The call came in at 5:30 AM on the dot. Fourth grade. Did I want to teach today? Yes.
The day went smoothly. The students were perfect angels—smart, happy, quiet—and they did their work; they all deserve A+’s.
About halfway through the day, I noticed a big, big, problem. A problem that I cannot believe (in retrospect) I had not anticipated. At this so-called “school,” there was absolutely nothing to buy.
No linen table cloths with embroidered harvest leaves on the border. No decorative ceramic bread baskets imported from Italy. No overpriced stainless steel vegetable choppers. No crystal wine glasses hand-blown by artisans in Germany. No state-of-the-art espresso makers. In short: nothing.
While the students wrote in their journals for 20 minutes about where they would like to travel someday, I was forced to familiarize myself with lesson plans on multiplying and dividing fractions. Creaky parts of my brain were seeing use after years of dormancy.
To be honest, I was not used to spending my “down time” like this. When I worked at the high-end kitchen store and there was a brief lull in customer foot traffic, I would obsess over which color Le Creuset pans I should buy next: Dune or Aubergine, or should I stick with the Classic Red? Down time at the high-end kitchen store resulted in me spending money.
Not only was I not spending money here at Crazy Town Elementary, I was stretching brain cells to the point of pain.
When the students went to art class, I had another 45 minutes to myself. Forty-five minutes to ponder that, if the school did in fact decide to offer up some merchandise for sale, there is nothing I would actually want.
Broken pencils with teeth marks? Please. Tiny desks that I cannot even attempt to fold my knees under? No thank you. A political map of China? Pass. Some white board erasers and non-permanent markers? I don’t think so. Bent paperclips that are not even Virgo color-coordinated? What's the point?
Lunch time was no better. The last time I’d subbed, I’d made the (rookie) mistake of walking the students to the lunch room and then getting in line with them. The lunch lady (complete with hair net, was this the exact same lunch lady of my youth?!) said, “Teachers do not buy lunch.”
Well, thank God, because I didn’t bring any money. I stood there smiling a goofy smile, a smile that was supposed to send the mental telepathy message: Please hand me my tray of food, then.
No such luck. The principal took pity on me and pulled me aside. “Teachers bring their own lunch, didn’t you read the Substitute Food Policy when you signed the Confidentiality Information Agreement? Here, MOV, you can have half of my sandwich.” I could feel my cheeks blushing five shades of crimson. “Oh, no problem, I forgot! I have an apple in my bag, no problem!” I slunk away and gobbled up my pathetic apple, complete with pathetic bruise on the side to match the one on my ego.
This would not happen today. Today I packed my own healthy lunch. I sat in the classroom by myself eating my Thin Mints and Samoas, and I added “no lunch to buy” to the Nothing To Buy List I was mentally accruing.
I daydreamed of the lunches I used to eat at the high-end kitchen store. Cobb salad with choice of dressing. Fresh fruit smoothie. Four choices of gourmet pizza. Freshly made clam chowder with French bread. Pasta made to order. Yes, the high-end kitchen store was located in a mall, a mall with lots of great restaurants just a few yards away. I ate well every day. My bank account, however, suffered.
When I got home from school, I helped Tall and Short with their homework (talk about taking your work home with you) and waited for The Husband.
“How was teaching today, Sweetie?” he asked as he walked in the door. “How does it compare to the high-end kitchen store?”
Tears popped out of my eyes like stray bullets. “I earn more money! I can’t spend it there! I’m losing weight because there’s no food!”
He moved in closer to give me a conciliatory hug. “Oh, MOV,” he cooed, “things will get better.”
“You don’t understand,” I pulled back, looking in his eyes, “I love it!”