Fall 2011: Gabriela Valdez is 26, Nicolas Heredon is 7, Frederic and A.J Heredon are 5 and Taj Behar is 4.

A.J. likes it when they walk to school even though the wind is blowing so hard his ears and nose turns red. His mom always says to wear a hat if he insists on not wearing a jacket but it’s fun the way his hair flies around in the wind. He runs ahead, sliding his hand into his father’s and they smile at each other. He’s not a baby. He can walk down the street by himself, even cross it if his mom is watching, but he doesn’t mind when his dad wants to hold his hand.

They have the best time when Mom has to stay home from work with Sarah and it’s just the two of them. They get to talk about man stuff like going fishing and looking for frogs, plus his dad smiles more. For a long time, A.J. thought his dad would never smile again and his stomach would always hurt when only three of them sat down for dinner.

He’s seen movies. He knows divorce is when daddies go far away and come back only a few times. There’s even a boy in his class who doesn’t have a mommy anymore because of divorce. Maybe tomorrow he’ll talk to Dad about what he’ll miss if he goes away and how much Sarah would cry.

“Good morning, Arthur.”

“Good morning, Ms. Gabriela.” He grins at her when she shakes his hand. A.J. likes her just as much as Ms. Teresa even though they are different. Ms. Gabriela always calls him Arthur. It makes him feel like a grown-up. Her accent makes it sound cool and she even told him that in her language his name would be Arturo. “Are we doing anything fun today?”

Her smile is kind and always makes A.J. think that she must be an awesome mom. He already knows she is – to twins – because he asked.

“I think so Arthur but you know what I say -”

“Learning is always fun.”

A.J. puts his books down at his desk and goes to get a book for quiet reading. Ms. Gabriela likes it when they practice their reading as much as possible and lets them read while they wait for everyone to arrive. He doesn’t need much practice. He’s pretty much known how to read since he was four.

Samantha chirps a hi at him and he can’t help the smile that grows across his face. She is his favorite person is class. They often got into trouble together but he didn’t mind. Everyone else in class is too quiet and didn’t understand how throwing water balloons or putting a worm in with your sister’s toys could be fun.

Ms. Gabriela gives them a painting project and they’re supposed to paint a picture about the fairy tale she read yesterday. He’s going to paint the goblin because it’s big and scary.

“A.J., I did what you said and dropped the water balloon from the balcony onto my brother’s head. It worked! I got in trouble but I don’t mind much.”

“Cool!” He’s really loud and the stern look Ms. Gabriela gives him forces him to whisper. “I wish we had a balcony but I guess it’s ok. I can’t hit Sarah with a water balloon anyway, she’s too little.”

“She won’t be little forever.”

They grin at each other for a moment before she flicks paint at him. He doesn’t get angry, he simply paints a green stripe down her cheek before staring at his sloppy goblin again. Coolest girl ever!

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Nico’s bored as usual. He doesn’t pay much attention to what Ms. Lind is droning on about because he knows this stuff already. He switches to his pen and quickly finishes the stripes on the clownfish he’s drawing, or amphiprion ocellaris as he learned at the aquarium this weekend. It isn’t nearly as good as his brother’s various versions hanging up on the fridge and in their play room but it’s passable. He finds fish kind of amusing; maybe he’ll become a marine biologist someday…or a chemist, he hasn’t really decided yet.

He knows Ms. Lind is going to be upset that he’s sketched all over his work again but he doesn’t care. He’d finished her work on adding fractions while she was explaining the lesson to the rest of the class and is simply waiting for her to move onto something new.

“Nico, what’s the answer to number six?”

Nico doesn’t bother to look up at Spencer, just simply sighs. “A half.”

He really hopes next year he can convince him mom to let him skip a grade or even go to a school for actual smart people.

Music class isn’t bad. Uncle Jamie usually lets him do what he wants although he’s supposed to call him Mr. Bartel but he never does. The piano keys feel good under his fingers and he loses himself for a bit plucking away at some song he heard on the radio last night. Nico’s not much of the creative type – Fritz is much better than him –  but sometimes it’s fun to play around.

He shares a look with his uncle and they both wince when Tara hits a really bad note. He doesn’t think violins are the best instruments for second graders to start with and he’s sure his uncle is starting to regret his choice. He’ll sticks with the piano, it’s more fun. Some nights when their dad is working late, he and Fritz would sit at opposite ends of the keyboard and try to create a song. Most of the times it doesn’t work because their mom says they have different aesthetics. He’d looked the word up and he agrees.

He has the most fun during recess because he feels like everyone else. He can jump from the swings or get dizzy on the merry-go-round without thinking too much about it but it doesn’t stop the other kids from asking questions. Nico guesses it’s his fault, he used to brag a lot.

“Hi, Fritz says you’re really, really smart. Is it true?”

“Yup.” Nico doesn’t say much else, simply waits and hangs from the monkey bars. Sometimes he likes to just stay there, halfway across the monkey bars and swing from his arms like an actual monkey. Maybe he’ll be a zoologist who takes care of the primates. He thinks he has a book about that.

“Really?” The kid’s eyes are so huge it makes Nico laugh loudly, drawing little  attention from the other kids screaming on the playground.

“Yea, ask me anything.”

“Um, what’s 732 + 9,650?”

It’s a really easy one and he answers quickly. “10,382”

“Wow, that is so cool!”

Nico shrugs before dropping down and heading towards the swings. Yea, he kind of guesses it is.

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“You shouldn’t have done that. Nico doesn’t like it anymore.” The words tumble of of Fritz’s mouth. He’d tried to hold it in as long as possible but they kept dancing around him, pushing him to say something.

“What?”

His arms raise helplessly. “He used to like it when everybody asked but he doesn’t anymore. Please don’t do it again.”

Vasily’s is frowning and Fritz can feel his stomach start to clench. He really hates it when people get upset with him.

“But you told me he’s super smart…like smarter than the teachers smart.”

“Only ‘cause you asked.” He can see Mr. Parker herding a few kids to their desks and doesn’t want to get in trouble for being out of his seat. “Just don’t do again, ok?”

He tries to settle down and do his work but Vasily’s ignoring him and he’s starting to get upset. He doesn’t care about the sentences on his page, he just wants his sketch book and a quiet corner. Wiping his eyes, Fritz tries to concentrate. He’s not as good at this stuff as his brother but he can usually get through it. Why did he have to say anything? Why couldn’t he stay quiet? A shadow on his paper draws his eyes up and he simply stares at his teacher.

“Everything ok Frederic?”

Fritz tries not to pull a face. His mommy is the only person he likes to say his whole name. “I’m fine.”

“Are you sure? You sure were frowning a lot a minute ago.”

“Yea.”

The sigh is audible and Fritz feels his cheeks grow hot. “Ok, but Frederic please remember to pay attention.”

He’s happy when they escape to art class an hour later. Today Mr. Mellon, their art teacher, is at the pottery wheel showing them how to sculpt with clay, although none of them are old enough to work it yet. He likes to show them that art isn’t limited and that it can go as far as their imaginations. Fritz likes that.

He settles in front of his favorite easel, a spot by the window that always gets the best light. He learned about light in Mr. Mellon’s class in September and how it can change the way a drawing looks. He’s been painting a lot of really bright pictures since then, even one that’s just of the sky with a few clouds that made him think of his mommy’s eyes. Maybe he’ll paint an ocean as dark as his own eyes or a field like his daddy’s.

It doesn’t matter. The knot in his stomach is gone and he doesn’t have to think about someone else getting upset with him because Mr. Mellon doesn’t like it when they talk in class. It’s pretty perfect.

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Taj just wants to go home. He doesn’t care about some stupid story. He doesn’t care about the stupid kids in his class. He just wants to go home and sit on his Baba’s lap until he falls asleep. He doesn’t realize he’s across the room until the books tumble to the floor.

“Taj!”

Ms. Gabriela’s voice is sharp and he flinches. He can see the others staring at him and turns his back on them. He doesn’t care what they think but he hates the way they’re always looking at him.

“Taj, did you throw those books on the floor?”

She’s touching his arm gently and Taj doesn’t want to answer. His eyes are starting to sting and he knows if he actually says anything he’ll start to cry.

“Answer me please.”

He looks up briefly, avoiding her eyes, and nods.

“Why did you do that? It wasn’t very nice.”

This time he shrugs, staring at the smudge on his sneakers. Ms. Gabriela doesn’t speak for a long time and he gets worried. Will he get kicked out school? Will Sister Agnese send him away like Baba? Ms. Gabriela rubs his shoulder before directing him toward the mess he made.

“I want you to clean this up and then sit at your desk. We’ll speak when class is over.”

Taj has been in Ms. Brusch’s office six times. He’s sure of it because he’s counted on his finger twice. Ms. Gabriela and Ms. Brusch are talking about him. He guesses it’s bad because neither of them are smiling and they always have smiles on their faces. Maybe they’ll send him away to where Baba is. He’d like that.

“Taj, I thought we talked about not throwing things when you get angry?”

Ms. Brusch speaks softly and it makes him think of his mama, what little he remembers of her. Taj thinks she had light hair and eyes that were grey like his. Sometimes, he spends hours trying to remember her face but lately he just wants to know where she is and when she’s coming home.

Ms. Gabriela prompts him. “Taj?”

“Yes?” They simply look at him and he has to remember what Ms. Brusch asked him. “We did. I’m sorry. Are you going to send me away now?”

Someone inhales loudly. Taj thinks it’s Ms. Gabriela but doesn’t look up.

“No honey, no one is going to send you away. Actually, Sister Natalia is waiting for you right now. We know it’s been hard for you since your father…went away but we don’t want you to hurt yourself or anyone else.”

“Ok.”

Taj hears her sigh and his cheeks flush with shame. He didn’t mean to upset her.

“You can go home with Sister Natalia now, Taj. Please try to remember to what we’ve told you.”

He nods before sliding out of his chair. Sister Natalia is waiting in the main office with Lee and she simply puts an arm around him and ushers him out of school.

Taj doesn’t pay much attention to what Sister Natalia is saying although the gentle way she’s speaking to him makes him feel a bit better. She mentions something about a new teacher that will come to the house just for him but he doesn’t really care.

Falling behind, he watches as she takes Lee inside the big house that’s so different from his home. He can hear the other kids laughing, someone screaming and Sister Agnese trying to comfort them. He turns to look over the fence, imagining that he can see his house from here, even manage to walk there by himself and lay down into his bedroom next to the spiral staircase. Baba will come in his room, squeeze in next to him and he’ll he happy. He just wants to go home and be happy

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A.N: Aloha. I hoped you guys liked this update. It’s very different from the usual school update but I wanted to spend a little time with each kids. I hope it’s not too jarring. It’s pretty hard to write little kids though. I need more practice. LOL.

Just for clarification Taj is living at an orphanage/foster home run by nuns. How long he’s going to be there and whether his mother will pop up I don’t know yet.

You may be surprised to see Gabriela as the kindergarten teacher but she’s in the process of getting her Master’s degree in Education through Cahill University’s online program. Not quite accurate I know but something had to be done and she wanted to be promoted, so I’m giving her two years to finish her MA so she can keep her job.

The music teacher is James Bartel, Marie Heredon’s brother.

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