Good Question, Chowderhead
(By Melissa Herr)
My name is Chelsea Chowderhead. A chowder is a stew made out of thick soup. My father says that our early ancestors may have invented chowder. I wonder if our early ancestors got made fun of all the time, too.For me, the last name teasing began as soon as I started school. So when my family moved to South Carolina, I decided that it was my chance for a fresh start. I asked my dad if I could change my name.
But the Chowderhead name has a long history - Dad started.
I know, I know. We were makers of thick soups or stews.
Why do you want to change it? He asked. My dad always asks lots of questions.
I didn't want to hurt his feelings, but I didn't want to go through another school year as a Chowderhead, either. "I get teased all the time. Even a compliment like 'Good idea, Chowderhead' sounds mean."
I know it's not always easy being a Chowderhead, said Dad. "I've been a Chowderhead my whole life, and I've been teased a lot. But you shouldn't change who you are. Let people get to know you first and your name later."
How can people get to know me before they know my name? I asked.
He said, "Ask good questions."
I looked at him blankly. He went on, "When you meet someone new,ask them a question. It can't be a mean question, and it has to be something that you're really curious about. Once people start talking about themselves, they don't judge you. They're just happy that someone is interested in what they have to say."
Two days later I headed to my new school for the first day of class. As soon as I got to my classroom, a girl named Claire introduced herself. I noticed that Claire was wearing pretty woven bracelets . I asked her where she got them. Her face lit up, and she explained that she made them herself. She'd gotten a bracelet-making kit for her birthday, and these were her first try. She offered to make me one.
By lunch, I'd talked to lots of people and was getting the hang of finding the right question. But there were two kids, twin brothers, who didn't seem to talk to anyone but each other. When they looked at me, I felt as if they already knew that I was a Chowderhead. Still, my dad's advice had worked out well, so I decided to give it one more try. I asked Claire if we should sit with the twins. She looked a little surprised, but shrugged her shoulders and followed me.
Do you mind if we sit with you? I asked. The twins stared at us. I sat down and opened my milk. No one said anything. I realized that if the twins never said anything, I'd never think of a question. Claire didn't say anything, either. I looked at their lunches for some kind of clue and noticed that the lunchboxes were identical . That's when it came to me.
What's it like being a twin? I asked.
The twins looked astonished. Then they both started talking at the same time.
No one has ever asked us that! one said.
Most of the time it's good, the other said. It turns out that being a twin is as complicated as being a Chowderhead. When you're a twin you always have someone to talk to and have lunch with, but people think that you're exactly alike.
In no time at all we were laughing and talking. Then one of the brothers said, "I'm Nicholas, and this is my brother, Nathaniel. What's your name?"
I gulped , took a deep breath, and said, "I'm Chelsea Chowderhead."
Chowder? Like the soup? asked Nathaniel.
Yes, I replied, looking down and blushing. "Like a thick soup or stew."
Hey, cool. Do you and Claire want to come over after school and play basketball with us? Nathaniel asked.
I'd love to, I said.
Me too, Claire agreed.
And that is how I learned to ask good questions and became friends with Nicholas and Nathaniel Noodlenoggin.