I should have known something was up the first day I was at the house. When she got home from school (after having the snack, of course), she emptied out the contents of the bag. Folder, reading book, and…pencil case. Before proceeding to the homework, it had to be carefully reviewed. Were things in order? Were the pencils organized from biggest to smallest? Were the markers in rainbow order? And the colored pencils? And the eraser? Is everything sharpened? Is a trip to Carlin necessary? What if the erasers are too worn down?
I once picked her up from school and noticed a girl I thought wasn’t very nice. Later I asked her what said girl was like. She replied, “She’s so mean. If you ask her, can I have a pencil, she’ll say no..,” and with a disgusted face, as if I reacted with a surprised expression, she’ added, “Yeah… I know… she’s that mean.”
Most people have some obsessions. Some things that they dream about through math class. For the girl, besides animals and food, it’s her pencil case. And the contents inside of it. It’s even her way of valuing whether at 8 years-old a girl is a good person or not.
Each day before we begin her homework, it’s something similar to the first day. Math problems are typically interrupted by her unremitting staring of her colored pencils, and caressing of her erasers. With her right hand she’ll write out the problem or the sentence, and with the left stroke the contents of the pencil case.
Although as the weeks passed, the obsession became more complicated. No longer was she obessed with touching and rearranged one pencil case, but she started to acquire more styles of pencil cases …. Hello Kitty, Monster High, flower prints, see-through, double stacked, you name it- she has it. Therefore, on certain days of the week, she must empty the contents of one of pencil cases and transfer them to another.
However, some of the pencil cases came with markers. Therefore they are of a certain brand, and different than the rest. If by some mistake one brand gets mixed up with a bunch from the other – GOD FORBID. Alert the media.
This happened more than once. The first time it happened, she took to the back of her house (in her room) to a dungeon of neon green tubs where the family stores “her things.” There was a pile of 4-5 tubs. She looked them up and down, and looked at me, and said, “Allison. We are missing one of the markers that has the label “Milan” on it. Now you,” she said, pointing at me, “must look through ALL of those, and find the missing marker,” she said, now pointing at the pile of green tubs.
If just the mere thought of being at home with so many pencil-case-makeover-possibilities was too much for her to handle, passing a libreria on the street, or even going in one, is like putting a period-soaked dirty underwear in front of a dog (you like that?). You must touch it, and if you can, have it all.
If we walk into a store, she takes intermittently slow…then FAST… then pacing, skipping, and even galloping struts around her favorite items. Her lustful glare when faced with twenty different styles of Milan erasers (complete with a pencil sharpener on the other end!) is only equal to that of when she sees freshly baked bread.
I wouldn’t consider it over-dramatic to say that she literally touches everything in the store. Those dirty hands on everything. Imagine.
Her obsession took to a whole new level yesterday night. Right when we got home from school she reached for her mom’s cell phone and opened Whatsapp. I didn’t think twice, because this is normal for her to talk to her dad or bother her mom’s friends with inappropriate voice messages.
However, yesterday, she was glued to the phone. We would work a little on homework, then she would turn to me with an exhausted face and say, “ugh can we have a break?” Normally, her breaks include watching Violeta, pretending to be on a cruise ship (which she pronounces like “cruise-y” no matter how many times I correct her), or “helping” the various Filipino workers we have on the property (read: throwing dirt around and making them do more).
But today, we breaks were her sprinting (I’ve never seen her sprint) to her mother’s phone and keep opening Whatsapp. I looked over her shoulder saw she was sending messages to the mother of one of her classmates.
Then, on one of her breaks, she started sending voice messages. Again, because she thinks I don’t understand her native tongue(s), things usually get pretty interesting.
The first thing I heard her send was, “POR FAVOR CONTESTA” (Please answer). Turns out during her previous breaks she had already sent several.
I asked her what she was doing. She furrowed her brow and through her pouty lips said, “It’s private stuff.” As if I don’t already know all of the intimate details about her personal life.
Ignoring me, she continued to send more… and more…
In one of them, I heard her say, “Ya no hace falta que me compre el estuche ese que te dije para mi cumpleaños…” (I don’t need you to buy me that pencil case I told you about for my birthday anymore).
Then I overheard, “Pero mandame la foto ya así le enseño a mi mama” (But send me the photo now so I can show my mom).
After this, we continued reading. She was more distracted than usual. We take turns reading (she’s very lazy and if I ask for more than the minimum she whines and says it’s “not fair”). When it was my turn to read, I would glance over and see her eyes wandering to her mom’s phone on the table. I would say “HEY!” and she would open her mouth wide and roll her eyes saying, “NOTHING!”
Finally when I let her have yet another break, she raced for the phone, snatched it, and ran out into the garden.
A few minutes later, I saw her pacing back and forth next to the lettuce plants with the phone pressed to her right ear and her left arm bobbing up and down with her emotional talking.
Since I was watching from a distance, her words were faint, but I could hear the ups and down of her speech. I saw the passion in her eyes as she described (what I would soon discover) the mother of all pencil cases: a 36 euro four-part multi-pack case, complete with two erases, two pencil sharpeners, colored pencils, felt-tip markers, four pre-sharpened pencils, and a glass (or plastic, really) ruler that fits perfectly.
Today, her dreams came true. After school, we battled the traffic going into Ibiza Town to go to a very special and exclusive Staples-like store on Via Punica to get the mega-pencil case.
I have never seen her so content. As you can imagine, the reading tonight included extra breaks to arrange, assemble, rearrange and reassemble, and extra caressing of the pencils.
But, at least she’s happy. And she’ll be the envy of all of the addicted 8 year-olds.