Friday, September 30, 2011


Two more minutes left until the kids had to go to aftercare if no one picked them up.  "Well Frank," I said to the first grader sitting on the floor with me, "looks like you're sleeping in the library tonight.  You could probably hunt around in Ms. Henry's stuff for snacks if you get hungry.  I guess you'll have to take a sink bath before school starts tomorrow morning".  Alice started giggling.  "We are too big for the sink!  Well....actually, I get up in my sink sometimes.  When my mom isn't looking...".  "So do I," Frank added, "and I pee in it".

That stopped the conversation.

"Can I go to the bathroom?" Alex asked.  I gave him my stock answer:  "Can you wait until the end of class?".  Ninety-five percent of kids can and usually don't really have to go to the bathroom anyway.  He looked me square in the eye.  "I have to poo...",

"Go" I said, without letting him finish the word. 

One minute until aftercare.  Alice's number came up.  "That's you!" I said as she sprang up, catching her foot in her dress and falling hard on her face.  She screamed.  Blood sprayed out of her nose.  She ran and fell in my lap, clutching her face.  Blood came out from between her fingers and dotted her dress.  It was picture day.  A large drop landed on my pants, bright red and suspiciously close to my crotch.  She was scared.  I was kind of scared too.

Sometimes, in moments of adversity, I imagine myself singing in fancy outfit in front of a funk band.  Other times, I do a ballerina dance where no one can see me.  Lately, I haven't really been doing anything.  I just white knuckle it out. 

I held on to her until it stopped bleeding.  Then,  I stood, pulled my shirt down as far as it would go, and headed to the Diversity Team meeting that I was late for.

Diversity is walking around with blood on the front of your pants, and not for the reason that everyone thinks it's there.

Friday, September 23, 2011

City in the Sky

"Emily, no one is going to take your place on the rug, right class?" I asked/told the kindergartners.  They agreed, several vocally.  "Let's walk to the rug".  Emily walked with the rest of the class for the first time, instead of running.  And, when she arrived at the rug, Riannon was seated in her place.  Emily started screaming, crying.  I was almost screaming.  "Get out of her place!  Out of her place!" the three teachers in the room, including myself, started saying desperately to the child in Emily's place on the rug.  "Whaa...," the little girl responded, "I was just, just...", "She doesn't understand, Riannon, Emily doesn't understand..!".  I couldn't believe it.  She would never trust us again.  What was Riannon thinking?  Why did she do that?  Riannon started to cry.  "I was saving her seat for her..." she said quietly, tears rolling down her face.  Two minutes into class and the kids were terrified, and at least two were crying.    "We are going to be okay," I told them quietly, "we are going to be fine".  I kept repeating it until the kids stopped crying.

I sat at my desk, which is really a little table, writing the names of colors on colored paper.  I started cutting them out quickly, trying to make a wall display.  I cut spikes and clouds around the words.   Brown looked like a turd.  I threw it away. 

The kids were mesmerized by the absolutely stupid puppet video I bought them.  I was shocked.  And pleased. I was afraid they would hate it, and obviously have no idea what a five year old thinks is funny.  I heard a fart.  It seemed impossible that it came out of the pretty porcelain girl with such dark eyelashes and pretty eyes.  But it did. 

Emily's hands and face were covered with marker.  I walked with her to the sink and turned the water on, instructing her to put her hands underneath. She did it.  She shifted with agitation while I dried her hands off.  She started to dart away.  "Emily, come back.  Can I wipe your face off?".  She stared back at me.  I carefully lifted the little pastel framed glasses to the top of her head.  She stared at me, immobile, the glass doll eyes directed straight ahead.  "I am going to wipe your face now" I told her, moving the wet paper towel down her face.  She cooed.  "Does it hurt?" I asked, alarmed, "Do you want me to stop?".  She stared straight ahead.  I continued to clean the marker off of her face.  She continued to coo, but stood rigidly still.

Her face was clean.

As Emily walked out of the room, she raised her hand, and high-fived me.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Buffalo Girl

I was running, tearing around the fountain, in hot pursuit of the little blond boy that was giggling hysterically.  A chair was in my path.  I plowed into it, did a somersault on the cement, and kept on chasing him.  "Do it again!  Do it again!" he shrieked.  I loved that hysteric giggle.

I was running, slowly, jogging,  up the sidewalk that circles the park.  I had had a productive day.  Went to work, worked after work, ran some errands, cleaned the bathroom.  Which, was nasty.  And now, a jog.  I stumbled and found myself smacking down on the sidewalk, hands bleeding and chest hurting like a motherfucker.  What just happened?  I got up and started running again.  I stopped after a few minutes.  My body really hurt. 

Tuesday morning, the air conditioning continued its upward cycle.  It was nearly eighty degrees in the room.  I was exhausted.  Every twitch of my body hurt my ribs, my shoulder.  I am not sure how I can crash into a chair and do a somersault on cement and be fine, but take a little fall on the sidewalk and half kill myself.  I picked up my phone during a break, ready to call my doctor.  I paused, and went to the school nurse instead.  "You probably bruised your ribs," she told me, "maybe even cracked them.  You are standing up and talking, so it must not have punctured your lungs.  There's not much anyone can do".  I knew she was right.  But everything hurt. 

I realized my voice was stammering.  "I need to know how to get a sub.  I know that you want us to find coverage if we are in a one teacher classroom, but you do not have a list of people to call in order to find someone to come in." I couldn't believe I was having this conversation.  My school relies on parent volunteers instead of paid substitute teachers.  I don't know who to call if I am ill, or if my rib cage is caving in on my lungs.  The general response has been, "Wow, we really don't have anyone for Spanish".  "I also will not be at the faculty meeting.  I am going to the doctor, it hurts me to breathe". 

I was surprised when an hour later, the recipient of my nervous conversation walked into my classroom, a young woman in tow.   It was late in the afternoon, and the kindergartners were struggling to even sit the fuck down.  "Someone from another school!" she said brightly, while I winced and struggled to lift my left arm to do the hand motions of our opening song.  They left.  Another group of kindergartners arrived.  They were struggling.  I was struggling.  It was late.  Suddenly, the little observer from another school reappeared.  The kids were having one of their worst days yet.  The mysterious observer wandered around, without identifying herself.  I was having trouble breathing.  "We are going to listen quietly while I read the book out loud that you are going to illustrate" I told the class.  The kids got quiet.  The lovely observer started crouching next to kids, asking them questions.  It was confusing to them.  I had told them to be quiet, this lady was talking to them.  My chest was collapsing.  This little bitch needed to shut the fuck up, ask me in advance if she wanted to observe my class and quit disrupting the lesson.  And now all the kids were talking again. 

"Your rib cage and collar bone are bruised," my doctor told me.  "but I want to X-ray your arm, it worries me.  It could be dislocated or fractured".

I stood in the dark room, staring at the ghostly X-ray on the screen.  "I don't know what I am looking at." I told the technician.  "It's okay," he answered "I just wanted you to look".  "Bones are elegant, aren't they?" I asked him.

"Yes," he responded breathlessly.  "Yes they are".

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Walking and Talking, Part Two

Warren walked in carefully, back erect and head held high, eyes cautiously shifting from side to side, with subdued, yet nervous delight.  He was wearing a full, real, soccer uniform from the Ivory Coast.  Jersey, shorts and the knee socks, which were mysteriously pulled up over his knee to mid-thigh.

He looked magnificent. 

"I'm hot. Are you hot, Carl?" I asked the fourth grader to my left.  "No, I'm kind of cold" he answered.  "I must have a fever," I responded, "I'm sweating". I have an odd cold that has never exactly reached full expectancy, yet began as a sore throat, moved to a clogged nose and is currently hovering in coughing up nasty stuff territory.  It leaves me feeling permanently tired, yet has not actually completely knocked me out yet.  It has been going for over a week.

The whole class was dancing to the Ketchup song.  I am a terrible dancer and can even show my lack of rhythm during easy, Spanish favorites, like the Macarena and the Ketchup dance. I do it anyway.  I actually really shake it.  The song was reaching the strenuous part when everyone starts to get tired.  "Keep going!" I yelled, "You guys are getting beaten by a forty year old woman with a fever!".  "Your only thirty-nine!" some of the kids yelled back.  Thanks for that, lovelies.  And I mean it. 

As first grade George excitedly told me about the best water slide in the world, I slyly slipped my fingers around his ankle.  We both started screaming. The notion of swimming along in the pool and feeling a hand closing around your ankle horrifies both of us.   Jokes like that are probably not appropriate for six year olds, but we like it.

The kinders are taking shape and developing personalities.  I have my eye on one devilish little girl with curly hair and mischievous eyes.  She holds hands with Ignacio's little brother in class, which only makes me like her more.  I sat on one of the tiny chairs in my classroom, reading La Oruga Muy Hambrienta to the class.  I could feel the kids fiddling with the weird floral object that sticks up at the end of my shoe.  I don't mind when they touch it.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Curly coming in a little closer to my shoe, a curious look in her mischievous eye.  "El lunes, la oruga comió...." I continued.

The tip of her tongue shot out, touched the flower thing on my shoe and quickly retracted, only to be replaced by a satisfied smile.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Here there and everywhere

I looked into the doll-like glass eyes, caged in by pastel frames of the little girl.  "Don't let her play you," one of her teachers told me the other day, "she is disabled, but she can follow directions".  "WALK to the rug" I told her.  She ran.  And pushed other kids.  "Emily.  Stand up" I commanded directly.  She refused.  In front of everyone.  "Emily, stand up" I asked again, quietly, extending my hand.  She refused again.  Her teacher came in, unexpectedly.  I got the kids singing and walked over to her.  I was frustrated.  "Emily is refusing to do what I asked, in front of everyone" I lamented.  "Yeah well, she does that, she's disabled....".  "Well, she can't shove the other kids, she just can't" I said with frustration.  She walked over and said loudly, "Emily, get up!" and then picked her up, kicking and wiggling to the far corner of the room.  Emily was screaming, crying, her face red, like a trapped animal.  The doll eyes darted behind the pastel frames.  I wanted to shoot myself.  I am so sorry, Emily. 

I remember carefully placing my glasses on a gravestone in the old cemetery by my house, and then somersaulting down the hill that faces the old textile mill.  I was drunk. Big green hills in the middle of the city had to be good for something.  I went to my sister's house and tried to race my niece on foot, while she was on roller skates.  I watched her skate up and down the street in the twilight, looking like an elegant swan.

I sat in the border wait line in Otay, eating a cup of corn.  So good, so very good.  Alec and I had flown to Los Angeles for the long weekend.  I had carefully booked us a cheap hotel by the airport due to our late arrival, which just happened to be convenient to South Central and Watts.  We hung around the city the next morning and went out to the pier, then beat it south.

So good to pull into Mexico.  Mi querido Mexico.  We ate like pigs, and did a nostalgia tour of our old neighborhood.  While heading back to the border, I nailed a huge pothole, like I have a million times in Tijuana.  I figured it was no big deal, until a light on the dash came on with exclamation points, on the rental car that wasn't supposed to be in Mexico.  I pulled off.  "Está pinchado" the gas station guy told me; I could hear the air coming out while he was putting it in.  "¿Hay una llanteria cerca?" I asked.  Why of course.  Tijuana is full of tire repair places.

"The rim is bent" the guy answered me in perfect English, after my sketchy Spanish description of what happened.  Great.  Another man walked over with a sledge hammer.  Instead of feeling nervous, I felt suddenly at ease that a Mexican with a sledge hammer could get that wheel on the road again in the simplest and most economical way.  They ripped it off, pounded out the rim, patched the tire and rotated it to the back, in less than ten minutes.  For gringos.  With a rental car with Arizona plates.  "It's six dollars," the main guy told me "and whatever you want to give him for the work on the rim". 

And now, back to work tomorrow.