Scattered is a good word for her. The title of educator never seemed to fit. Enlightening, educating, teaching, ironically, were not this teacher’s strong suits. Every day she stood flat center of the classroom scrambling to find something, anything to feed us as knowledge. We’d start the morning hearing a few sentences on multiplication tables before someone would sneeze or cough or blink. She’d lose her train of thought like this so many times that we never quite grasped the concept of subjects: Addition bled into photosynthesis which ran willy-nilly to the capital city of Mozambique. I always thought she’d make a good clown….or government-subsidized form of torture.
One exemplary morning, a classmate raised his hand. A sense of urgency about him, he jabbed those little digits into the air, desperate for the teacher to notice. She stopped (mid-sentence about fractions and Native Americans) and turned to the frantic child. Forgetting, again, what the point of her pause was, she delved into a two-minute diatribe on manners and how to politely request another person’s attention. The boy’s hand dropped to his side. He barfed across four tiles of linoleum, getting rid of his poor manners and the uncomfortable ache behind them. As the janitor wheeled a rickety mop and bucket to the scene of the crime, dumping piles of smelly wood chips across the stinkier puke, our dear teacher suddenly remembered the furry classmate. Gather ’round, class, now’s as good a time as any to learn about cleaning the hamster’s cage.
My toddler won’t touch his favorite sippy cup, the red one with the squishy, yellow lid.
His juice intake has plummeted.
No matter the treat I dangle before him, the silly cartoon dance I try to perform, he will not smile.
His eye contact is brief but clear. He is the disappointed pupil, and I am the topic-hopping teacher.
I am scanning through websites and parenting books for proof of what I hope is true:
These are just normal side effects of Lessons & Learning Them.
It was runny yesterday. Freezing winds spit misty rain around and around before letting it fall to a puddle. Stuck within the confines of a shrinking house, I made the executive decision that simply sitting wouldn’t cut it. I swigged some cold medicine to soothe my sick throat and packed the perky toddler into the car. I coughed and thought, coughed and thought. What to do with a wild boy kept from the wilderness?
The mall! The mall would lighten up this dreary day: vestibules packed with discount handbags for mom and fifty-cent rides to entertain the young one. Rush! Rush! I clasped the jacket closer to his little self and jogged through the muck, through the parking lot of puddles, through the glass doors into a warm department store.
Ahh. Someplace other than our place. The kid and I gave a relieved sigh and took a gander at the wonder before us. The child pawed at glittering bracelets stacked floor-to-ceiling in the shape of a pyramid. I was drawn to the luxury draped a few feet away. I reached out hand-to-rack, smitten with the newest line of rib-hugging granny panties billowing to and fro. So large! So breathable!
And then it hit me. The itch I could not scratch. Okay, the other itch I couldn’t scratch. Amid the quiet, week-day crowd I found myself smack dab in the center of a coughing fit. Hacking, heaving, wrenching, wheezing, I clutched the nearest shelf to keep from snapping in two. My eyes flooded with tears, my cheeks on fire from all the huffing and the puffing. After whole minutes of this embarrassing display of lung power, I yanked the tot from the jewelry department and prayed for a swift exit. First alarmed stranger’s face read “Remember to shop on-line”. Second, third, and fourth alarmed strangers’ faces read “Ebola? Plague? The Flying Swine Flu?”. Eighteenth alarmed stranger had the misfortune of holding the door open for me mid-hack. “Shat. Hand sanitizer. I always forget hand sanitizer,” I think his face said. One by one the sea of shoppers parted, quick to escape my cough’s trajectory.
I sped, driving home or perhaps to the emergency room or maybe to the vet’s office to have myself put down. Frazzled with respiratory failure, I swerved and darted. I coughed so hard I felt my brain rattle. I coughed so hard I felt the earth shake. The boy, oblivious to the sickness, giggled and slurped juice from his favorite sippy cup.
In one whoop, a cough so deep sprang from my lungs. In one second I faced the horrifying reality that I’d coughed hard enough to puke in my mouth. Still driving aimlessly for a cure, I understood my predicament: Moving vehicle. Tear-blurred vision. Mouth-O-Barf. In a knee-jerk reaction, I flailed a hand around, searching for a place to spit in the worst kind of way. And there it was. Oh mercy. There it was.
Yanking the sippy cup from my happy toddler’s hands, I used that one-handed lid removable I’d perfected from months of functioning kid-on-hip and tainted his poor, innocent apple juice. I cleared my mouth. I realized just how disgusting my life is. I felt the boy’s stare burning a hole into my head. I knew I’d have to face him.
A traffic light turned red. I turned to my son. “Jooooosh. Mo Joosh, Mum,” He waved a sad hand towards the site of cup’s destruction. As if from memory, I morphed… from hack-barfing mom….to hack-barfing teacher.
“Your juice comes from apples. Can you say apple?,” I tried to distract the boy with facts and figures.
“Proper sanitation of plastic sippy cups is essential to healthy juice consumption. Oh, and apples grow on trees. Trees have branches. Birds nest on the branches. Red breasted Blackbird?, ” I was on a roll. The lesson hardly mattered so long as it avoided the point. The boy wanted juice, and, well, I’d barfed in it.
He grunted, eyeing my mug of coffee so conveniently placed in the front cup holder.
“Stop sassing me with your eyes, baby. Premium blended coffee > lukewarm apple juice, ” surely some math symbols would deter him.
“Mo jooosh. Mo joooooshhhhh,” he whined and whined. I coughed and coughed.
“Every problem has a solution, see? , ” I explain, nodding towards the massacred kiddie cup.
” The weirder the problem, the weirder the solution?,” I was failing this lessons-from-nonsense game. ” The capital of Mozambique is Maputo. Did you know that? Huh? Huh?”
By the time we arrived home, I’d unearned the respect of one thirsty kid.
By summertime, I left that teacher’s class with a distinct respect for school janitors and a feeling that instructors were nearly as clueless as their pupils, just spouting off lines of learning lest they admit aloud “I have no smart for you”. As a kid I was so sure of the solution to that teacher’s problem: when choking in public, stop talking.