kids First Day of School
Deb Atwood

His mother patted his arm. "There you are, Parker. Have fun at school." Her footsteps clicked away. Parker stared into the room, wishing for his brother. Small chairs stood grouped around square tables, and in the center of each table was an orange juice can wrapped in colored paper and dress trim holding pencils with erasers standing up like pink buds.

Parker stood alone until the son-saeng guided him to a chair next to Sally, the girl who had walked to school in front of him. The son-saeng began to speak, but her words were too fast. Parker sat still and looked from right to left at the side wall covered in a long row of paper painted with animals: elephant, dog, cat, bear, ant. What had they to do with one another? At first he thought it was size - each animal smaller than the one before - until he came upon the bear that was larger than the cat.

Parker turned his attention back to the son-saeng who was passing out paper with blue lines and rows of blue dots. Children took pencils from the can in the center of the table, so Parker did the same. He looked at Sally who was drawing what looked like a snake curving in and out. She drew the snake from a card taped to the table in front of her, and then made four smaller drawings. A card was taped to the table in front of Parker as well. With the tip of his tongue between his teeth, Parker wrote the six small figures on the card.

P A r k E r

Next, they began drawing the figures underneath the animals on the walls. Parker watched Sally to see which one he should do and where he should draw them.

Suddenly, Sally stuck her hand straight above her head. "Mrs. Brubaker," she called.

"Yes, Sally?" The son-saeng walked over to their table and rested a hand on the back of Sally's chair. "What is it?"

"That boy," Sally said. She pointed to Parker. "That boy is copying me."

"Class!" Son-saeng said. She stood up. "We have a special new student, Parker, who comes to us from far away, from Korea. I want all of you boys and girls to make him feel welcome." Quietly to Sally, she said, "It's all right for him to copy you." Son-saeng smiled at Parker. She looked at his paper. "Very good, Parker."

A new word: copying. And it was good, the son-saeng had said. Parker returned to his work. He tried to make his paper look just like Sally's.

Parker was still working when he heard chairs scraping. The children had pushed their chairs to the table and were standing. Parker jumped up and pushed in his chair. They took their metal boxes out of a cupboard at the back of the room and lined up in pairs to walk down the hall. Parker looked at each door they passed to see if he might remember where his brother was.

The boy ahead of him in line turned around to look at Parker, nudging his partner. The boy put two fingers at the edges of his eyes and pushed upward. "Slanty eyes," he said. Parker did not understand. The slits of the boy's eyes were colored gray-blue and the skin under his eyes and over his cheeks was pale with tiny red-brown spots. His shirt was white and was coming untucked on one side of his brown pants. Now this was astonishing -- the boy walked like Parker with one leg strong and sturdy, and one leg that dragged, stepping toe first. Parker was surprised. No one else in this new place had walked like him.

As Parker stared at the boy's feet, he saw that one of his shoes was unlaced. The boy hit his walking partner on the shoulder and pointed to his feet and then to Parker's feet. The boy's partner smiled and began to walk like Parker also -- planting one leg heavily and sliding the other leg in. The boys looked at Parker and laughed.

This Parker understood. This was copying. And it was good just as the son-saeng had said. Copying had been a useful word to learn, already it had happened twice in one day. Parker grinned. He slapped his metal box against his good thigh. Would they copy that? For a few minutes Parker watched them as they watched him and he did not worry about how he was to find his brother.


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