bella rose from her desk, head down, and slowly inched towards the principal’s office clutching her book bag to her chest. Her sparkly tennis shoes squeaked on the tile floor.
Bella wondered, “Oh, what will Mama say?”
Mama had just arrived home from her first job. She worked the night shift at a school for the differently-abled. She hoped for a few hours of sleep before going to her second job cleaning houses. Immediately, the phone rang.
A professional voice spoke, “Mrs. McClure, we have Bella in the main office. Might you be able to come to school?”
With a tired sigh, Mama heaved her body from the sofa where she’d just gotten comfortable.
“Can you tell me what this is about?”
The officious voice replied, “I think it best you speak with Principal Roeland.” Mama responded, “I’ll be right there.”
In all likelihood, the issue had something to do with Bella’s curious nature, Mama thought. Bella sure lived up to her name: a beautiful child, constantly questioning, creating worlds in her imagination! Nevertheless, Mama needed to prepare Bella for the storms she would face as a brown girl.
Arriving at the school office, Mama found Bella sitting in a hard-plastic chair outside the principal’s door, eyes tracing the lines of her Oxford Dictionary. Before Mama could even sit down, Bella blurted out, “I only asked a question.”
Mama motioned for her to be quiet with a single finger before her lips.
While they waited outside, they overheard the conversation between Mr. Roeland and DeeDee’s mother. “Mr. Roeland, DeeDee has heard teachers telling tales about her and other students. Meaning no disrespect, you clean your house up, and I’ll clean mine.” Abruptly, the door flew open and an angry-looking woman strode out, dragging DeeDee by the hand.
Bella’s eyelids blinked quickly. When the principal came out to get Mama and Bella, he looked a bit lost; his cheeks reddened, and his jaw twitched. Gesturing a welcome, Principal Roeland invited, “Please take a seat. I know you’re busy, so I’ll get right to the point. Bella is a gifted child. Her ability with language is quite prodigious, but when and how she uses her vocabulary is problematic. To be blunt, she struggles with tact.”
Mama grunted and looked at Bella, “I see. Do tell.”
“We don’t want to quench Bella’s enthusiasm but help her channel it for good,” he added softly.
Once their meeting ended, Bella remained quiet most of the way home, but later. unexpectedly, she blurted out, “The teachers are against me.”
Mama was driving and couldn’t look at Bella directly. Still, she responded, “Remember what Grandma always says, ‘You can burn me for a fool, but you’ll get few ashes.’” Bella had the good sense to lower her head. When they got home, Mama asked Bella to sit on the kitchen stool beside her. Quietly, Mama lay a loaf of white bread and a jar of peanut butter on the countertop.
“Bella, have I ever told you about the Peanut Butter Sandwich apology?”
“No Ma’am,” she said as she pushed her glasses back to the tip of her slanted nose.
While taking out a piece of bread, Mama began her lesson, “Well to make a sandwich, you need two slices of bread and something in between. The first slice of bread is something nice and soft. For example, I might say I am pleased you love to read and use big words. Or I might say, I love the way you ask questions.”
Opening the peanut butter jar, she continued, “Now, here comes the sticky part- the truth. I put it in the middle. Sometimes, the words you use need to wait for the right time and place.”
Taking out another slice of bread, she finished, “Finally, I end with my nice soft bread, which are more kind words like these: ‘Please don’t ever stop reading and learning those big words; your hunger for knowledge is part of what makes you special and unique.’”
Handing Bella the sandwich, Mama remarked, “Your curiosity reminds me of George Washington Carver, the black man who invented peanut butter.”
Chewing her sticky sandwich, Bella mused, “So, something good can come from being curious and tactful. Mama, I will try the Peanut Butter Sandwich apology with Teacher tomorrow.”
Looking at Bella gently, Mama responded, “What a great idea!”
The next day Bella arrived early to school and asked Mrs. Harrison if she might speak to her.
Lifting her eyes to Teacher’s face, Bella began apologizing using what Mama had taught her about the peanut butter sandwich.
“Mrs. Harrison, I love that the classroom is a place to learn.” The sticky part came straight away after the kind words. Bella admitted, “I so enjoy reading history books. I don’t always pay attention because I know many of the stories we discuss in class.”
Bella took a deep breath and continued before she lost her nerve. “But there’s no excuse for not listening in class. Please forgive my disrespectful behavior.” Now, the last part, the soft bread landing: “I appreciate all you do to teach us.”
Teacher thoughtfully asked, “Why don’t you join our Social Studies Club? We go on outings to learn history first-hand.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Harrison. It sounds like fun.”
Walking down the hall, Bella considered Principal Roeland’s words from the day before. Thinking of Principal’s hard job, she decided to write him a thank-you note during her lunch break. Words were a gift, and she should use them wisely. She might also befriend DeeDee and even offer to tutor her in social studies. Having a mom like hers couldn’t be easy. Maybe it’s the reason why she acted out.
Almost skipping, Bella thought, “Being different isn’t easy, but using my words for good felt great. I can’t wait to tell Mama about today. The Peanut Butter Sandwich apology really works!”