Bit by Bit . . . Then All At Once

A story about making changes.

Henri hated change. He didn't like to admit it, but change was scary. He wanted everything to stay the same. He liked the yellow house where he lived with his mother, father, and older sister, Gloria. He liked to fasten his shoes with velcro--he didn't want to learn to tie laces.

Most kids love birthdays, but not Henri. Well, he did like getting presents and being treated special. But he didn't like growing older. So when he woke up on the morning of his ninth birthday, he lay in bed with mixed feelings. "What changes are in store for me?" he wondered.

"Happy birthday, Henri," called out Gloria.

"What's so happy about a birthday?" grumbled Henri.

"Come on Henri. You're growing up. That's good!"

"Not to me. You know I hate change."

"I know Henri, but that feeling may change today because I'm going to give you a great power for a birthday present. But you have to agree to try it out"

"Oh, sure, like you're going to make me into a superhero."

"Fine, if you don't want the power . . ."

"Gloria! You said you would give it to me. O.K., tell me, and I'll try it. But what is it--some kind of magic trick?

"It's like magic, but it's not a trick, Henri. The gift is the power to make changes."

"What? Isn't that impossible?"

"No, anyone can learn it. You see, all changes are like a tug-of-war between two opposing sides. The new side pulls against the old side. Bit by bit the new side grows stronger until, all at once, it wins out, and the old side disappears--like the sunrise when night gives way to day."

"You mean like when I wake up in the morning and my sleepiness goes away?"

"Yes, that's it, Henri."

"So how does knowing how things change give me a great power?" asked a puzzled Henri.

"Making changes makes you powerful, Henri. To make changes you have to build the new--what you want to happen--bit by bit, until, all at once, you've done it--the new takes the place of the old. It's like building your Lego houses, piece by piece--until presto!--you're finished.

"Is making changes work or is it fun?" asked Henri.

"It's both! And you can always be proud of the changes you make."

"If it's so easy, why doesn't everyone know this?" asked Henri.

"I don't know, Henri. Maybe they never had a big sister to tell them. Now I've got to go to work. See you tonight. Have fun making changes."

"OK, I'll give this a try," Henri said to himself. His room was cold. But, bit by bit, Henri built up his energy to get out of bed. "Now it is time for a change!" All at once, in a single burst, he tossed his covers off and got up. "Hmmm, that wasn't bad at all. Maybe making changes will make me a superhero."

Henri sat down with his mother for breakfast. "Henri, since this is your birthday, it's time for some changes. Today you're old enough to walk to school by yourself. And starting tomorrow, we want you to wash the breakfast dishes before you leave for school."

"I was afraid of this," groaned Henri. But then he thought it over and said with a sly look, "O.K., I'll agree if I also get a bigger allowance. It's only fair-- more change for making changes."

His mother smiled, and then replied, "All right, Henri, it's a deal."

After breakfast Henri felt like a brave explorer getting ready for an adventure as he walked out the door. When he got to Crow Canyon Road, Henri imagined himself in the World Street-Crossing Championship. Cars and trucks were whizzing by. The spectators were tense, but Henri remained calm. He pressed the pedestrian button and waited. Everyone watched, hoping. But Henri told himself, "Bit by bit, the signal is getting ready to change." Then, all at once, the light turned green. The traffic stopped, and Henri crossed the busy street safely. The crowd cheered as Henri received the gold medal. Henri wasn't surprised. He thought, "Now I know how to make changes."

He kept walking, thinking about his birthday, and all the changes in his life. He remembered his mother saying, "When I was pregnant with you, you grew inside me--bit by bit--until one day, you were born." He remembered growing older, day by day, until one day he started going to school.

He remembered how he learned to ride a bike--trying again and again until, all at once, Gloria shouted, "You've got it Henri. You're riding!"

He walked briskly ahead, step by step, getting closer to school. Then, before he knew it, he arrived. He wasn't surprised; now he knew how to make changes.

The day at school seemed normal--too normal. Henri wondered if anyone knew it was his birthday. He did feel proud as he solved arithmetic problems, learned how to spell "Mississippi", and drew a picture of a volcano.

His friend, Carlos, asked, "How did you learn to do all this, Henri?"

Henri answered, "I just keep working, bit by bit, until I get it right."

But something was not right. Bit by bit, Henri's happy feeling was fading while tick by tick the clock showed the end of the day was approaching. Then, all at once, the bell rang, and school was out.

Henri thought, "I can't believe no one remembered my birthday."

There was nothing for Henri to do but go home. He felt sad and crinkled up inside. "At least my family will celebrate my birthday," he hoped.

But when he got home, his mom said, "Henri, tonight we have to go over to Aunt Violeta's to watch videos of your cousin's wedding."

Henri was shocked. "How can this be happening on my birthday?" he thought. Bit by bit Henri had been getting more and more upset. Now, he erupted like a volcano.

"Forget it. That sounds boring. I'm staying here," he shouted.

Then he ran to his room, slamming the door.

A few minutes later, Gloria tapped on his door.

"Henri, can I talk to you?"

"O.K., Gloria, but I'm not going to Aunt Violeta's. This isn't fair."

"Henri, trust me. I really don't think you'll be bored at Aunt Violeta's. Remember that things can change all at once. And you can always bring a comic book along just in case."

"Oh great," thought Henri, "now Gloria's put my mind in a tug-of-war--should I stay, or should I go?" His mind was racing, "There is something strange about this; my family always celebrates my birthday. What is Gloria hinting at? Maybe I'll find out if I go to Aunt Violeta's."

Finally Henri said, "All right, let's go." But he did grab a comic book on his way out the door just in case.

When they arrived, Henri tried to open the front door, but it seemed to be stuck. "Oomph, something is pushing against the other side," Henri grunted.

But Henri knew how to make changes. He pushed harder and harder until, all at once, the door gave way. Henri fell into the room as the door swung open. Right then, the lights came on and a chorus of voices shouted, "Surprise!"

Henri just about jumped out of his socks as a flashbulb popped in his face. His friends laughed and laughed at his shocked expression. "Boy, did we have you fooled," they gloated.

"Not at all," lied Henri. "Well, I'll admit that this is one change that came as a tiny surprise. But you know how I like changes." Everyone laughed, but Henri didn't mind.

They played and danced until bit by bit, they started getting tired and hungry. Then, all at once, his dad called out, "Come and get it!" and everyone sat down for a feast of home-made tamales.

Then came the cake. Henri sucked in a big breath of air, then blew. Just like that, the candle flames all went out. Everyone clapped, and Henri said, "Thanks, but it's easy now that I know how to make changes."

After dinner Henri especially enjoyed the piņata. It was shaped like a crocodile. Hit by hit, the crocodile got weaker and weaker until, with one last solid whack-- it fell apart, dumping a pile of candy on the ground for everyone to dive for.

That night, Henri climbed into bed, thinking about the day and all the changes he had gone through. "Tomorrow I'll have to face some of the same challenges, and make more changes--big and small. But I will be different. Tomorrow I'll be stronger and smarter than ever. Bit by bit I'm learning and growing . . ."

Then, all at once, he fell asleep.

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