“If a student handing you a paper sends you over the edge, then obviously something is wrong,” Odie said. Condescendingly in THIS woman’s opinion.
It wasn’t that a student handed me a paper. It was that after I gave the class a brief talk (I don’t want to say “lecture” because of the connotation) about not walking up to me at the beginning of my lesson or in the middle of it and giving me make-up work with no heading or date, a student walked up to me at the beginning of my lesson and handed me a paper with no heading and no date.
“What is this?” I inquired.
“I was absent.”
To say I lost it is an oversimplification. An unfair one, in my view. I know that my lips curled up in a smile because I felt the pressure in my cheeks, yet I suspect I looked more like an animal baring its teeth. Or like a grinning madwoman. I did not yell. I did not berate. I took a deep breath and instructed myself silently not to cry. Then, I talked about the present perfect continuous.
When I came home, however, and Odie asked me about my day, I did lose it. And the tears did come. How is it possible that I can get everything organized and ready for class, have all of my notes and instructional materials stacked beside my document camera, my objective on the whiteboard, and then have a student hand me a random piece of paper and I feel like the world ended?
I am a 40-year-old working mother of two small children, and I’m getting by the best I can. I don’t want to start in on the “kids today” rant, because won’t that mean I really AM old? When I started teaching in 1999, I’d roll my eyes inwardly at the “Old Guard” who declared in tones of outrage that when THEY were young, they respected their elders and came to class prepared and took notes during lecture. But “kids today” have no respect and no skills and never take notes.
If I ever get to sounding that bitter, shoot me, I remember thinking.
Well, shoot me then, I guess.
I count myself lucky that I can still wonder if the “kids today” have really changed so much or if I have. I believe it’s the absence of self-reflection that means I’m truly lost in Grumpusville forever. The vast majority of young people I meet are great kids, but they are a product of their times, just as I am a product of mine. Narcissism has become so prevalent that the people in charge of such things are considering taking it out of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, also known as the “DSM” which describes and labels mental illness and personality disorders. I don’t even want to get into the vast irony of a group of doctors deciding that there’s no such thing as “narcissism.”
The Nile is not just a defense mechanism.
My grandma Margaret always told me “Getting old is Hell.” I find myself thinking along those lines sometimes, especially when I try to make my giant old lady thumbs do something on a touch screen and suddenly I’m four screens away from what I wanted that crazy machine to do for me in the first place.
“I wanted to like your status, not sign up for a free trial of Netflix! Damn this thing!”
“Take it easy,” Odie will caution me from across the room. I think I’m starting to scare him more and more with my hair-trigger frustration. He doesn’t want me to do it with the kids, nor do I. Last week, we all had stomach flu, mostly one at a time, but Viva and I came down with it at the same time. She and I spent the afternoon shivering our fevers away under a down quilt, snuggling our respective barf bowls while Odie and Pringles played. Pringles was the first to hose down the family home with vomit, and consequently the first to recover. That was early Friday morning and by Saturday afternoon Viva and I were suffering too. Everyone knew Odie was living on borrowed time, even though we dared to hope it would pass him by. Three o’clock Monday morning, we knew that was not to be.
I probably could have dragged myself to work, but I took a sub day Monday, too. I needed to rest. I never get to rest completely. Pringles is at a highly needy phase that involves screeching (she can’t talk yet except to say “Mama”, “Dada”, “Elmo”, “up”, and inexplicably “cock”), throwing food, biting innocent bystanders, pulling hair and nursing. So, while I “rest”, aka “sleep” I have a 16-month-old constantly sucking on my teat. When I sit down to eat my dinner, both of my children try to climb on me. My dinner is eaten to the sound of whining and crying while Odie holds them back and I shovel down my food.
It’s no better at work. My lunch hour (which is actually only half an hour) is taken up by students who need to make up tests, get help with assignments, and talk to me about their problems. Every day I vow to take my lunchtime to sit with colleagues and relax a bit, but it always starts out with something I need to quickly do at my desk. Then, the students see me in my classroom and they slowly file in with their questions and their lunches. Others see them and take refuge at empty desks, plugging in to ear buds or chatting with the others. I don’t have the heart to tell them to leave. Or rather, I do have a heart, despite all testimony to the contrary.
And that’s fine. It doesn’t bother me. I actually kind of like it. It’s nice to have them. It takes energy, however. Often, kids want to complain about their other teachers, and homie don’t play that, so I have to practice the neutral compassionate smile I learned from my sister the therapist and nod while saying things like, “I’m sure it feels like that,” and “How does that make you feel?” and “Well, we can’t get along with everyone, unfortunately.” Despite certain students’ insistence, I am quite certain that their teacher does do more than just talk about cats. Likewise, I seriously doubt that their other teacher doesn’t do ANYTHING but cuss and scream and call them all stupid while talking on her cell phone to her ex-boyfriend. Nor do I believe that their other teacher really makes them, for homework, watch videos of her telling stories about her mom’s favorite place to get gelato. To hear them tell it, they’re being educated in a lunatic asylum and hyperbole is absolutely the worst thing EVER.
When I get home from work, exhausted, my babies are so happy to see me, it’s like they want to crawl inside my skin. I feel hideously guilty, but I find myself wanting to get away from them, and then simultaneously missing them. It all makes me feel like I’m going mad. I love to watch TV, and I’m starting to feel I have more in common with Carrie on “Homeland” than Lily on “How I Met Your Mother.”
Odie took the girls to the park this morning. I know that he will be disappointed if he comes home and finds me still in my pajamas. He won’t say anything, but he won’t have to. It will be all over his face. And if it isn’t, I’ll project it there.
Why do we feel like we’re supposed to do everything? We see those moms on blogs who have all these DIY tips about how to take cotton balls, used coffee grounds, a hot glue gun and make your own home office from scratch where you publish your blog that has a million sponsors and I don’t know about you, but I feel like a loser. My shirt is covered with cat hair, my carpet has a thin layer of yogurt, and my kids are at the park with their dad because he’s worried I’m going to have a nervous breakdown. Oh, and he just loves to play with them at the park, so bonus.
There is at least one person reading this right now who is thinking, “I work and I have small kids, a clean, well-decorated house, a size-4 body, dinner in the oven, and a sexually satisfied husband, so what is YOUR problem?” Are you kidding yourself, or do you really exist? Because people like me think that you do, and we beat ourselves black and blue on the inside because we don’t measure up to you. Every time I watch a TV show where a person has kids, but their house looks like the “after” shot from Extreme Home Make-over and the kids are entertaining themselves in their pack ‘n plays while the parents enjoy a sit-down dinner that somehow wifey managed to cook despite toddlers who hold onto her legs and scream and a three-year-old who trips on her own feet or walks into a wall on her way to the potty, I feel like yelling at the television, “THAT ISN’T POSSIBLE!” But I worry that it is, and I’m just a failure.And then there is the guilt, because I know I am blessed, and how dare I complain or struggle. I don’t know where I got the idea that I’m supposed to be fantastic in all areas of my life simultaneously and if I’m not, I should feel deep, debilitating shame. It’s not like there are mommy blogs or books out there promoting such unrealistic ideas of being a wife, mother, and career woman.
I recently met with my principal and we chuckled about how people who don’t give a shit what others think of them must be so happy. I walked to that meeting lecturing myself, “Keep it short. Don’t go off topic. Stick to the point. Get it done, then go get the kids and go home.” Then my boss asked me how I was doing and an hour and a half later, we were still talking. Even when my little deranged angel pops up on my shoulder and screams, “Oh my GOD! Listen to yourself! Stop talking!” I can’t. The devil pops up on the other shoulder and smirks, “She can’t. Just look at her go! Next she’s going to talk about her husband’s vasectomy, in 3, 2, 1…”
Such is life.
When my family comes back from the park, I think I’ll be better equipped to welcome them and enjoy them. I look forward to seeing my husband even though Viva will go “Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom,” the whole time I am talking.
And Pringles will pull at my shirt and go “Num? Num? Num? Num? Num? Num? Cock.”