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"That's for nothing, Jackie. Wait till you do something," my dad said as he kissed me on the cheek. It wasn't the first time he'd said that. Very few things get said around our house for the first time.
Mom put bowls of homemade granola in front of us. "I've changed the recipe, Joe. Tell me what you think of it," she said.
"Sure, Margaret," said Dad. He winked at me. Neither of us loves granola. "So today's the first day of the fourth grade," he said, "the year they separate the sheep from the goats."
"Baaa!" I bleated.
"That's what a sheep does," said Dad. "A goat goes 'naaa.'"
"Are you calling me a goat?" I asked him.
"Naaa!" said Dad. He laughed, but I didn't think it was funny. I was in no mood for jokes. My new fourth-grade teacher, Ms. Sugarman, had the reputation for being the toughest teacher in the school. It wasn't as if school had been a roaring success in my life so far.
I was more like Mom's granola. Every teacher tinkered with the recipe, but so far nobody loved the result. My kindergarten teacher thought I interrupted story hour too much. My first-grade teacher worried about my hand-eye coordination just because I kept letting the class frog out of the aquarium. I was into animal rights before my time. In second grade Mr. Chow thought I had too much energy for my own good. In third grade the principal, Dr. Vargas, talked my parents into having me tested to see if I was hyperactive. I got lucky. The tester said that I was "within the normal range."
"Is it better to be a sheep or a goat?" I asked Dad. I kind of meant it as aserious question, but the words came out of my mouth sounding sassy.
Dad twisted his spoon between his thumb and forefinger, rapping out a tattoo on the edge of his bowl.
"Goats are nothing but trouble, he said. "When people make fun of you, you're the goat. Goats get butted around a lot."
I took a bite of the granola, shifting my weight in my chair.
"Stop fidgeting," Mom said to me. I sat still.
We finished breakfast, and Dad gave me another kiss.
"Seriously, Jackie," said Dad, "this year I want you to apply yourself. Fourth grade is important. It's not just fun and games."
"I bet parents all over the country are saying that to fourth graders this morning," I said.
"Don't be smart with your dad, young lady," warned Mom.
"I thought that was what you wanted," I said, for me to be smart."
"Smart, not smart-alecky," said Dad. "It's time you learned the difference." Dad is a police officer, and every once in a while he gets this "voice of authority."
Mom works as a secretary. She got really good grades in school. Dad didn't.
"You always say that 'school smart' doesn't add up to a hill of beans in the real world, I said to Dad.
Dad glared at me. "That's a good example of smart-alecky," he warned me.
I didn't talk back, because I knew this time Dad was right. Smart kids get good grades. Smart-alecky kids get in trouble. I guess goats are smart-alecky. I think I like goats better, even if they do say "naaa." It's better than "baa."