I can’t believe that my parents named her Angela! They’re both teachers, so you’d think that they’d know better than to call the terror of the kindergarten an angel. Being her eleven-year-old brother is hard. I have to baby-sit her on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. The other days I have soccer or my first-aid class for Scouts. That and my homework keep me “legitimately” busy until suppertime.
The thing is, Angela has a vivid imagination. She’s always pretending to be a world-famous astronaut or world-famous ballet dancer or something else “world-famous.” She also likes to talk a lot, which drives me bonkers. And she loves animals. You’d think they were people, to listen to her.
Last Tuesday Mom was just leaving for a class as I walked in the front door after school. She gave me a quick kiss and said good-bye. I sighed and headed for the kitchen. It was too quiet! Angela was sitting at the kitchen table, eating a gooey peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. Except for the grape jelly around her mouth, she looked like one of those kids in a TV commercial. But she didn’t fool me! I looked around the kitchen for signs of damage. I didn’t have to look far. Max, our sometimes-troublesome mutt, was under the table, having a great time finishing off the grape jelly—right out of the jar.
“He was hungry, too, Jeff. How could I eat in front of him?” Angela asked as I glared at her.
I shooed her next door to play with her friend Carrie so that I could clean up. Carrie has a swing set, and I figured it would help if Angela wore off a little energy. I used some wet paper towels to mop up the rest of the grape jelly, then curled up with my latest book, Invader from the Unknown.
Not even five minutes later I heard Carrie screaming at the top of her lungs. “Angela’s stuck! She’s going to fall! Hurry, Jeff!”
I tore out of the house and over to Carrie’s swing set. Angela wasn’t making a sound, but she had a panicky look on her face. She was hanging upside down from the swing set by one foot.
As soon as I helped her down, she gave me a mischievous grin. “The swings were gone, so we’ve been practicing for the Olympics. We’re going to be world-famous gymnasts.”
I gave Angela a threatening look. “You’re going to be a world-famous prisoner if you keep it up. One more caper like that, and you’ll stay in your room until Mom gets home.”
“I’m sorry, Jeff. I’ll be really good now. Carrie and I will have a tea party for our dolls.”
A few minutes later, all was quiet. Keeping one ear tuned for trouble, I stretched out on the couch with my book again. The alien ship had just set down on planet Earth, and billows of smoke were rising from the craft. …
All of a sudden I realized that there was real smoke and that it was coming from the kitchen! I made it there in record time. Carrie was hightailing it out the door for home, and Angela was staring sadly at a cookie sheet with several little black mounds on it.
“I did it just like Mommy did the peanut-butter cookies the other day,” she told me, “but I didn’t know what number to put the oven on, so I just turned the knob as far as it would go. I guess that was wrong, huh?” Seeing the fury on my face, she added quickly, “I turned it off as soon as I saw the black smoke.”
I looked at the clock, and my anger turned to panic. Mom would be back soon! “Angela,”—I spat out the ultimate threat between clenched teeth—“if you don’t help get this kitchen cleaned fast, I will never give you a piggyback ride again!”
Angela’s eyes widened, and she grabbed the sponge. She started wiping the counter, making big doughy streaks in the flour she had spilled while making the cookies. While we worked to get the worst of the mess cleaned up, Angela talked a blue streak about how she and Carrie were going to be world-famous cooks. I looked at the black blobs in the garbage can and had to admire her optimism. I was awfully glad that I had my first-aid class the next day, though. I didn’t think I could take another afternoon like this one.
“Angela, how about another snack?” I figured food would keep her quiet, and I didn’t know how much more of her jabbering I could take. I opened a can of little hot dogs. The food didn’t slow her down a bit; she was still talking a mile a minute. I growled, “Angela, if you don’t stop talking while you’re eating, you’re going to choke.”
All of a sudden, Angela got very quiet. She had a funny look on her face, and she was turning blue!
Without thinking about it, I reached over and whacked her on the back. Nothing happened. Then I remembered the Heimlich maneuver. It’s to help someone who has something caught in his throat and can’t cough it up. I’d just learned it last week in first-aid class.
I was scared. I’d only tried the maneuver on the dummy there, and I knew it should only be used in a real emergency or the person could be hurt badly. But Angela looked like she was going to pass out any minute. I heard my voice saying, “Don’t be afraid, Angela. I know what to do. I’m going to stand behind you like this. …”
I put my arms around her in a bear hug from behind, right below the rib cage, as the instructor had demonstrated. I made a fist with my left hand, thumbside against her stomach, and grasped the fist with my other hand. Taking a deep breath, I gave a sudden squeeze.
Angela made a funny choking sound, and the meat popped out onto the floor. She started breathing and crying at the same time and wrapped herself around me like a pretzel. That was OK with me—I was so glad to hear her breathing again that I wouldn’t have cared if she’d hung on all day.
Now both Mom and Angela think I’m terrific—or, as Angela says, “a world-famous hero!” And Mom said that as a reward for my heroism I don’t have to do the dishes for a week.
I’ve decided that Angela isn’t such a bad kid after all. She’s just different. “Unique,” Mom says. But then so am I. Unique, I mean.
And I’ve decided something else: Angela can have all the piggyback rides she wants—this week anyway.