Thursday, January 9, 2014

Confessions of a new parent: The one about the school visit

the scene of the crime

One of the things that continues to surprise me about motherhood is my continued optimism- that at some point I will be prepared for what is about to happen. Honestly at this point what I am referring to as optimism, you are probably calling stupidity. What can I say? I’m an optimist.

Recently I found myself sitting alone in the front office of the elementary school at 7:25 a.m., having arrived early enough to drop off medication to the nurse before going to work. While sitting in the unexpected yet blissful quiet of the empty front office, I purposefully turned my chair a little so I could not see all of the children running by the big window separating the office from the noise.

I pondered this seemingly magic, virtually soundproof glass & wondered how one might obtain some for the walls, ceiling, floor & doors of a home until the quiet was sucked out of the room by the door opening, flinging the bit of peace down the hall where it would likely be wasted on the music room or some other quiet-eating classroom. The silence was replaced by a rather sullen child who dramatically wilted into the chair to my right. She closed her eyes momentarily. I waited- not knowing what to do with someone else’s child, having still not located the instructional manual for my own.

Slouching precariously in the chair, she opened her eyes & leaned up enough to peer over the counter & realize that this entire performance had been wasted on only me. She looked me up & down, sizing me up.

“You a substitute?”

“No.” I thought about mentioning that she really probably shouldn’t talk to strangers, even at school, but I decided not to waste my breath. It was already abundantly clear that she had an agenda & I had no intention of becoming some sort of collateral damage for offering a completely reasonable observation.

She decided not to waste any more of her show on me & resorted to small talk. For the record, I am bad at small talk with adults with fully formed brains. To say that I am bad at it with children is more of an understatement than I can adequately express.

“Did you know Cooper sounds like Cougar? Cooper. Cougar. Cooper. Cougar. Cooper. Cougar. Cooper. Cougar. See?”

What is the appropriate response to such a question? It was a rhetorical question, right? As I struggled with this thought, the other door to the office swung open. I hoped for an adult. What I got was another child. One who flopped violently into the chair on my left. She could clearly see from the barely subdued panic on my face that I was not a substitute so she acted like I was a potted plant, leaning around me to engage the other child.

“What are you here for?” She sounded like she was in prison & just wandered up to someone new in the yard. The irony of this was not lost on me as I considered my limited options for escape from this sick child sandwich.

“Stomachache. Sneezing make me toot, which my mother said would make me feel better, but it doesn’t.” She said all of this very matter-of-factly as if any sort of one-upping “I’m sicker than you” conversation would be over before it started.

Honestly,nothing good can come of sneeze-induced tooting. After a year of parenting I may not know much, but this- this I know. After abandoning my remaining shreds of optimism, I gripped the arms of my chair & prayed for a grown up to arrive before any physical evidence of their illnesses.

“Did you know that Cooper sounds like Cougar?  Cooper. Cougar. Cooper. Cougar.”

Her mother must be an amazing driver. I imagined her pulling up to school each morning in an SUV & rounding the bus lanes on two wheels with the passenger door ajar, catapulting the child into the building. I bet she never even taps the brakes.

“Cooper. Cougar. Cooper. Cougar.” Now they were both doing it.

Some sort of angelic-yet-militarily-efficient woman walked by the big window,  came to the door & poked her head in- first zeroing in like a laser on the Cooper Cougar ringleader.

“Why are you in here?”

“My stomach-“

“Does your mom know about it?”

“Yes, but-“

“Did you eat breakfast?”

“No, but-“

“That’s the problem. Come with me.”

It only took about 10 seconds, thanks to the rapid-fire succession in which she landed her queries. Impressive.

My thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of the nurse, who led me into her office. Never had I been so happy to find myself in a small windowless cinder block room. Even through the closed door, I could hear the remaining child speaking to the office worker who had just arrived. Although it was muffled, I could still make out her words.

“Hey, did you know Cooper sounds like Cougar? Cooper. Cougar. Cooper. Cougar. Cooper. Cougar. Cooper. Cougar. See?”

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