“Okay, kids,” the teacher said in a sweet voice. “Lock your mouths and throw away the key. It’s story time.”
“What?” Bryan stood and started waving his arms around. “That’s a terrible idea. If we can’t open our mouths, we’ll starve to death. We’re all going to die!”
“It’s just for during story time,” the teacher said. “You’ll be able to open your mouth just fine afterwards. Sit down, Bryan.”
“What if I lock my mouth and throw away the key, and then I can’t find the key?” Bryan asked.
“Then you can just hold onto your key. I don’t mind, as long as you stay quiet during story time. Now, sit down, Bryan,” the teacher said. Her voice sounded a little less sweet.
Bryan sat down and felt around his mouth with his hands. He jumped up again. “Teacher,” he said. “I think I don’t have a key for locking my mouth.”
The teacher sighed. “It’s all pretend Bryan. Just pretend you’re locking your mouth closed for story time. We can talk about this more later. Sit down.”
Bryan frowned. “But what if my mouth really does lock closed? I won’t have a key to open it. And If I get a cold, I won’t be able to breathe!”
“Just sit down and be quiet,” the teacher said in a slightly grumbly voice. “You will be just fine.”
The teacher began reading a story about a talking bear family eating porridge together for breakfast. “Bears talk?” Bryan said. “Why didn’t anyone tell me?”
“Shhhh,” the teacher said. “It’s just pretend, Bryan. Save your questions for after the story.”
“But what’s porridge? Is that pretend too?” Bryan asked.
“It’s like oatmeal. People eat it for breakfast,” the teacher said.
“Is it sweet?” Bryan asked.
“If you add sugar to it,” the teacher said. “Now shush.”
“I like sweet cereal with milk for breakfast,” Bryan whispered to his neighbor. “My dad says I might as well add sugar and a multivitamin to milk ‘cause it would be the same thing. I think that sounds better. Then it wouldn’t get soggy.”
“Bryan, if you keep talking, you’ll have to sit at your desk until story time is over,” the teacher said. Bryan put both hands over his mouth and nodded. The teacher finished the story.
As soon as she was done and asked what they’d thought, Bryan jumped up. “Yes, Bryan?” the teacher asked.
“Do bears really live in houses?” he asked.
“No, that was just pretend,” the teacher said.
“Why did she go into the bear house and eat their food and break their things? Was she a bad guy?” Bryan asked.
“I don’t think so. I think she just made bad choices,” the teacher said. “Sit down, Bryan. Let’s see if someone else has a question.”
“Isn’t that what bad guys do?” Bryan asked. “Make bad choices?”
The teacher sighed again. “Bryan, sometimes people make mistakes. Even bad guys. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes. It’s even better when you can learn from someone else’s mistakes so you don’t have to make those mistakes too.”
Bryan sat down. “Oh. Is that why we read stories like this?”
The teacher smiled. “Exactly.”
“But doesn’t everybody know not to steal and break things?” He looked around at the rest of the class. “Who knows not to steal and break things?” Bryan asked. Everyone’s hand shot up. Bryan turned back to the teacher. “See? You need to read us smarter books.”
The teacher pinched the bridge of her nose and closed her eyes for a moment. Then she took a deep breath. “Perhaps you’re right. Does anyone else have any questions?” Every hand shot up.