Today, my students met me in the computer lab to revise their work for the end of semester portfolio. It was that strange course session when I run out the door after arming each student with a number 2 pencil and a scan tron sheet for my evaluation.
Evaluations are awkward. I always try to guess what my scores will be when they come back a few weeks later. I never guess right.
I always feel a sense of relief when it is over, when a student retrieves me to come back to the class, the evaluation time having elapsed and, my god, does the air always feel clearer after, the barrier lifted.
Today was the first day my four-year-old begged and cried and fought not to go to preschool. Usually, he asks many times each morning when it will be time for school, but today, I arrived home from teaching just before I had to drop him off at the Ginther school to another scenario.
First, he wanted to wear his black shorts to school with the Spiderman shirt he’d slept in.
It might have been near 70 yesterday, but today, I had been caught off-guard, walking to my car from class, pulling my sweater tight and cupping it against my elbows. Flakes drifted around me. “It’s God’s dry scalp,” my father had said to me many times.
In front of the Christmas tree, I argued with my son to get him to put on his pants for school. I said all the things that would make him insecure, horrible things that give me nightmares, let alone Johnny, a little man in the making, a mind probably sculpted in ways I won’t realize until it’s done, until I will find myself, wrenched with anxiety and sleeplessness, fielding calls from my sweet boy, then a man, eyes peeled at 3:30 a.m., too, waiting for some terror that will never come.
What did I say? I told him this: I could not send him to school in shorts on a 30-degree day, that I would get in trouble for not taking care of him, that they would take him away from me, that his legs would not be protected by pants from the white-hard air and would go numb, they would turn black, and finally, that we’d have to take his legs off. This sounds worse as I type it than it did at 11:45 when he had to be at school by noon.
No wonder he wanted to stay home.
When I was in college, I lived next door to my parents in the college house my father owned. I’d call my mom at 3 a.m., crying because my then-boyfriend had disappeared in some drunken stupor and had ignored my phone call. I pictured my mother, who was only next door (where I could have seen her from my landing window, through her kitchen window), smoking a cigarette and drinking rewarmed coffee in the yellow glow of the old wall sconce, while she told me, “I know, Sarah. Just breathe.” And then she’d ask, “Do you want to come home?”
Though I laughed then, it would be two more years of these late-night calls. During one call, I would tell my mother, “It’s okay. He finally answered and he told me he is with lesbians, so I have nothing to worry about.” Many nights passed before I learned my lesson, before I sobered to the clench in my jaw, the spite in my muscles, the sigh from my mother’s tired throat.
How many times had she tried to protect me from my will?
Today, my students were perplexed by the computers in the lab. The computers sit below the desks, peering from beneath plexiglass windows, and then, shielded from above, still, by black plastic cubes.
“It’s to prevent cheating,” I told my students. I only kind of knew this.
It took at least five or ten minutes for the students to adjust, to look down at the computer and all its words so far away, while refining what they had held so deep inside them that I had to pry it out.
I’m guessing they forgave me the non sequitur, when I admitted this: “I get a strange separation anxiety at the end of every semester. I spend more uninterrupted time talking with you guys than I get to with my family.”
When I looked up, they were all typing.
By the time I pulled into the parking lot at Johnny’s school, he had jeans on, and a coat, and he wanted to be in school, as usual. On the two-minute drive from our house to his school, he asked me why he had to go.
I’d told him all the practical things–about going to work, living in our warm, pine-filled house with applesauce and hot chocolate and warm jeans and a selection of superhero t-shirts, how all of these would be impossible one day if he didn’t go to school to learn.
I wanted to tell him what he won’t learn for years now, but is as true as anything I know: that he will never stop learning, that when he least expects it, he will learn, whether or not he’s at school. He will learn from his little brother during a food fight or wrestling match where they tumble like puppies. He will learn from me, incorrectly, being over-protective and rash, but he will learn it anyway. He will learn from his father, the texture of his voice, the ease in his step. I wanted to tell him that the fact that there is more to know, that there is something out there he hasn’t discovered, some person he’s never met, a book unread, a game unplayed–that will keep him living. He will reach and push and urge his way forward until he will have learned everything there is to know, which is never. And then he will stop.