“Harold’s List,” Friend, Jan. 1996, 9
“Why do bad things always happen to me?” grumbled Harold as he tried to pull his school backpack out from under him. It was a cold morning, and the road to school was very icy. He was late, and in his hurry, he had fallen just outside the school door and landed on his backpack.
Harold looked inside the pack. “Oh no!” he moaned. “This is worse than I thought.” When he’d fallen, he’d mashed everything in his lunch, including the little box of juice his mother had put in as a treat. It had squirted over everything. Harold pulled out his book report. It was dripping with apple juice.
“Why do bad things always happen to me?” he muttered over and over as he opened the school door and went down the hall to his class, holding up with two fingers the dripping book report.
“Good morning, Harold, how are you today?” asked Mrs. Bennett as he walked into the classroom.
“I’m terrible,” he growled as he hung up his coat and sat down.
Two girls nearby giggled. “Harold is always terrible,” Katie said.
“Always,” laughed Anna.
Mrs. Bennett went over and sat down next to Harold. “Why is everything so terrible?”
Without a word, Harold showed her the soggy and sticky book report. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper. He smoothed it out on the top of his desk and said, “See this? Bad things always happen to me. I can prove it because I have them all written down on this list. Now today I need to add what happened on the way to school. I fell on the ice. I squashed my lunch. Juice got all over my book report, and I think I bruised my elbow.”
“Well,” his teacher said, “that is kind of a tough way to start the morning. What else is on your list?”
Harold read down his bad-things list. “Yesterday I stubbed my toe. My two big brothers took all the chocolate milk at dinner before I could get any. I didn’t get a turn on the swings at recess. On Monday I lost my favorite little car, and my pencil broke during the spelling test. Amanda spilled her milk in the lunchroom, and it went all over me.” Harold took a deep breath and was about to go on.
“I see what you mean,” Mrs. Bennett broke in quickly. “I’m wondering, though, just why you keep all of that on a list.”
“Because if I don’t, I might forget something. You see bad things always happen to me.”
Mrs. Bennett looked for a long time at Harold and then pulled the pencil from behind her ear. “Do you know what I think?” she asked.
Harold shook his head.
“I think your list isn’t long enough.” Harold looked at his teacher in surprise. He thought his list pretty much covered everything. He had kept it in his pocket and added to it all week.
“I’d be really curious to see what your list looks like if you wrote down absolutely everything that happens to you today. You will need more than that little paper. Here, use this notebook. Start with what happened on the way to school, then add everything that happens to you all day.”
“OK,” Harold said, “but you’ll see that bad things always happen to me.” Mrs. Bennett just smiled, and he started writing. He made sure that he covered all the details about the apple juice, the ruined book report, the smashed sandwich, his bruised elbow—everything.
Math was the first class. They worked through the problems on the chalkboard while Mrs. Bennett handed back their tests. Harold’s had a big 100% written on the top! She winked at Harold when she gave it to him and said, “Better write this down in the notebook.” Harold got out his list.
In reading, the students were reading aloud a play called “Robin Hood Rescues Maid Marian,” and when they drew names, Harold drew the part of Robin Hood! Mrs. Bennett winked again, and Harold knew that he was supposed to write that down.
As the children put on their coats to go outside for recess, his teacher noticed that he had some new boots with a warm, fuzzy lining, and new gloves to match. “New boots, Harold?” she asked.
“Yep,” he said. “Mom got them for me yesterday while she was shopping.”
“Hmmmm.” Mrs. Bennett rubbed her chin, “That sounds to me like something that happened to you.”
“I know,” said Harold. “I’d better write it down.” While he was at it, he noticed that his coat was pretty nice and warm too. Then he realized that he hadn’t yet written down anything about the hot breakfast his mother had made for him.
As the day went on, Harold’s list grew longer and longer. Right after lunch, he put down all about how terrible it was to eat a smashed lunch and how Robert had laughed about his funny flat sandwich for an hour. But out on the playground, he scored three baskets for his team, and Nick asked him to play after school, and he had to put that on the list too.
During art, his paint water spilled all over. That went into the notebook in big, capital letters. Jenny helped him wipe everything up, though, and Mrs. Bennett winked again, so he knew that he was supposed to add “help from a friend” to his list. He was on the third page of the notebook already.
At the end of the day, Harold took the notebook back to his teacher. “Well,” he said to her, “I think I’ve recorded just about everything.”
“Good,” she said. “What do you think—shall we count up all the bad things now?”
Harold looked at his feet and fiddled with the old, crumpled list in his pocket. It was really hard for him to say it, but maybe everything wasn’t so terrible. “Mrs. Bennett,” he said as he looked at the notebook, “I think maybe I saved up all the bad things so long that I forgot to notice the good things.”
Mrs. Bennett smiled.
“This kind of a list is a lot more interesting to write than the old one. Do you think I could keep this paper?”
“Harold, you can keep the whole notebook,” Mrs. Bennett said. “I hope you keep adding things until it’s a very long list.”
Harold grinned. “Thanks,” he said. “But, you know, it still bugs me that my apple juice ended up all over my book report instead of in my lunch.”
“I bet it does,” Mrs. Bennett said, “but at least it helped you see not only that good things happened to you, too, but also that it helps to write things down. Hmmm—I think you’ll have good things happen to you next week when we start a lesson on journals. What do you think?”