from Take Good Care Of My Baby (third grade)

 

I just did the stupidest thing. I can’t believe what I just did.

 

Carl and I are sitting in the dining room of a great big old hotel in New Jersey called Laurel-in-the-Pines, where Granddaddy invited us to spend the weekend with him and our new grandmommy. We’re ordering lunch. It’s our first meal with her and we’re supposed to make a good impression.

 

I look over the menu. Nothing looks all that great, so I order a hamburger.

 

“And to drink?” the waiter asks.

 

“Milk,” I reply.

 

The waiter gasps.

 

Yep, I really did. Stupid, right? I can’t believe I did that. I know this place is kosher. It would have to be, or Granddaddy wouldn’t stay here. He even found a kosher hotel in Cairo so he could see the pyramids.

 

And I know the rules. I know exactly what I’m supposed to pretend every time we eat a meal with Granddaddy.

 

What I don’t know is why I just did that stupid thing.

 

Granddaddy’s stiff with disapproval, I can feel it all the way across the table. I steal a glance at his new wife; she looks shocked, too. Even Carl’s staring at me wide-eyed.

 

“Surely you mean a Coke?” the waiter prompts.

 

Surely I don’t. Milk’s what I always drink, breakfast lunch and dinner. I don’t even like Coke. But I know the rules.

 

“Perhaps a 7-Up?” The waiter’s hand is trembling from holding the pen so long over his pad.

 

I don’t like 7-Up, either. Milk has lots of calcium, good for teeth and bones; we learned this in school. Soda is sugar water, as bad for you as candy, and—as the dentist always tells me before his punishments—it rots your teeth.

 

Yet God is now concerned with my choice of lunch drink. And, oddly, God wants me to choose rotten over healthy teeth.

 

If it was only God, I’d risk it, but Granddaddy’s stony gaze is more than I can stand up to. So I check the menu again and order a root beer.

 

I’m hungry enough, anyway. Carl and I spent all morning exploring this rambling pile of bricks, and the wide grounds around it. This place is practically a million years old, there’s even somewhere to pull up in your horse-drawn carriage.

 

“Laurel-in-the-Pines refers to being a Jew among the goyim,” Granddaddy explains when we ask about the funny name.

 

I bet this weekend is his new wife’s idea. Call me Grandmommy, she tells us the minute we meet her, and before we leave, she gives us each a present. Mine’s a kit for playing nurse. It has a nurse’s cap, a pretend stethoscope and thermometer, bandages, and a pill bottle full of bright red candy pills. They’re yummy, but I still don’t like her.

 

That’s okay, though. A few months later, Granddaddy flies down to Mexico, where the State of Chihuahua grants him an instant divorce. So I never see her again anyway. No surprise there.