Monday, December 21, 2009

Not the Same

“Fame is rot; daughters are the thing.” - James Matthew Barrie

The call came yesterday afternoon from the gatekeeper for three days of Spanish. I had already prepared myself to miss my daughter’s choral concert tomorrow, but I doubted she’d be as accepting as me when we had the discussion later. On the bright side, it would be steady work at a place to which I was familiar and it meant no more sub calls until 2010 (Hooray!). The downside (I always have one), is that I’m not sure when I’m going to pack to visit the middle-states on Christmas Eve. (Beware: I have an attack-cat, plus attack-friend feeding said cat, so my house won’t be vacant).

I arrived at the school at least fifteen minutes before my first class, expecting all would be ready for me since the teacher had made a big deal to me, the gatekeeper, and the Spanish teacher at the school I subbed at last week (and who knows who else) that she was going to be out. The plans were typed and clear, with accompanying folders, which housed a plethora of handouts she wanted me photocopy in groups of 100, most for her to use upon return.

What was the plan for the day? Except for one class, I would be showing one of two DVDs, and there was already a television and DVD player in the room, though she warned me it didn’t always work, so I decided to set it up before the students arrived. Good thing because… go ahead and guess. No, it’s not that it didn’t work exactly. ALL of the instructions on the screen were in Spanish.

Reading the plans again, she gave me the librarian and media specialist’s information in case I couldn’t get the DVD to work. The librarian immediately gave me a television and player on a cart, and I pushed it to the class just before the seventh-grade students came in. I set it up with no problem, introduced myself and the DVD, and sat down as the documentary showed various Hispanic neighborhoods, exciting me when they showed and spoke about Jackson Heights in Queens, NY, where I lived until I was nine-years-old. I don’t think the students were as thrilled about that information as I was to relay it. I even recommended a Columbian restaurant, La Pequena Columbia there, and the Jackson Diner in Queen’s Little India, should the thirteen-year-olds happen to visit.

Then the DVD player stopped. And. Would. Not. Start. Again. I called the librarian, who attempted to get it going with no success, then carted it out, and brought back another. After it was up and running (with little class time left at this point), I asked if I should return it at the end of the day or keep it for all three days. I was advised that I could’ve kept the other one, but another teacher reserved this one for tomorrow. “Which classes do you need it for?” she asked. “Just about every one for the next two days,” I replied.

The groups went as expected, until the second-to-last one. A young girl who has a name related to Christmas (this is important) began to explain to another girl that she didn’t understand “Christmas spirit”. I went over to soothe feathers, and found out that the Muslim girl was (understandably) offended. Though I tried to explain to Miss Christmas that every person has the freedom to believe in his or her own religions or even no religion. Of course, it didn’t help that the students were coloring “Feliz Navidad” packets. Every time I walked away from the little preacher, she began again, and near the end, when a classmate said, “Oh my God,” she reprimanded, “Every time you say, ‘Oh my God,’ it hurts God’s ears.”

I would’ve liked to give the students an alternative to the Christmas packet, but though I was given many pages to copy, only the X-Mas packet was clearly marked to give to the students this week. For alternatives, I was told to look in the “light blue” and “dark blue” folders. Let me tell you, this room has more folders and binders than I’ve ever seen in one classroom. I looked everywhere (well, probably not everywhere, or I would’ve found them), but couldn’t find anything in a blue-hued folder that had coloring pages, so I decided Feliz Navidad packet was the safest bet.

I finished the day, and was told by the librarian I could keep the cart, and per her instructions, on my way out I asked the secretary to have my room locked. Then I picked up my children from school, and brought them home.

After I baked a frittata for my daughter’s breakfast, she began to bubble about her read aloud of her published piece tomorrow. I reminded her that I couldn’t come because of work, but that Daddy would be there. “Why did you take the job?” she asked. How to explain that to a seven-year-old-girl? “I had to. They don’t call me enough as it is.” She, predictably, burst into tears. As she huddled into me, I reminded her of all the things I am able to do at her school, and prepared her that when I work full-time I’ll be able to do even less.

All of her sentences started with, “I really want you to go because…” I was going to miss this and that tomorrow morning. I said that if her father couldn’t go that I would’ve gone, and that he’d record her during the reading and concert, so I wouldn’t miss anything. “I really want you to go because it’s not the same.” She got to the heart of it, wrenching mine.

There was nothing for me to say. I had just run two fundraisers for the Art Committee, but had also missed my son’s breakfast this year, plus his performance last year because of subbing. I was participating, but not in the things that really mattered. It wasn’t the same.

I’m not a briber, but I wanted to offer something special. When my children were little, if they were having a hard time separating from me, I’d kiss one of my small stuffed animals and stuff it in their backpacks to take to school, and sometimes they’d give me a little one of theirs to put in my handbag, also plying it with kisses and squeezes. She was now too big to carry plush pet in class, but I wanted her to have an item she could hold all day. “Would you like to wear one of my necklaces tomorrow?” I asked. The tears finally ceased. I pulled the ones I wear most often, and clasped one at a time around her neck until she chose which necklace she liked best. Then I spread them on my blanket, and placed her dress before her, and she tried each necklace on it to see which one looked best.

I promised to style her hair before I leave, and told her that she can call me from her father’s phone during the breakfast. I know it’s not the same, but I hope it’s enough.


  1. It's so hard when you can't be there for the special things at school. I've rarely been able to attend as I'm a teacher myself. I hope the day goes well :)

  2. Thanks, Jemi. My daughter did fine without me. When I picked her up, she showed me her "published" stories, and later I got to see the recordings of her reading and singing.

    She told me which classmates didn't have any parents attend the breakfast and concert, letting me know she appreciated that her father was there.

  3. So I guess I shouldn't bring stuffed animals to work?
    PS following now!

  4. Ha - I've brought many a stuffed animal to work hidden in my handbag. Sometimes my child and I would forget, and I'd dig into the depths to find it weeks later.
    Thanks for following, Martinis or Diaper Genies.

  5. What a great idea for a blog--the life of a substitute teacher. I sub, too, as well as write. Just wanted to let you know I stopped by and checked out your blog. :)


  6. Thanks, Margo. I'll check out your blog as well.

  7. Wow, this was just a year ago.

    It's interesting seeing you getting into a blogging groove over time, and seeing your audience pick up too. : j

    Do you know if your daughter remembers these events the same way you do? Time affects memory so... Words let us pin one version down in time. Like photography. But even then, the subjective interpretation varies.
    Perhaps, because you handled it so well, it didn't become as salient in her memory as it might have; or perhaps she remembers it strongly as physical manifestation of your caring... : j

  8. @ Alesa, my blog has come a long way. Though with this job and fewer posts, my count has slowed. Stopped.

    After reading your question, I asked my daughter, "Do you remember when I couldn't attend your concert last year?"

    She said, "No."

    "Do you remember I attended your class breakfast this year?"


    So I agonized for nothing.

  9. Hardly for nothing... You agonized because you care, and because you care you dealt with the situation in such a manner that it didn't even leave a dent in her memory.
    That's a triumph in parenting, that is! : j