Puzzling

I was gluing puzzle pieces together down the hall from where I’d done my student teaching.  I’d been thrilled to accept a three day assignment in a kindergarten classroom here.   The class was the easiest assignment I’d had yet, because the kids were working in a center based style of learning.  All of the activities were laid out and the kids rotated each day from one activity to the next.  An aide came in and helped with the more hands on activities, but the students were engaged and focused on the tasks at hand.  The classroom was clearly very well run, and as I was discovering as a substitute teacher, well run classrooms tended to stay that way no matter who was delivering the instruction.

On my lunch break, I walked down to the school office to see if there were any notes that needed to be sent home with the students or things in my teacher’s mailbox that I would need to address.  As I walked in, three heads that had been gathered together around the secretary’s desk looked up.  “What?” I asked, laughing.  “Do I have something on my dress?  All that glitter, it really is hard to get off of everything.”

But none of them were smiling.  “Your sister called,” the secretary began.

Shit.

My mother had a doctor’s appointment this morning, a follow up from her last hospital stay.  If my sister had called the school instead of waiting for me to get home and talk to my mother about it directly, the news had to be bad.

“We’ve arranged for someone else to cover the room this afternoon,” they told me.  “Your mom was readmitted to the hospital right from the doctor’s office.” A prickly sweat came over me knowing that the office staff had been discussing my personal family business.  Everyone in this school knew about my mom, because she’d been diagnosed during my student teaching here.  I wasn’t broadcasting it, and in fact I had hoped that it had stopped being a topic of discussion months ago, but with my sister’s phone message, it was front and center all over again.

“Can I see the message?” I asked, carefully keeping my voice even and unemotional.

“We’re so sorry,” the secretary said, handing me the pink slip.  Sure enough, she had written:  “Sister says mom back in hospital.  Come when you can.”

“I can teach this afternoon,” I said.  “Really, it’s fine.  A few hours isn’t going to make a difference here, and I know it’s hard to find someone at the last minute.”

“It’s already done,” the second secretary answered.  “Really, let us do this for you.  Everyone wants to help and it’s not often people can figure out how to.  Just go and take care of your mom.  Let us know about tomorrow when you can.”

I breathed a deep, long sigh.  I could feel that prickly hot feeling around my scalp again.  I couldn’t decide if I was angry at the office staff for taking it upon themselves to decide what I needed, or myself for wanting to avoid the inevitable for a few more hours by distracting myself with five year olds, or my sister for calling the school and letting everyone in on how bad our situation at home really was.  I wasn’t sure where the anger was coming from, but I knew I was angry.  Very, very angry.

“Thank you,” I said.  “I will let you know,” I said as I walked out of the office and down the hallway.  I wanted to scream.  I wanted to yell.  I wanted to tell the world how unfair everything was.  But mostly, I wanted to stay here, where everything was fine, where no one was sick, and where five year olds made holiday decorations out of glitter and glue and old puzzle pieces.

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