How did you feel about the approach of the first day of school when you were a kid?
Some are excited. Some apprehensive.
Little Freddie Tennyson is really unsure about this whole school thing. He’s been enjoying the summer days with his older brother but Scott is now old enough for kindergarten.
But little brothers have important jobs too.
Let’s join the brothers Tennyson, shall we?
Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. You can find the little town that no one can seem to find on a map right here in the Carding Chronicles and in the four novels of Carding, Vermont, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, and Lights in Water, Dancing.
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“Will you really be gone all day?” Little Freddie asked as he watched bees move up and down the anise hyssop at the far end of the garden in a frantic search for more nectar.
He liked lying on his back with his brother under the big maple tree that shaded the front of their house. He liked watching the leaves move with the wind and the ants marching to and fro through the grass and chickadees flitting from branch to branch.
What he did not like was the idea of his big brother going to school. School was far away and full of stuff he didn’t understand.
Worst of all, Scott would be gone all day.
Nope, Little Freddie Tennyson did not like that idea at all which is why he kept asking the same question over and over again, hoping for a different answer. “Will you be gone all day?”
“Yeah, Mom says that kindergarten is so important, it takes all day,” Scott said.
“Why is it so important?”
“Oh, it’s got reading and stuff.” Scott sat up so his little brother couldn’t see his face. His last summer of being just a kid had gone by too fast, and to own the truth, he was a little bit nervous about this kindergarten stuff. Thinking about it made his eyes water.
Little Freddie contemplated what this whole reading thing could mean. He loved listening to his Mom and Dad read stories at night about trucks and talking animals and flying through the sky to have adventures with the stars.
To his mind, reading was a lot like magic. Somehow, all those black and white shapes on a book’s pages turned into words whenever grownups looked at them, and Freddie thought that was very cool.
He sighed. “I wonder if I’ll ever get to read.”
Scott’s head whipped around, surprise stamped all over his face. “Of course you will,” he said. “Dad says that understanding words and numbers is just a lot of practice. I mean, you can recite your abc’s, right?”
“And I know you couldn’t do that when you were born because you couldn’t even talk,” Scott said, warming to his subject. “And now you can talk and count and you know some songs and you know the difference between an ant and a bee…”
“Hmph, everyone knows the difference between ants and bees,” Little Freddie said. “Ants walk. Bees fly.”
“Yeah, but you didn’t know that at first,” Scott insisted. Somehow, talking to his little brother like this made kindergarten a little less scary for him. He got up, brushing grass from the back of his shorts. “You know lots of stuff now that you didn’t know before. It’s just that I’m older so I have different things to practice than you. But Mom says you’ll catch up.”
Little Freddie pulled a long blade of grass from a patch sprouting up close to the trunk of the tree. He twirled it thoughtfully in his fingers before sticking it between his lips where he let it dangle. “I won’t have anybody to play with,” he pouted.
“Well, Dad says you’re coming along when he drives me to school, and I bet you get to do some stuff with him that I won’t be able to do,” Scott said. His brother’s face lightened up a little bit.
“And you can come down to the end of the driveway to meet me when I get off the bus, and we can walk back together, and I hope you save some stuff to do with me for when I get home,” Scott said.
“Will you share your new markers with me?”
Scott opened his mouth to answer but their mother’s voice cut through. “Time to wash up,” she called. “Supper’s almost ready.”
The boys dashed off, Scott taking shorter-than-usual strides so his brother could keep up. The truth was, he didn’t want to share his new markers with Little Freddie because the three-year-old colored so hard, he smushed their tips. In Scott’s older, more mature opinion (one he never ventured to say out loud), sharing was a waste sometimes.
As the brothers blasted through the back door, Scott noticed their Mom was wearing one of their Dad’s old T-shirts, and it was dotted with the paint she’d been applying to the walls of the mudroom. Suddenly, the size of his Mom’s belly impressed him, and he grabbed his brother by the shoulder.
“You know, since I’m not here all day, you’ll have to do the stuff for our new baby sister that I did for you,” he said in a low voice.
Little Freddie’s head bobbed up, and now it was his turn to look nervous. “Like what?”
“Oh, like feed her, and hold her, and when she gets big enough, help her learn to walk,” Scott said as they headed toward the kitchen sink. “It’s important stuff, like what I did for you.”
Freddie stayed silent while he climbed to the top of the stool that let his hands reach the water and soap. “Does that stuff take practice, like words and numbers?”
Scott nodded solemnly, glad that his brother’s sharing-markers idea had been replaced by a bigger one. “Lots of practice, yeah. But someone’s got to show her the difference between bees and ants.”
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