Making Out: Sporks

Making Out is a series centered on how Jess Burnquist, mother, writer, and teacher is "making out' as she processes adolescent issues amid the glare of parenthood and the shadows of nostalgia.

About Jess

Yesterday, during my 5th hour class, the Vice Principal entered my room and waved me out. I assumed she might have questions about the fact that I was showing the film, Dead Poets Society, even though it was noted on my syllabus and had previously been approved. Once in the hallway, she crossed her arms and firmly stated, Your daughter got in some trouble today at lunch.

*

In the sixth grade, during our afternoon post-recess calm-down time, my teacher read The Great Brain books to my class. These were wonderful stories. Sometimes members of class would line up before the bell because they were excited to hear what happened next. On rainy days, we knew we’d get to hear 2 or more chapters. One such day, Mrs. McGaw began reading. We were to put our heads on our desk or quietly doodle the events of the story as she read. A boy named Sean sat across from me. He was nice. Often, he was in trouble. There weren’t many days that I would look at the board and not find his name with at least 2 check marks. He fidgeted a lot and teachers mistook his wiggles for insubordination.

I stared at him while Mrs. McGaw read. I noticed his freckles. They covered his face. One freckle, a bit larger than the others, was situated dead center on his nose. Like a target.

*

What happened, I asked the Vice Principal. My stomach tensed up and I immediately regretted my decision to allow Lilly to attend the school where I teach. It’s a delicate balancing act having her here. I can’t expect her to be perfect, but I certainly shouldn’t expect to be interrupted by a Vice Principal during class either.

Her junior high years flashed through my mind. Weekly, I received phone calls. Not about discipline, rather, these calls were about her asthma which we have struggled for years to help her control. A good year is when only one hospitalization occurs. Lilly’s medications impact her ability to sleep through the night. Exhaustion combined with tons of absences contributed to our decision to have her attend school where I could easily help her if she was in distress and where I could communicate readily with her teachers. Standing outside of my Creative Writing class to communicate with the Vice Principal wasn’t what I had envisioned.

Well, my Vice Principal said, Lilly filled her backpack with sporks from the cafeteria. It was some kind of prank.

*

Mrs. McGaw could change her voice to match any character. She was a good reader and usually successful at keeping her class not only focused on the reading at hand, but also engaged in listening. She was lovely and no one sought to displease her. She was reading a part about Frankie Pennyworth and something to do with a river or a toad. Cathy was drawing a river bank on her doodle page. I hadn’t drawn anything yet. I picked up an orange crayon. It was broken, but the tip was perfectly intact and sharp. I looked at Sean again. I noticed his freckle. He smiled at me. And for god knows what reason, I launched the orange-crayon-turned-arrow right at him.

It formed a perfect arc. Time slowed. He saw it coming—watched it intensely enough that his eyes crossed as the orange streak began its descent, landed, then bounced directly off the freckle I’d aimed for.

*

Sporks? Dumbfounded, I stared at my Vice Principal. She stared back. For almost a full minute we simply looked at each other. Then she began to laugh.

*

When the orange crayon struck Sean in the nose, Mrs. McGaw was reading in her most hushed tones. Something sad or serious was happening in the story. But I didn’t hear what it was because I had just hit my target and the look on Sean’s face—one of disbelief, coupled with respect as well as the fact that his eyes had just crossed in slow motion caused the two of us to absolutely lose it. We weren’t giggling. We were cackling. Tears began to stream down my face. I thought I might pee my pants. I snapped out of it only when Cathy elbowed me and pointed to the board where Mrs. McGaw had written in angry cursive JESSICA followed by 3, now 4, now 5 checkmarks. Sean and I practically held hands and skipped our way to the principal’s office. Whatever trouble we were in—it felt worth it.

*

I’m going to kill her, I said to Cindy, the Vice Principal. Thankfully, she had her wits about her and reminded me that Lilly was only 14 years old and that of the others who had gotten in trouble for loading my daughter’s backpack with sporks, she was absolutely the most contrite. I explained that my disappointment with Lilly had to do with the fact that she stole and she had created an imposition for the cafeteria workers which was absolutely not okay. Cindy let me know that Lilly had really believed she would be able to put them back. Logical fallacies began to fly. I was ranting. First it’s sporks, then drugs! Impulse control! Anything for a laugh, omg! Cindy rode it out, validating my frustration regarding the cafeteria workers. She let me know that Lilly would have lunch detention for three days.

I returned to class where my students were engrossed in the movie and furiously texted my husband about Lilly and a host of other frustrations including perceived parenting failures to which he responded, “Sporks?”

*

Principal Cornell ushered us into her office. It was the first time I had ever been sent to the office for poor behavior. I remember wondering, should I be scared? Should I cry? I tried to make a sad expression, but the image of the crayon’s perfect landing reappeared in my mind’s eye. Instead, I tried to imagine my father’s reaction to a phone call from the principal.

Why are you two here, today?

We were laughing, Sean said.

Why were you laughing?

I hit him in the nose with a crayon.

So you threw a crayon at your friend?

Well, it was more of a toss.

She raised her eyebrow and looked me in the eye. I fought to meet her gaze.

Your antics were very disruptive to Mrs. McGaw and your peers.

But, Principal Cornell, when the crayon hit him in the nose, his eyes crossed.

Couldn’t she see how perfect the moment had been? Was she so far removed from childhood?

You two will have clean up duty during recess for the rest of the week, and I’ll be calling your parents.

Sean and I nodded and walked out of her office, heads down. We made it to the courtyard before we practically collapsed from laughter. It had been worth it. We had staked a claim to something we couldn’t articulate—but it was ours.

*

This is difficult—motherhood. I must be stern, explain my disappointment and only imagine the far-off conversation in which we will laugh about spork-day. Only it is not far off because today when I pick up my mail in the front office, Lilly’s Child Development teacher is there. She asks how I’m doing, you know, after the “spork incident.” I’m not sure if all of the teachers know about her antics because it makes for great gossip seeing as how I teach there or because of social media. Yep. An AP Literature student showed me video of my child stuffing sporks by the handful into her pink backpack with her friends and a watermelon sized grin. Later on, a sophomore asked me if we had an increase in plastic cutlery at home. She’s a bit of a celebrity, I think.

I tell Lilly’s teacher that we’re working hard to find the teachable moment in this mischief. She smiles.

You know why she took them, don’t you?

No.

Apparently, one of her teachers tends to say, “Take out your writing utensils.” Lilly wanted to surprise her with actual utensils.

And it hits me. My daughter’s impulse was attached to a plan. She didn’t lob an orange crayon at an irrational target. She was making word play.

This writer’s daughter was making a pun come to life.

Is it too soon to say how this makes me oddly proud?

In any case, her punishment besides the lunch detention is the fact that you are reading about her. Puns are cool. So is having the last word.

You may find archived installments of Making Out, and other work by Jess, at http://www.jessburnquist.com/.