Don’t Take This Personally

A couple months ago I was having trouble sleeping. I generally like to watch TV — which is an antiquated word for “streaming content.” I got into old awards shows. It started with watching the opening monologues by the comedic hosts, but I felt unsatisfied with the appetizer and decided I wanted the whole damn meal.

During her acceptance speech, one TV actress thanked her “team” who made sure that she ate and slept and showed up to work on time. A whole team of people to do what a teacher has to do on her own every day. That’s nice. But wait, a whole “team”? To help one person perform the essential work of … being an actor? I keep hearing how important the teaching profession is, but I don’t think anyone really believes it. Our society demonstrates who is important by what we give them. Teachers don’t make the $150-200k per year it takes to pay a personal assistant. It turns out Cypher from The Matrix was right when he said he wanted to be re-inserted into the matrix as “someone important.”

“Like an actor.”

Magazines publish stories about celebrities who “do it all.” Acting, endorsing products, attending panels and conventions, running their own production companies, parenting, and working out. What they rarely mention is how much help they have from personal assistants. If I had someone picking me up and dropping me on a spinning bike then putting a healthy snack in my mouth the second I got off the bike, I’d be in great shape, too. If my personal assistant were slapping the Funyuns out of my hand, I’d be svelte as a superstar.

A few weeks ago, while I was hole-punching a class set of copies of “I Want a Wife” by Judy Brady (1971), it occurred to me that I, too, would like a personal assistant.

Self-described “recruiting firm built for the needs of today” Pocketbook posted “How to Become a Celebrity Personal Assistant.” Tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) be available all the time, do everything. After reading the description of the job responsibilities, I got a clear picture of what my life would look like if I, a teacher, had a personal assistant.

I’ve decided my personal assistant is named Gustav.

Congratulations, Gustav. You’re hired. Here is a detailed list of your duties and responsibilities.

Good morning! It’s 5 a.m. The kids, Odie, and I sleep until 7, so don’t wake us. First, feed the cats. Know that 50% of the time, they will sniff it, wrinkle their noses, and walk away. Throw out the uneaten portion, and better luck next time, Gustav.

My kids need a healthy, convenient lunch packed — one they can both enjoy, and finish in the 10 minutes they’re allowed to eat during their 30 minute lunch. The lunch must go in the backpacks. By the way, my kids hate everything good for them, so be creative! Get those lunches packed and put in the backpacks by 7:45 because you have to get the kids to school by 8.

I also have to leave by 7:45, but I, too, have some needs. I need my hydroflask filled with water, and I need a healthy snack and a healthy lunch. Something delicious and nutritious I can enjoy in 5 minutes (snack) and 15 minutes (lunch) respectively. By the way, I hate everything good for me.

Gustav, I have 2 different preps (courses) to teach today, prep 1 twice and prep 2 once. Flip that for tomorrow. My class periods are 85 minutes long. Here are my lesson plans. Make all of my copies, prepare all my materials, and distribute them to all 38 students every period. At the end, collect and organize them, then grade them. Finally, record those grades in the school’s online grade book. I know our system doesn’t import grades from Google Classroom, so you’ll need to enter the grades there, then take a screenshot of the scores, then input those grades by hand into the online grade book. No, there is not an easier way. Yes, it’s completely stupid and wastes hours of time.

While I’m teaching, answer all my emails. Yes, even from the students who are currently IN the room, and could just as easily raise their hands and ask me that question to my face. Welcome to the modern classroom, Gustav.

Walk around the class continuously and tell students to remove their ear buds while I’m teaching. You will need to do continuous loops because as soon as they spend a few moments without ear buds, they will put them back in their ears and you will have to tell them again. What’s that? When you were in school you had to listen to the teacher during class? Haha! Me, too! But these kids don’t have to listen. Why? I don’t know why.

Gustav, after school you must go pick up the children and take them to lacrosse practice (Pringles) and the park (Viva). No, it cannot be the same park. Someone might figure out they are sisters and they will be furious. Pringles will be at practice until 6, and she needs a healthy, filling snack before she goes, not only because she didn’t eat her lunch, but also because she needs some energy for practice. Viva wants to hang out with her friends until exactly 4:30. You will pick her up and take her home. She will likely have told 2-3 friends you’d be happy to give them a ride to their respective homes also, so plan on that. Once Viva is home, throw away the lunch she didn’t eat, and make her something to tide her over until dinner. By the way, she hates everything, but she is so hungry that she is going to die. Go back to the other park and get Pringles and bring her home. Referee their fights about the air conditioner in their room, and who gets to use the Playstation.

The Hello Fresh bag is in the fridge. Make dinner! While Odie and I are eating and the children are talking about the foods they wish they were eating instead of the delicious meal you have prepared, do a load of laundry and fold the load you did this morning. You remembered to do a load of laundry at 5 a.m. this morning, right? Look, I can’t remember everything; I need you to anticipate my needs and take some initiative. After dinner, scrape the vegetables into the worm compost bin and the meat into Tupperware for sandwiches. Wash the dishes. Feed the cats.

I’ve had a hard day and I need to bitch about it. Listen to me with sympathy, humor, and a glass of wine or a margarita that you have provided. I need you to be my friend as well as my employee. I don’t have time to nurture relationships. I also do not have the energy to listen to anyone and I’m gonna need you to leave me alone after you make sure I have what I need to wind myself down.

Make sure the kids brush their teeth and change their clothes before bed. I don’t want them sleeping in their school clothes. And they’ll need tomorrow’s outfits laid out and ready to go. Let them pick out the clothes, because your taste, like mine, is probably “trash.”

Gustav, it’s 9:00 and I’m sure you’d like to go home and see your own family or significant other. I’ll see you later. And by “later” I mean 11 p.m. when you sneak into the kids’ bedroom and make sure they aren’t sleeping with their headphones and screens on. Yes, I know you told them at bedtime to put those away. You’re preaching to the choir.

And now, it’s time for you to make love to my husband. Just kidding. Unless you’d be willing to? No, no, no. I’m totally joking. Totally. Ha ha.

See you tomorrow at 5 a.m.! Except I won’t because you’re not waking me until 7. Congratulations on the end of this relentless day.

My God. Who wouldn’t want a personal assistant?

Posted in Essays/Commentary | 3 Comments


I returned to work today after missing 3 days between last week and yesterday. On Tuesday, Odie was unceremoniously sent home from work with a fever. We all know what that means in these plague times. As sure as the day follows the night, a Covid test turned positive.

I caught Covid in late May during the Omicron surge. I spent 2 weeks sweating and aching in my dad’s spare room, and my husband and children never caught it. This time, both of my daughters caught it from their dad — Pringles on 10/13 and Viva on 10/15. We tried to mask and isolate from each other, but in our 1,025 square foot house that rents for a million dollars a month (or feels like it here in SoCal), there isn’t any realistic way to “isolate.” Me on the couch, Viva on the other couch, Pringles in her room, Odie in our room. Yet every other day, like clockwork, a positive test.

Except me. I guess my numerous boosters and recent infection protected me. Or just dumb luck. There’s really no way to know. For once, my grizzled, “Ach, everybody leave me alone!” paid off in a tangible way.

Returning to work after having a substitute is its own special kind of Hell. There’s the feigned innocence of the slackers: “Oh! I didn’t realize I was supposed to DO that detailed assignment you left. Can I turn it in tomorrow?” There’s also the brazen indifference of the insolent: “Yeah, I didn’t do it,” as well as the mendacity of the malcontents “The sub didn’t give me the assignment.”

That’s enough purple prose for one post.

I’m going to bitch for a moment. My union negotiated 10 days of Covid sick leave, but it doesn’t reset for the new school year. I had to take several days off to care for my kids and my husband while they were all in the first few miserable days of sniffling, coughing, and sweating, but I only got the 3 paid days that I didn’t take last year when I myself was sick. That’s some bullshit. I believe that as a public high school teacher, I should be afforded so much more consideration and compensation than I get. Yes, there are some crappy teachers out there (I know a few), but I’m not one of them. I’ve been in this business for 23 years, and it’s in a steep decline right now. Too many of my colleagues have stopped doing their best. Why pour in extra hours and extra effort when no amount of extra work earns us extra money? I fondly remember the early days of the pandemic when John Krazinski quipped on “Some Good News” that teachers should make a million dollars a year. I also remember a few months later when we were demonized for not wanting schools to reopen before a vaccine was available with no safety measures in place, followed closely by accusations that we were all pedophile groomers.

I was a star during distance learning. I pulled out my wigs and hats and costumes to make my lessons fun (I wore a Puritan cap for my entire unit on The Crucible). I offered grace and extensions to students suffering tech issues, anxiety attacks, and sick family members. In many ways, I bonded closer to those black Zoom boxes than I ever had to students before. We were trauma bonded. I took my computer out to my garden and showed them my tomatoes, peppers, and a hummingbird nest. They loved my impromptu lesson on vermicompost and squealed with disgusted delight as I showed them a handful of compost wriggling with worms.

I’m used to being called a “lazy” “Part-time” worker. However, trying to indoctrinate students to be communists is a full-time job that takes lots of energy. Something the screaming jerks at our school board meetings will never understand.

I kid.

I had a post in the works about something else, but then life in the form of an infectious disease came crashing down on my (rented) house, so this is the post that pushed its way to the forefront. Just when my analyst is on vacation in Spain, damn it.

Odie is feeling well enough to care for the kids, and when I got home today from a hard day of work, my tween and teen greeted me with a sour and hearty, “Oh, man! Now we have to wear masks!” Welcome home, indeed.

Posted in Essays/Commentary | Comments Off on Infected