2. Bernadette has the Blues
3. 14, 15 19, 3, 9, 5, 14, 3, 5 6, 1, 9, 18
4. The Lunch Bunch
5. The Best Birthday Ever!
6. The Talent Show
7. Making Megan Smile
8. Bernadette’s Experiment
The Worst Year Ever!
Everyone agreed that Bernadette Inez O’Brian Schwartz was a most unusual child. Her first word was “Why?” So was her second word, and her third. From the time she could sit in her high chair, she designed experiments to satisfy her curiosity. Which would fall faster, a bottle of milk or a ripe banana? Which would fly higher, frozen peas or fresh blueberries? Which would make a bigger noise when it hit the floor, a bowl of cereal or a cantaloupe?
Soon she was not only asking “Why?” but also “Why not?” If you could slide down the slide, why couldn’t you slide up? Why does orange juice taste terrible if you drink it after you brush your teeth? And how come china dishes come out of the dishwasher dry while plastic dishes stay wet?
These questions came into her mind at all hours of the day and night. Most of the time people were too busy to answer her because they were on the phone with Grandma Louise, or cooking dinner, or trying to drive through traffic without getting killed by some idiot talking on a cell phone. So luckily for everyone, when she turned four Bernadette started attending Garden Road Elementary School. School was supposed to be a good place for asking questions and getting answers, although some of the questions Bernadette asked were not the kind her teacher could answer. For example, when she skinned her elbow, she asked, “Why does everyone like to pull off scabs even though it hurts?” and when the teacher read The Pokey Little Puppy, she asked, “Why do dogs’ feet smell like popcorn?”
Bernadette was disappointed that her teacher didn’t know all the answers, but she tried to be glad about going to Junior Kindergarten anyway. It was fun walking to school with her next-door neighbor Marcus and his dog Sammy—whose feet really did smell like popcorn—especially when she got to hold the leash and pretend that Sammy was her very own dog. Besides, Bernadette had known Marcus all her life, and he was usually a scaredy-cat. He always cried when he fell off his bike or dropped his Popsicle, so she figured that if he was brave enough to go to school, she would be too.
The next year Bernadette made a real friend. Jasmine was not a cousin, or a neighbor, or the child of her parents’ friends; Jasmine was the first friend Bernadette picked all by herself. Jasmine had long black braids, knobby knees that were always covered with bruises, and a laugh that lit up the room. She wasn’t afraid of anything or anybody, and she loved doing experiments just as much as Bernadette did. In Kindergarten they made a volcano out of baking powder and vinegar and hatched butterflies from cocoons. In Grade One they made sugar crystals climb up a string and convinced the teacher to let them keep a pet toad in the classroom. In Grade Two they discovered cooking and made a different kind of magical mystery food at each other’s houses every Sunday for three entire months. And then, in the summer after Grade Two, Jasmine told Bernadette she had terrible news.
“My mother got an amazing job, Bernadette,” she said.
“Isn’t that good news?”
“It’s good for her, but not so good for me. Her new job is in Montreal. We have to move.”
“You’re moving? When?”
“In August. Before Grade Three starts.”
“No, Jasmine! You’re not allowed to move, ever. You’re my best friend, and my almost-twin, and we always do everything together.”
“We’ll still be best friends, Bernadette. My parents promised we could come back for holidays to visit, and you can come stay with us any time you want,” said Jasmine, giving Bernadette a big hug.
Bernadette hugged her back, but she still felt sad. “It won’t be the same, just seeing you on holidays.”
“I know. I’ll miss you so much. But we can be pen pals and invent a secret code so that nobody else can read our letters. That will be something special, won’t it?”
“I don’t want special. ‘Special’ is just another name for ‘different,’” said Bernadette. “And things were perfect just the way they were! I like sitting next to you in class and cooking weird stuff with you on the weekends. I want to keep reading stories to your baby brother and sneaking into your big sister’s room to try on her clothes. I don’t want anything to change, ever!”
“I don’t either,” said Jasmine. “But my mom says life is all about change.”
The girls still had time to play together over the summer holidays. Their mothers even took them out shopping one day to buy beautiful stationery and lots of stamps so they could be pen pals. And then POOF! Jasmine was gone. Grade Three would be starting soon and Bernadette was really worried. She was going to have Mrs. Hawthorn this year, and Mrs. Hawthorn was famous for being the strictest teacher at Garden Road Elementary School. How could she face the strictest teacher in the whole school without Jasmine sitting beside her?
Just two days before school started, when Bernadette thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse, another terrible thing happened. Bernadette’s mother said that now that she was in Grade Three, she was big enough to eat lunch at school every day. In Grade Two Bernadette had gone home for lunch three or four days a week, but now she would be stuck in school all day long with mean Mrs. Hawthorn and no Jasmine! Grade Three was definitely going to be the worst year ever.
Besides, Bernadette loved eating at home with her mother. At home, she got to eat her favorite foods: grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches, and hot cocoa, and ripe peaches. None of these things tasted as good when you brought them to school. Grilled cheese sandwiches became cold and slimy, cocoa turned into boring old chocolate milk, and peaches got squished. There was an art to packing a lunch box and Bernadette Inez O’Brian Schwartz, the girl who usually wanted to know everything about everything, did NOT want to learn it.
Sometimes Bernadette’s father came home for lunch, and if she ate at school, she’d miss out on that too. On the days that her father came home, Bernadette would set the table with placemats and matching napkins and they would all talk about their mornings at school and at work. Once, on her birthday, her family went out to lunch in a restaurant! When they finished eating their pizza, the manager of the restaurant gave her a brownie with a candle in it, and after she blew out the candle, Bernadette picked a prize from a big glass jar. She got a tiny blue notebook attached to a silver key chain, which was extremely cool, and useful as well.
But Bernadette wasn’t little any more, so from now on, she would have to eat her lunch at school every single day.
“It’s not fair!” she whined. “Everybody but me gets to go home for lunch.”
“That’s not true, Bernadette, and you know it,” said her mother. “Lots of kids stay at school to eat. In fact, lunchtime is the best time to make new friends. There are all kinds of great activities then! There’s basketball…”
“It’s only for Grade Four and up.”
“You have to be in Grade Five or Six.”
“The chess team, the Save-the-Earth group, art lessons…”
“Nope, nope, and nope. All the good stuff is for the big kids.”
“Well, that certainly doesn’t seem fair. Do you want me to talk to the principal about it?”
“No, because that’s not the reason I don’t want to eat at school.”
“Well, what is the reason then, Bernadette?”
“There are a lot of reasons. The lunchroom is a total ZOO. Every time I have to eat there I feel sick. The tables are gross and sticky and there’s even food on the floor. The teachers are always sending people to the principal’s office for misbehaving. And they make us eat quickly so that they can use the lunchroom for other activities. Whenever I eat at school, I never have time to finish my lunch. In fact, that’s probably why I’m so short. My growth is stunted from too many school lunches.”
“Nice try, munchkin, but that doesn’t explain why Daddy and I are short also, does it? I’m sorry, but there’s just no choice. You have to eat at school because I have to work really hard this year.”
“Can’t you work really hard before and after lunch?”
“That doesn’t give me enough time. And you are definitely old enough to manage a whole day at school by yourself.”
“No, I’m not!”
“Yes, you are.”