Perfect, I’m Not

Perfect, I’m Not

From Chicken Soup for the Preteen Soul

Perfect, I’m Not

“Owwww!” Robert yelled, backing away from me. “That hurt!”

“What do you mean? I just hit you with my jacket!” I said, laughing. Robert was the cutest boy in class, and I had a major crush on him. I hadn’t meant to hurt him; I wanted him to like me. Besides, it was just a lightweight jacket.

But Robert didn’t act like someone who had been hit with a lightweight jacket. He was crying and holding his left shoulder.

“What’s going on?” our sixth-grade teacher, Mr. Mobley, asked.

“My shoulder . . . it hurts!” Robert groaned.

The next thing I knew, Robert was heading to the nurse’s office. And I, bewildered, was marching back from recess and into our classroom with the other kids.

We started our spelling lesson, and I tried to pay attention as Mr. Mobley read the words for our weekly practice test.

Then someone knocked on our classroom door. When Mr. Mobley opened the door, a student volunteer from the office handed him a note. Every pair of eyes was riveted on Mr. Mobley. A note from the office usually signaled big trouble for somebody. This time, the somebody was me. Mr. Mobley looked up from the note and said, “Julie, Mr. Sinclair wants to see you in his office right away. He says you should take your belongings with you.”

Oh, no! I was being sent to the principal’s office. What would my parents say? With all eyes now turned in my direction, I dragged myself over to the coat hooks and grabbed the offending jacket. Embarrassment floated around me like a dirty cloud of dust.

How could a stupid jacket hurt anybody? I wondered as the door clicked shut behind me. I slid my arms through the jacket sleeves and slipped my hands into its pockets. Huh? My right hand closed over a hard, round object. I pulled it out. I had forgotten that my brand-new Duncan Imperial yo-yo was in my pocket. I felt my legs weaken. So I had hurt Robert not with my jacket, but with my yo-yo. As I crossed the courtyard to the principal’s office, I prayed, Please don’t let Robert be hurt too badly. And please don’t let Mr. Sinclair call my mom.

When I reached the office, the school secretary ushered me in to see the principal without making me wait—not exactly a good sign.

“What happened, Julie?” Mr. Sinclair asked. He came out from behind his big wooden desk and sat on a chair next to me.

“We were goofing around . . . and . . . I hit Robert on his shoulder with my jacket. I . . . um . . . I guess I had this in my pocket.” I opened my palm to show him the shiny red yo-yo I’d bought with my allowance. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I was only teasing. I didn’t mean to hurt him.” Little snorting sounds were coming out of my nose now, and my shoulders were heaving with barely suppressed sobs.

“I know you well enough to believe you. But Robert has a knot on his shoulder that’s about the size of your yo-yo. His mother is very upset. She’s taken him to the doctor.”

My head hung so low, it nearly touched my knees. More than anything, I wanted to melt into a puddle and trickle away under the door.

“I’m sure you didn’t mean to hurt anyone,” Mr. Sinclair went on. “But because Robert was injured, I have to send you home for the rest of the day. Please wait in the outer office until your mother comes to pick you up.”

My eyes widened. Now I’m going to get it! I thought.

I had plenty of time to think while I waited for my mother. I was always trying to be the “perfect student.” Straight A’s and praise from my teachers were rewarded with more praise and affection at home from my parents. What will happen now? I wondered. I had never been in trouble at school before.

Ten hopelessly long minutes later, my mother opened the door to the office. Her face looked serious. “Come on,” she said. “You can tell me about it in the car.”

During our short ride home, I told her the whole story. I’d been teasing Robert because I had a crush on him. I hadn’t meant to hurt him. We pulled into our driveway. “I’m s-s-sorry, Mom,” I said. My body tensed, ready for the punishment I knew I deserved.

Mom leaned toward me, and I sucked in my breath, waiting to see what would happen. Would she yell? Would she slap me? I really didn’t know what to expect.

My mother put one arm behind me and reached across in front of me with the other. Then she wrapped me tightly in a hug.

“I never told any of you kids this,” she said, “but I did something even worse when I was in elementary school. I bit a boy on the arm—on purpose. I got called to the principal’s office, too.” What? My mother, who never did anything wrong, had bitten a boy at school? The thought was too funny. I caught her eye. “I guess we’re just a couple of troublemakers, aren’t we, Honey?” Mom said with a smile.

“I guess so,” I said. In spite of the tears streaming down my face, I started to laugh. Pretty soon, Mom was laughing, too.

The next day, Robert was back at school, recovered except for a little tenderness. As soon as I saw him, I apologized, and our lives went back to normal.

But something important had changed. I had learned that life goes on, even when you make a mistake, and that a child can grow up to become a wise adult even after doing something foolish or hurtful. And to my great surprise and relief, I learned that I didn’t have to be perfect to be loved.

Julia Wasson Render

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