Jamie Tucker was eating crayons again. A thin, little spitfire, bent on causing trouble and disrupting class. And Mrs. Adams had had enough.
“Jamie Tucker!” she shrieked, losing the last of her patience. “You stop that this instant!”
The boy’s head jerked up, his bright, green eyes going wide with fear. She tried to show special attention to the boy. His father had gone off to prison last year for domestic abuse, leaving behind a young mother and three kids, ages three, six, and seven. Jamie was the oldest, and the orneriest of the bunch, and the child needed discipline.
“Out in the hall,” she said, regaining her composure. A few students giggled. Jamie slowly stood, pushed his chair up to the table, and exited the room. “That’s enough,” she announced, putting a little steel in her voice. “Unless you all want to get cards.” She let the words hang for a moment. The laughing ceased. “Good. Now continue with your maps. I’ll be back in just a minute.”
She pulled a pinkish-red card off her desk and stepped outside the door, shutting it softly behind her. Jamie was standing next to the lockers, his head down, his hands in his pockets. He looked every bit like a dog that knows its done wrong.
“Jamie,” she said softly. He looked up at her with his big eyes. “We’ve talked about this. More than once. Remember?”
The boy made a mumbling sound. “Mm-hmm.” His head dropped again and he stared at the floor.
“I’m going to have to send you to Mr. Keller and give you this.” She pointed to the card. Jamie had a history of getting cards. It was the discipline system of Hillpointe Elementary School. Getting three cards banned a student from attending the monthly pizza party and gym time. It also required a visit to the principal and a note home. This was Jamie’s third violation of the month.
If Jamie could have slunk any lower, he would have disappeared into the lockers. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Adams.” His voice was low and shaky.
“Yes. But you have to learn. The classroom is not a place to act wild and play. It’s a place to learn. I know you know that, Jamie.”
She handed him the card. Jamie did not immediately move to take it. He stared at it blankly. She was about to say something when he plucked the card from her hand.
“Take it to Mr. Keller.” The boy started to turn when she noticed something odd. His pockets were bulging, and Jamie was trying to keep them unnoticed. “Jamie,”
she said, feeling a bit uneasy. He stopped. “What do you have in your pockets?”
Jamie’s shoulders dropped. His tiny frame turned slowly. He plunged his hands into his pockets and pulled out two handfuls of colorful crayons. Shame spread across the boys face, flushed deep red.
Mrs. Adams kept her irritation at bay. “What are you doing with those?” she asked incredulously.
His eyes met hers and held them. “I’m taking them home. We’re hungry.”
Everything clicked into place. It was like the boy before her was someone new, like she saw him for the first time. His clothes looked clean, but she could see the hidden stains. And what had once been mistaken for a careless washing now came across as something completely different. Hard knots formed in her stomach.
“You’re hungry? What do you mean, Jamie?”
His face dropped a little. “We ain’t got no food at home and I’m bringing these home so we’ll have something to eat. I need to take care of Joey and Luke.”
She felt the warm stings of tears welling up behind her eyes. Everything made perfect sense. She walked over to the boy and knelt down in front of him. “Jamie, do you not have any food at your house? Have you not been eating?”
He shook his head sideways.
“Is that why you’ve been eating crayons in class?”
He nodded slowly, trying not to look at her.
“Is your mother okay?” she asked, suddenly worried.
He shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. She sleeps a lot since daddy’s gone.”
She wanted to cry. She wanted to hug the boy close to her and tell him that everything was going to be okay. Instead she smiled and told him to give her the card back. “What’s your favorite kind of pizza?” she asked him.
He looked up at her, puzzled. He hesitated, then spoke. “Sausage and pepperoni.”
“Well, we’ll get some pizza for you to take home today. How does that sound? I’ll bring it over your house later and we’ll all share. I’ll even bring a few extra and leave them at your house.”
His face blossomed to life. The green eyes flashed up at hers. Behind them she could see determination. Gratitude. Hope. She resolved at that moment that she would take extra special care of Jamie Tucker. She would not let this boy go hungry. She would help him however she could. She would phone the offices and child services to see what was going on at his home. And she would pay a visit there herself tonight, bringing with her a stack of warm pizzas.
Author’s Note: This story was inspired by a brief clip I heard on NPR about a boy who was caught eating crayons in class because he was hungry. It broke my heart, and I only heard the briefest snippet of the story. I don’t have a clue what the real situation was behind it, but I knew instantly that I needed to write about it. Knowing that there are people that do not have the means to eat pains me. I believe this kind of thing goes on more than we know.