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ONCE UPON A TURKEY
The long hand of the clock on Mrs. Adler's classroom wall seems to take forty-two hours to tick from the two to the three. Thanksgiving break starts at 3:20 p.m. That's only five minutes away, or it would be if the minute hand would move at normal speed. I squirm in my seat and try to hide a sigh.
School hasn't been that bad lately. I only did three embarrassing things this week, and it hardly even bothered me when Ryan Rakefield teased me about them. But I'd still rather be on break than at school. I've got big plans for Thanksgiving break. Comedy plans.
"Before you pack up your belongings, I have two notices to pass out." Mrs. Adler sits on the edge of her desk and holds up two sheets of paper, one in each hand. On the left is a piece of football-shaped brown paper. On the right, a sheet of white paper with a picture of a boy and a girl in the corner.
"Your classmate Theodora has generously invited everyone in room 11 to play football on the morning of Thanksgiving-a tradition from her old neighborhood."
At first I don't know who Mrs. Adler is talking about. Then Thermos stands up, and I remember Theodora is her real name. I call her Thermos because she brings soup for lunch every day.
Thermos stands up to pass out her invitations. I force a smile when Thermos hands one to me because I know she's really excited about the Turkey Bowl. That's what she's calling it. The Turkey Bowl is a great name, but I can't feel genuinely excited about it because, well, it's football. I am not, never have been, and never will be a sporty kid.
I just don't get football. A famous comedian once did a great routine about it. He said football is basically like war. Who wants to be in a war? At least in baseball the object is to go home and be safe. I don't like baseball much either, but it's better than throwing bombs and blocking and blitzing. (Actually, I don't know what any of those things mean, but they don't sound good.)
I hope Ryan Rakefield can't come to the Turkey Bowl because he doesn't think football is like war, he thinks football is war.
"Can I be a captain?" Ryan asks Thermos as she hands him his invitation. I cringe.
"My dad is going to pick names out of a helmet to make the teams," Thermos tells him. "No captains."
Ryan scowls. Then he reads the invitation and scowls even deeper. "Flag football?" he whispers to Jamal. Jamal used to be Ryan's sidekick, until Jamal realized he didn't have to be around someone so mean all the time. Now Jamal hangs out with Nick and Thermos and me a lot. But he sits next to Ryan in class because Mrs. Adler is in charge of the seating arrangement.
Jamal takes an invitation from Thermos and says, "I can't wait."
"What if the girls don't want to play?" Hannah studies the invitation and wrinkles her nose. "Can we just watch?"
"I guess." Thermos frowns like she doesn't quite understand the question. "If you want to."
I wish I could just watch. I wish Hannah hadn't only asked about girls.
"While Theodora finishes passing out her invitations, I'll tell you about this." Mrs. Adler holds up the second piece of paper again. "Your parents have already received an e-mail, but this is your official invitation to Growing Up Night."
As soon as she says the words, everyone looks sideways at one another and tries not to laugh. Growing Up Night is this really dumb thing they do in fifth grade where you have to come to school at night and learn about armpits and shaving cream. Dad and I have been joking about it for days.
"Next Thursday, a week after Thanksgiving, you and a special grownup will come to school in the evening to learn some important things about becoming a pre-teenager."
My dad told me about his Growing Up Night when he was a kid. He had to practice shaving his future mustache with a Popsicle stick and putting on fake deodorant over his shirt! I look at Nick, sniff my pits, then cross my eyes. He covers his mouth so he won't laugh out loud.
I look at Jamal and stroke my chin as if I have a beard. He strokes his chin, too, with a big grin on his face.
I look at Thermos and flex my biceps, but her cheeks turn pink and she looks away and finishes passing out her invitations.
"I know this seems silly," Mrs. Adler says, "but I think you will learn a lot. We will show a special movie and a nurse will answer questions."
Ryan Rakefield raises his hand and then blurts out his question before Mrs. Adler can call on him. "Who will answer the boys' questions?"
"I should have been more clear. Thank you, Ryan." Mrs. Adler stands up and walks toward the door. "A female nurse will answer questions from the girls and a male nurse will answer questions from the boys. And don't worry, boys and girls will have separate assemblies. The boys will be in the gym and the girls will be in the cafeteria."
Mrs. Adler stands next to the doorway and holds out the stack of papers. "Okay, you may pack up your lockers. Take a Growing Up Night invitation as you leave."
I hear a bunch of groans, so I can tell that everyone thinks this event is as stupid as I do. You don't have to learn how to grow up. It just happens. But it doesn't happen when you are in fifth grade, so I don't know why we have to learn about it now. The only good part about it is I get to go with my dad. I know we'll be cracking up harder than if we were watching Lou Lafferman. My dad told me when he was a boy, he and his friends joked that they would try to grow mushrooms instead of mustaches.
I open my locker and start shoving as many things into my backpack as I can: my gym shoes, which smell like old broccoli; two half-empty water bottles; an old flyer from the school talent show; a Charlie Chaplin hat; and five hundred crumpled pieces of paper shaped like a strange bird's nest. School breaks are pretty much the only time I remember to bring stuff home.
I'm so engrossed in locker archaeology that I don't notice Ryan Rakefield slithering up behind me. That is, I don't notice him until I hear him hiss at Thermos. "Where will you go on Growing Up Night? The gym or the cafeteria? They should have a third room for freaks."
Thermos slams her locker shut, knocks past Ryan, and tears out of the hall without even saying goodbye. We all know that Ryan is a bouncing jerkball and we shouldn't pay attention to anything he says, but sometimes that's easier said than done. I don't blame Thermos for leaving.
Ryan turns to me. I used to be his favorite teasing victim, back when I thought Ryan's opinion actually mattered. Now that I know it doesn't, he can't get as much enjoyment from making my life miserable. But he still tries.
"You probably need the third room, too. You throw like a girl."
I stand up straight and look Ryan right in the eyes. "Thank you for sharing your perspective with me. It's always interesting to see the inner workings of your mind."
Ryan tries to muster up another insult. His eyes roll back in his head and I can practically see his brain trying to think. Ryan opens his mouth just as the bell rings. At first, it looks like the brrrinngg is coming from inside him. I imagine Ryan clamping a hand over his lips wondering how he produced such a strange sound. I can't wait to go home and draw a picture of it in my comedy notebook. Just thinking about it makes me start laughing.
"You are so weird." Ryan shakes his head and walks away.
I shut my locker and take a deep breath of freedom. No more school for four whole days! Nothing can spoil Thanksgiving vacation.
Text copyright © 2015 by Jenny Meyerhoff
Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Jason Week