89: A Port in the Storm

89: A Port in the Storm

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

A Port in the Storm

You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.

~Walt Disney

“I hate this school. And I hate your stupid rules,” I muttered.

“We have rules for a reason, Miss,” the principal said. He scribbled on some papers. I read it upside down—ONE WEEK SUSPENSION. That wasn’t going to look so great on my record, but what did I care? This was my third school in three years—a middle school with the stupidest rules I’d ever heard of. Who knew leaving school grounds in the middle of the day would be such a big deal?

I was hungry and there was a Burger King right around the corner. “I’ll only be a minute,” I reasoned. When I pushed open the side door and dashed out, something in my head told me I was making a mistake, but I didn’t care. I probably wouldn’t be here long anyway.

I wished we’d never moved back to Wisconsin. We went to Arizona a year and a half ago and I’d made friends. Then one night, Dad sat all of us kids down at the kitchen table. “We’re moving back,” he told us. “You girls will go first, then your mom and I will follow with your brother.”

Now I was two months into the new school year. I couldn’t figure out what assignment we were working on or what the homework was, and I was sick of living with my aunt whose house smelled like Lysol.

Then Mom and Dad got back and crammed us all into a small apartment.

“You’re grounded,” Dad said when he found out about the suspension. “For a week.”

“You’re kidding,” I said. “What am I gonna do?”

“Help your mother unpack.”

“Yeah, right. Like that’s what I want to do.”

“Don’t sass back. This move has been hard on all of us,” Dad replied.

“It’s been a lot harder on me!” I shouted and ran up to the bedroom I shared with my two sisters. I threw myself on my bed and sobbed.

By Monday morning I was bored. “Mom, can’t I go to the mall?”

“Your dad and I discussed it. I’m taking you to your grandmother’s house. She said you’re welcome to spend your days with her.”

“You’re kidding, right? Grandma is, like, so old. What am I going to do there?”

“She’ll think of something,” Mom said.

There was no arguing about it. Later that morning, she drove me to my grandmother’s. On the long ride, I had time to think. I’d fight any suggestions Grandma had. Why should I be nice to someone so old? She wasn’t anything like me. She couldn’t possibly understand what I was going through.

“Hi, Barbie,” Grandma said when she opened the door. “Come in. I’ve got lots of fun things planned.”

“I think I’ll just watch TV if that’s okay with you,” I said.

“That’s not okay with me. We’re going to do things together.”

“Whatever,” I replied.

Mom left. She’d be back that night to pick me up.

“There’s laundry to fold. Why don’t you help me?” Grandma said.

“Nah. You do it. I’m tired.”

“Tired? A young girl like you? Grab the towels from the dryer and bring them here.”

I walked into the laundry room and opened the dryer. Filling my arms with warm, fluffy towels, I inhaled the aroma of fresh laundry soap. “Here ya go,” I said as I plopped them on the couch.

“Sit here and help me,” she said.

What could I do? I was stuck there for the whole day. After the towels were folded, Grandma said it was time to clean up the dishes. Then she got stuff from the fridge for lunch. We made sandwiches of lunchmeat and cheese, and she poured me a big, tall glass of milk.

“A growing girl like you needs a healthy dose of milk and some cookies for dessert.”

Now that’s what I was talking about. We rarely had any sweets in our house lately. “These are good, Grandma.”

“Oh, you like them? Maybe we’ll make some this week.”

I guessed that would be okay. Why not? Anything to pass the time.

Later that afternoon, we played Go Fish. Before I knew it the clock’s hands said 5:00 and Mom was at the door.

“Bye, Barbie. See you tomorrow,” Grandma called out sweetly as I got in the car.

“How was your day?” Mom asked.

“Fine.” I still wasn’t sure how I felt about being with my old grandmother, but I wasn’t going to tell my mom we had any fun, either.

The next day we played Yahtzee and Clue. And Grandma let me help her chop liver into tiny pieces after she cooked it for her Chihuahua, Princess. “Grandma, why don’t you just feed her the hard dry stuff? Why do you go to all this trouble?”

“Because she’s special. And I like to treat her nicely,” Grandma replied.

The third day, Grandma had all the stuff out to make cookies. It was fun to watch them bake in the oven and decorate them with sugar. She even let me eat some warm ones.

“So what’s going on with school?” she asked between bites.

“Nothin’,” I replied.

“It’s not nothing when you get suspended.”

“School is stupid. No one understands. I’m all alone again and don’t fit in.” I grabbed another cookie and took a long drink of milk.

“You’re not alone, Sweetheart. Your mom and dad are trying their best.”

“They’re not the ones who have to walk into a new school. I have no idea what’s going on in class and everyone stares at me. I feel so different. And I don’t have any friends.”

“I know all about being different. And not having friends, too. Your grandpa died when you were little. All my friends had husbands and they didn’t want me around. It hurt.”

“What did you do?”

“I crocheted blankets for all of you grandkids; I joined the church down the road and helped out with the potluck dinners. Everybody loved my cooking.”

I stuffed another cookie into my mouth. She was right about that. And I didn’t realize she had been alone for all those years.

“Life is what you make of it, Barbie. You can be mad at the world because of the way things are, or you can turn yourself around and decide to make the best of it.”

“Like you did?” I said.

Grandma smiled. “Want to play Checkers?”

“Sure, but can I have one more cookie, please?”

“You bet. You can have all you want.” She paused. “Remember, your mom and dad love you, even if life is hard sometimes.”

I took my plate to the sink and thought about how hard Dad worked so he could give Mom and us kids the best that he could. Maybe if I didn’t walk around school with my head hanging down I’d make friends. Maybe if I smiled at others they’d smile back.

I knew changes wouldn’t happen overnight. But I had a feeling I could come to Grandma and she’d help me.

“Mom and Dad are trying their best, huh?” I asked.

“Yup, just like you are. Now grab the checkerboard. We have a game to play.”

~B.J. Taylor

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