07 Nov The Little Red Convertible
Mrs. Connelly had been teaching in the same sunny room for years. She loved her four-year-olds and their parents. Each year brought her a new mix of angelic and rambunctious children.
The classroom had an open, full feeling, with lots of choices for play. Mrs. Connelly had an instinct for what children loved to do. Often she brought in small items she thought they would enjoy. Sometimes they were toys her grown son had played with when he was the age of her students.
“Lenny, are you almost done with the red car?” asked Tommy. “Can I have it after you?
“I just got it.” Lenny sounded annoyed. “I’m playing something with it.”
“When you’re through, okay?”
Lenny said nothing but let the little red convertible roar away to a block garage.
This particular little red convertible was kept in an old cigar box, separate from the many other cars in the room. It had been given to Mrs. Connelly’s son, John by his grandmother when he was four. The children loved it and were careful to put it back in the box at the end of each day. Lila and Becky often put the box away on the middle shelf of the closet.
Tommy got involved in other activities. He made a collage with Mrs. Connelly, tearing bright scraps into smaller ones, and gluing them on an orange piece of construction paper.
“This is a car,” he announced, making little motor noises. He ‘drove’ his work to the drying rack and washed his hands. Then he walked over to Lenny, who was still holding the little red car.
“I’d like a turn now, Lenny. You’ve had that car a long time.”
“You have to wait. The car is at the gas station getting gas.”
The car was next to some wooden blocks. A rubber man in garage coveralls was close by. Tommy took a blue car and drove it all around. He pushed the blue car up to the gas station. “Beep, Beep! You must have a full tank by now, Lenny.”
“Well, my car wants to stay here,” barked Lenny.
“Cars can’t stay at gas pumps. You have to park them. Anyway, it’s my turn.”
Mrs. Connelly came over to listen to the boys. She got very close to Lenny. “You’ve had a long time with the little red convertible. It is Tommy’s turn now. It is almost clean up time. You have to give Tommy some time with the car before we clean the room.”
Lenny scowled at Mrs. Connelly and at Tommy. “Well then, I get it for longer tomorrow. All day!” He tossed the little car to Tommy’s feet.
In no time Tommy had the car driving to California and to his grandparent’s house in Vermont and any other place he could think of. Lizzy and Kevin made collages. Rory was at the easel. Doll babies were being fed and beautiful buildings covered the soft green and yellow rug.
Lenny started feeling better. He had his second favorite car and was tracing it, making loud revving engine noises.
The clean up music came on. Everyone pitched in to put the room back in order. The children were happy to clean up because they knew snack was next. They had made apple crisp the day before and they could hardly wait to taste it.
The room looked beautiful. Everyone washed hands. No one could believe how good the apple crisp was.
After reading a quick story, Mrs. Connelly helped the children get on their sweaters, fill their school bags with their papers and go outside. Lila and Becky went up to her in the play yard.
“We couldn’t find your little red convertible. We forgot to tell you before the apple crisp.”
“Thank you girls, I’ll track it down.”
When the children had all gone home, Mrs. Connelly went into her room and began scrubbing the apple crisp pan. Then she remembered the red convertible, and left the pan in the sink. The little cigar box was on her desk, but the car was nowhere to be found.
That evening she shared her lost car news with her husband Jack.
“Kate, I bet you find it tomorrow. If not, we can get another.”
“Yes, of course we can. But, you know Gaga gave John the car, so it is dear to me.”
“I know,” Jack replied tenderly.
First thing next day, Mrs. Connelly asked the children to help search for the missing car. They scoured the room with no luck. Lila and Becky wanted to make signs to put up around the school.
“Will you write the note, Mrs. Connelly and we can copy yours?”
Notes were made. Tommy couldn’t stop looking. Lenny looked too. Playing was a bit somber because of the missing car. It was a rainy day, which added to the low feeling of the ordinarily merry room.
Other teachers and mothers looked around too. Children who had never played with the car felt sad that it was missing. They understood the car was important to Mrs.Connelly.
Some mothers wanted to buy her a new car.
“Not a new one, Mommy. We gots to find the little red convertible,” Rory said, emphatically.
As Barb, Lenny’s mother was doing the laundry late that afternoon, she felt something in the pocket of Lenny’s madras shorts. It was the little red convertible. She gasped when she saw it.
“Do I have a thief on my hands? Can I pretend I never saw it? Of course not.” As she looked at her son, she felt suddenly sad. She knew exactly what she had to do. Would everyone know? Would Lenny ever be liked again? Was this the beginning of a string of petty larcenies?
She called Lenny into the laundry room. “Look at this car, Lenny.”
“Tommy gave it to me.”
“It seems strange that Mrs. Connelly is missing a little red convertible and here one is. Lenny, this must be her car. I can’t believe my eyes. If you had mentioned that you wanted a car like this I would have gotten you one. You will have to return it tomorrow.”
“I can’t. No one will like me and Mrs. Connelly will hate me.”
Barb felt sick. She patted his hair. “Let’s do the only thing we can do. I’ll call Mrs. Connelly and you can tell her. I’ll talk to her too.”
“Mommy, I am sorry I took it. I loved it too much. I wish I hadn’t taken it.” Tears ran down Lenny’s face. Barb felt strangely happy to see that Lenny knew he should not have taken the car. Maybe her child’s picture would not line a post office wall some day.
They made their brave move. The phone began to ring. A kind sounding man answered.
In a trembling voice, Lenny said, “This is Lenny. Is my teacher there?”
“She is, Lenny. I’ll call her.”
“Hello Lenny,” Mrs. Connelly sounded cheerful.
“Mrs. Connelly, I took your little red convertible. I’m sorry. I love it and I wanted it. I am so sorry. I’ll bring it back tomorrow. I wiped it. It looks very good. I am so sorry.”
“Lenny, thank you for this call. I know you’re sorry. Soon you’ll be playing with it again in our classroom.”
“I’ll share it better too. My Mommy is here. Will you talk to her?” Lenny was obviously relieved.
“Of course, dear.”
“Hello Kate. I am so sorry about this. We both feel awful.”
“Barb, thank you for calling me. Children sometimes just love things so much that they have to have them for themselves. I am thrilled to know that the little red convertible is safe. Just put it in Lenny’s bag and I’ll take it out at a perfect time. We won’t have to say a thing. It’s over.”
“Thank you so much, Kate.”
“See you tomorrow. Lenny feels deeply sorry. He’s learned a lot and the car is just fine. Now have some fun.”
“Thank you. I promise. Goodbye.”
Lenny gave his mother a real hug. “Thank you, Mommy.”
“So Lenny, what kind of pizza should we order?”
Curling back into her legs, he said, “Oh, any kind.”
It is very common for very young children to want little things that don’t belong to them. Little cars, a small doll, crayons and pencils often suddenly appear at houses and mysteriously were fictitiously given to the children by others. Sometimes they are hidden and surface out of the blue. Barb and Mrs. Connelly handled this situation in such a gentle and clear way. Mrs. Connelly’s kind support changed everything. She encouraged Barb to accept something so natural and also then encouraged her to see the importance of letting it go. Lenny will probably not take any things from school in a hurry. Barb already has an idea of what Lenny would love for a surprise.
Written by: Anne Martine Cook, Managing Partner & Mom, with 35+ years experience teaching nursery school children.
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