Not all weeks are created equal. Some are just more full than others. This one was stuffed full to bursting and I have to write a few things down so I remember them when I’m old and wonder what the heck I did with all those days I’ve lived.
To start with I missed Monday. Called in a sick day Sunday evening. Because of this I’m all out of sync. Haven’t had a sense of what day it has been all week and sort of wandered in and out of activities following the herd and hoping I was in the right place and the right time. Thursday evening at yoga class I had the weirdest idea walking in that it was Monday’s class and when the instructor corrected me I felt all adrift like a molecule in the black void of space.
I can’t remember much of Tuesday. There was no staff meeting in the morning so I must have stumbled to class on time. Oh wait! I think I do remember something – I think that was the day that D spilled his morning coffee all over the floor! I like D. He’s an awesome kid. Older by a year or two; experienced a few things; has a good sense that school is important; mature in his interactions; great sense of humour. I met his sister (a substitute teacher) last week and she said the best things about him too.
Anyways, I have a class rule that I’m usually pretty strict about: any food or drink in the class has to be healthy, tidy and not distracting. Healthy by my standards. Tidy enough to not make a mess, period. No squirty parts or crumbly bits. And it has to be consumed in such a manner that no one else notices. So the girl at the back of my grade nine class this morning who popped open a gum package – those little bubble wrapped foil things – and started passing it around so that students were turned in their desks facing the back of the room and clamouring for a piece – …. that wasn’t quite what I was going for with this rule. I’m usually pretty strict. Those iced caps from Tim Hortons – no go. Energy drinks – nope. Sun chips in crinkly bags, – nuh uh. But I’ve relented somewhat with my grade twelve English class, 9:00 am, with regards to coffee. Coffee isn’t exactly a health drink. but it’s given out freely in the Mentor’s Room (a sort of monitored student lounge with support staff for kids) in the mornings. Kids dash in there at the last minute to grab a banana or bowl of corn flakes before class in the morning. Or a Styrofoam cup of coffee.
I had reservations when I saw this trend beginning. Any teacher worth his/her salt knows that you stop a behaviour the very first time it happens or it gets out of control really fast like a viral infection. I saw the kids coming in with their little Styrofoam cups, no lids, precariously perching these disasters-waiting-to-happen on the edges of their desks, and I raised an eyebrow and thought, “Oh for heaven’s sake! They’re in grade twelve. They’re 18 years old. They’re driving cars and holding down jobs and going to be graduating in a few months. Surely they can manage a coffee cup!”
D was great. He “Oopsed!”, but didn’t make a fuss or a bigger deal of it than it was (likely I made a bigger deal of it than it was!), and cleaned it all up like it never happened. So although I made a point of letting everyone know that we’re going back to the you-must-bring-your-healthy-beverages-in-spill-safe-containers rule, D came out of that with my respect and appreciation.
Tuesday after school I took my mother to a community clinic to receive her first injection of a medication. If you’ve read my last post, “Making Arrangements: a health care system rant”, you’ll be happy to learn that the injection appointment was a terrific success! The health care provider who helped us will be administering the injection weekly and was terrifically helpful and friendly. She put Mom at ease and made everything simple. She was forthright and honest as well about having to throw away 80% of the medication Mom had just purchased that morning. *Really??* Yes, really. We had double and triple checked that the prescription was for a month’s worth of injections. What we didn’t check, nor did the pharmacist, was that there were preservatives in the medication to keep it viable for a month! So Mom got her 0.4 ml injection and the other 1.6 ml of medicine went down the tube – or wherever medicines go when they die. I bundled Mom up and asked her if she wanted to go home or come with me back to the pharmacy. She was a little confused, but wanted to hang out with me, I think, and so we went back to the pharmacy. The woman who filled the prescription was unavailable so we explained to yet another health care professional that we could not possibly afford to pay for five injections every time we receive one and that we were confident she could help us find a better solution. She agreed, and searched, and we finally found a supplier who could provide the appropriate medication in the appropriate size with preservatives for a reasonable price because, no, this medication is not covered by Medicare!! Meanwhile, Mom kept talking to the pharmacist about how the doctor was just up the hall and why couldn’t he just take care of all this?? I think it’s sorted out now. I think we – all the many many players involved in a simple injection – are all on the same page now. I think we’ve got a plan. So that ended well.
Wednesday after school when the usual consortium of students were milling around in my room – handing things in or using the computers or borrowing a package of pencil crayons – I noticed a body on the periphery, just hanging there – not with anyone; not doing anything. But I didn’t have time to look up – too many other kids vying for my attention. However, after the last student was gone, the body was still there.
R. RB! A student from several years back. He would wander in and out of classes like there was a moratorium on all time references in his world. Tall-ish, narrow, dark curls pasted any which way to his head and dangling in loose ringlets over his ears. His hood was often over his head anyhow, so the hair thing was moot. Dark eyes full of thought and hope and expectation that someone could read all the universes behind them. He’d shoot daring glances at me from behind his veils and I often felt like he was trying to communicate telepathically. Few words – mostly mumbled apologies and odd literary references that made me raise my eyebrows – who was this 16 year old kid? Homework was a non-issue as it wasn’t going to get done regardless of the means of pressure I exerted, though occasionally there’d be a burst of energy randomly applied which mostly resulted in dashings and scurryings that amounted to not much more than raising dust. When he wrote ….. oh! When he wrote! Brilliant stuff! I’d sink into his stories and disappear – they just absorbed my world and pulled me into theirs. His. He merged philosophy with wit, applying a cleverness that was full of acerbic humour. His literary references suggested this kid was reading and exploring his world with far, far more depth and breadth than all his peers, who just happened to be passing their grades while he whittled away his non-time meandering down halls, lost in school but clearly grounded in something. I always liked RB.
Anyways, there he was now. Again. Standing in front of my desk. Taller. Less narrow. Hair still undisciplined. Still wearing hoodies, though the hood was down. After the usual greetings, during which he paced, like a fretting old professor, he just cut to the chase:
“I’ve come to apologize.”
My eyebrows went up. “Apologize?”
“Yes. Yes, for being such an ass in your class.” He raised his palm to me, stopping my breath in my mouth. “Yes, an ass. I apologize for the strong language…” – I blinked. Strong language? Had he heard what I hear in the halls …. anyways – ” … but I was an ass. Always just coming and going, late all the time, making extra work for you so I could catch up. Yes, I was such a…” he shakes his curls “… jerk.”
“R, I think jerk might be a strong word.”
“No. And I want to thank you. You always believed in me. You were my favourite teacher. You always found something I could…” what word did he use? “… connect (?) to, something I could relate to that would keep me coming back. You were an inspiration to me. If I amount to anything yet it will be, at least in part, because of you.”
I can’t remember what else he said. There was more. I wish I had one of those eidetic memories. They’d come in handy in instances like this. I hope I’m doing him justice. He was relentless with himself. He had always had a knack for berating himself excessively. If the energy he poured into self-recrimination had been pouring instead into his work he’d have been hugely successful. But something always just beyond his reach kept him from fully being who he wanted to be.
“I want to make my life right, make the things I did wrong right. I want to address my regrets and move into the future free of the past. And I thought I’d start with you.”
“Wow. R, you are working on your self-respect and integrity!”
He nodded. “Yes, I want a clean break.” Pacing. All the time restless and edgy and unrelaxed in his own skin.
He kept on for a bit and eventually the subject changed to books – we read many of the same authors – and I told him to come back the next day; that I had a book I’d like him to have – an author we mutually enjoy; the book is done for me, and I’m weeding my shelves. He readily agreed, smiling and he left. But I worried that evening. A brilliant mind, held back by some unidentified but insurmountable barrier from achieving what it so desperately desired. A boy who couldn’t stop apologizing, blaming himself, using his dry humour to whip penances into his psyche. A young man come back to tie up loose ends, to “break clean”…. I have taken some suicide intervention training and I was mentally ticking off signs that this guy was planning to finish his troubles once and for all. I hoped and hoped he would indeed show up in my classroom again the next day.
Wednesday evening? I attended a pre-retirement seminar with my husband and financial adviser. Can you believe that? I can not. It was surreal. But there I was. Suffice it to say that I’m going to be a pauper in my old age and that’s just that. My adviser tells me otherwise, but Hubby and I discussed it later that evening in the hot tub under the stars and we agreed we will just have to stick together because neither of us can afford to strike out on our own. This, happily, is actually good news!
Thursday, after school, there he was, waiting at the edge of the mayhem that is my life (I don’t think anyone would believe the frenetic energy that surrounds my desk at the end of every day! What is that??) and when the last of the craziness was gone, he smiled. We chatted for a bit and I reached over for the book I’d brought for him. I’d written him a personal note on a purple sticky and put it inside the cover. He breezed through the pages but didn’t seem to notice the sticky. I was glad. I’d waxed sappily in it about my hopes for him. It would be awkward for him to read that with me standing there, hands limply hanging. He told me about a book shelf his mother had found and had brought home, cleaned up and …. here I became confused… did she fill it up with books, or did it come filled up with books? I forget exactly, but R told how the books ranged in topics from spiritual musings to bizarre astrophysical speculations. He loved them, and all the books had come to the owner from teachers. He said he’d always wanted to receive a book from a teacher and he was glad it was from me. And, he said, he could now have just the happiest birthday.
“R! Is it your birthday today??”
“Twenty-one!” And he continued from yesterday: “That’s why I had to come apologize to you! I need to start clean!” You, my dear blog readers, have no idea how relieved I was to hear the motive behind the “coming clean” thing. “I’m sick of being afraid all the time. These @#! – pardon my strong language – fears have kept me back long enough, and you know what? Today after work I walked right up to this girl,” – I kid you not: his face lit up! – “and I told her that it had been long enough and would she like to go out with me sometime and you know what she said to me?”
I couldn’t imagine! I was riveted! “NO! What?”
“She said yes and gave me her number and told me to call her!”
Ok, my heart practically swelled right there! R explained he’d been in some crappy relationships and he’d just like a real girlfriend who was a good person. Amen to that, I said! And I expressed my hope that this turn out exceptionally well. He agreed because – and he paused, hand on the door jamb – “she’s just so darn cute!!” And he was gone.
Oh my heart.
I did get back to work then because no one except my fellow English teacher who lives down the stairs and just across the hall from me, can possibly understand how far behind I am in my marking. I know she understands because we checked out each other’s piles today after school. “I’ll show you my pile if you show me yours!” So I got back to work but barely got started when the bus with all the kids on the ski trip returned and that meant that M was in my room, hanging out, waiting for her ride. M is a wistful soul stuck in a human body which does nothing but inhibit her from soaring through all the universe in search of the ultimate awesome. And she believes in ghosts. So she spent a fair amount of time regaling me with tales of the house in which she and her family were seriously haunted. The tales were unearthly and unpleasant and she was in earnest and the conversation became quite intense. And then, “Mrs. G., do you believe in ghosts?”
Straight up, just like that. That’s her style. And she sat there, big eyes, calm steady posture, waiting intently for my response. Oh God in Heaven Above, have You no mercy whatsoever??? Relent!! But no. She still waited.
“No. Not like you do.”
“But do you think people’s spirits can get caught on earth? Aren’t you Christian?” The implication there being that having a faith requires that I also must have some kind of platform on which to explain these events in her life.
“I believe in spirits, not ghosts, and there’s quite a difference.”
Oh, her whole body shifted. She pulled forward and settled right in. “Tell me!”
Good gracious. “Are you sure you want to get into this? It’s a pretty big topic!”
She had nothing to do and no place to go until her parents got to school to pick her up. She was genuinely interested. Oh dear. I have zero trouble explaining why I think spirits are different from ghosts. And I have no qualms about discussing supernatural phenomenon. And I love (positively adore!) sincere conversations about God and faith and worldviews …. but me and a 15 year old, (albeit quite a brilliant one, with genuine questions) in a classroom, in a public school setting. “You know that I can only tell you what I believe, and why, right? You have to think about these things and make decisions about what you believe on your own. I can not tell you what to believe or not believe. Are you comfortable with this?”
She nodded, thoughtfully. She’s always thoughtful, as in full of thoughts.
So off we went! We discussed worldviews and Big Bang, evolution and evil, God’s eternal nature, angels and devils and where that all started, how mythology and religion get all tangled together, the nature of man, where spirits go after death, the possibility of soul’s roaming earth forever tormented by their own sins, Jesus and redemption and the possibility of atonement for errors, man’s free will, our eternal yearnings and …. I tell you the time flew by! It was nuts. And all the while, she was listening, and asking hyper-intelligent questions. Get this one, for instance: “Mrs. G, you said that Lucifer’s mistake was wanting to be like God. But then you said that when you repent you want to acquire a nature like God’s. So how are you any different from Lucifer?” Oh. My. Dear. Heavens! I lovelovelove her!! Brilliant! And we were off again!
Needless to say I went to yoga pretty done in. I was pooped. I could barely function. I came home from yoga and tried a few new poses at home for the benefit of my husband who coached me on balance and pose, (if only you knew how ridiculous that might seem to people who know us!) and then I had the hottest, bubbliest bath ever and went to bed absolutely done in.
Today I woke up and hour and a half before my alarm and could not go back to sleep. I got to school tired. And well before the first bell, as I’m standing in the hall doing I don’t even know what, I hear M (Not the M I spoke about in the paragraphs above, but another. Just think how many Ms might exist in the same school!) greeting C. “Hey, Dildo!”
Really? I was with another teacher at that moment and we both did the rubber neck thing and were open-mouthed incredulous. You are kidding me! Nope. They were all grinning like ten year old boys in a farting contest. I kid you not. The other teacher had stuff to do and I wasn’t about to let that go. So I wandered over.
“Do any of you know what a dildo is?” They all grinned. Yes. Isn’t it too funny? This is the point at which a teacher takes a deep breath before continuing.
“Is it appropriate ever to call anyone such a thing?” Nope. They all shook their heads, still grinning. Clearly some disconnect is occurring here. Someone decides to clarify for the bewildered adult and tells me that C had asked to be called dildo.
Ok. This is a very real possibility. C is a lovely girl with a cognitive deficit – she is challenged in silent ways that go unnoticed because she has strong social skills, relative to her language and comprehension – so she appears as right as rain initially, but inside that lovely head is a mind that’s just a few paces behind her peers. I take C into my room and ask her privately if, indeed, she asked to be called any name. C tells me she told M that M could call her anything she liked. I try to tell C how inappropriate it is for her to allow anyone to call her names that are disrespectful. C said, “I don’t care.”
“But C, do you know what a dildo is?”
“It’s a sex toy.”
“Why do you want to be called a sex toy?”
“Because I just don’t care. It doesn’t bother me.”
“Do you understand that the people around you are not laughing with you but at you? That this is terribly wrong? You can’t let people do whatever they want to you. You need to love yourself more than that.”
“But I really don’t care. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t hurt me.” Translation: I get to hang out with the cool people if I let them call me whatever they like. I call M in to my room. M comes.
“M, C tells me that she said you could call her whatever you like. I’m wondering why you chose dildo.” M’s facial expression changes, her jaw drops. M comes from a rough, rough place. I don’t know her whole story and wouldn’t tell it here anyhow, but from what I know it’s just not a place where children should come from. So, her jaw drops and I wonder about sincerity, about game-playing. But M isn’t talking to me even though it was my question.
“C, you gave us several names we could call you. I thought you said we could call you dildo.”
C is confused now. I don’t know what the truth is and I can’t read C’s expression. Is she confused because she can’t remember what happened clearly? Because she doesn’t know how to refute M (cool girl) in front of a teacher? Because maybe she did give dildo as a potential nickname and is second guessing herself? I don’t know. But M still isn’t talking to me and C has possibly forgotten I’m there.
M leans forward. “C, I am sorry.” C starts to shake her head, like M couldn’t possibly owe her anything, but M forges on. “No, C, I am sorry because it was inappropriate and I shouldn’t have called you that and that was stupid.”
C is lost now a little. I try again to explain to C that she is worth far far more than a poor nickname and she needs to stand up for herself. I turn to M for help. “M, would you let anyone call you a dildo?” M’s facial expression shifts again – angry, brooding.
“No way. No one. Not ever.” Now C is confused and she looks hard at M. I tell M that she needs to be C’s defender, that everyone needs a support system and M can see how C needs one now in this situation. M gets right up out of her chair and puts her arm around C. “C’mon, C. I’ll take care of you.”
And they leave the room together. I feel satisfied that M was sincere but I will be watching closely to see what comes of that interaction. Next week is National Pink Day – a day when students across Canada choose to wear pink as a statement that they will not tolerate bullying. We had an assembly in which the subject came up and some students to my left whispered to each other how tired they are of this stupid pink day already. Back in class we talked about it: how wearing a pink tee shirt for a day doesn’t do anything to change the real world if real people don’t change their ways. We discussed personal integrity and banding together to protect one another and how to admit you’re wrong when you are and what it means to understand people’s hearts when they’re mixed up and hurting. It was good. But the bell rang before we finished. However, I noted that M was deeply attentive and fully participating. I think I’m going to really like her and at the same time I’m a little afraid I’ve been played. But most of me just really likes her.
The last class of my day is Psychology 20. We’re in the middle of the unit on the nature of man: body, mind, emotions and spirit. We started out with the body section – and so much of psychology is understanding how the brain works. So we’ve been studying brain structures. I’ve been telling them for days that we’re going to be doing a little brain surgery on Friday so they need to study up. “Mrs. G! What kinds of brains are we using?” “Oh, I have to talk to my supplier but I’ll take whatever’s available!” Some students were so excited; some were fouled out.
So during my prep today I organized all the supplies: I had the materials in bowls, sorted and organized. The scalpels were prepared. Cleaning supplies and sanitizers were available. The kids came to class hyper and excited and worried and tense. I gave the instructions:
“There are two main purposes for today’s dissection: to begin to understand the brain in three dimensions and not simply as a flat image like you see with MRIs; and to review the brain structures and their functions for Monday’s test. You will need your diagrams and handouts on the parts of the brain and a pencil. You may choose to work with a partner or you may choose to work alone. Please be very careful with the scalpels – we don’t want your blood on the table with the brains!” Students scrambled to organize themselves into pairs, or not, as they chose, and I rolled out the tray of supplies so they could see all the lumps and suggested shapes beneath the cloth covering everything. Eyes as big as dessert plates, seriously!
Before handing out the instructions I made sure everyone understood that they have to perform the partial lobotomy first before they could begin to determine where the structures could be located. No one was breathing. It was utterly terrific! And then, while my Educational Assistant was distributing the instruction handouts, I pulled off the cloth covering the bowls of giant navel oranges, gummy bears, raisins and toothpicks. The students were both disappointed and elated! I even had a student give up his spare to join us, though I secretly think he just wanted to eat gummy bears.
I told the students that this was not a zombie apocalypse and they probably shouldn’t eat their brains but I think some of them did anyways! I can only do so much to improve the fate of humanity!
In the end it was a good week. I’m tired. I say that every Friday evening. But every Friday evening it’s true! When I’m an old pauper, and I wonder what I’ve done with all the days I’ve been given, I hope to look back and remember weeks like this one where it seemed like every moment counted for something worth while.