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I can’t possible recall the awfulness of this day in prose, so you’re getting bullet points.  Somehow the writing is easier, the expectations for coherence lower.

0) Woke up with a tickle in my throat.  Should have stayed in bed.

1) Parked my car at 7:49am.  Knew by 7:51 that the day was going to suck.  Ran into coworker having a smoke break on my way to the building.  Yes, I knew even before I put my key to the lock, that 2 teachers were out sick, a 3rd is on vacation all week, and our social worker is out due to family sickness.  Counting the other teacher who left us a few weeks ago, we were down fully half of our teaching staff.  Yes.  Four classrooms, four teachers, and all the temps we could handle. 

2) Musical teachers ensues.  We’re not “allowed” to have 2 temps in a classroom without a regular staff person, so this creating panic-stricken rearrangement.  One aide went downstairs to be the lead in one classroom.  Another class’s two teachers were split up to go to rooms without teachers.  So where did their class go, do you wonder?  Combined, my friends.  Somehow, the ratios (which are supposed to be 1:9 or 1:10 for typical kids, and 1:5 for kids with special needs) worked out with 3 teachers in one room with two classes’ worth of kids in a way that two classrooms would not have.  Usually, we have classrooms with special needs kids with a max of 10 or 11, with their regular, trained, experienced teachers who know the kids.  Now make that a room of 15 (or so, I couldn’t keep track) children ages 3-5, half of whom have never been in that classroom before, plus 3 teachers who don’t know half the kids and who don’t have any experience in this particular classroom nor with the kids’ adaptations (special chairs, spoons, etc.), and you have all hands on deck.  Manning battle stations.  Prepare for the worst.

3) In another classroom, an inclusive room with mostly typically developing kids and up to 5 kids with special needs, we had zero teachers familiar with the kids.  And only one teacher with a passing familiarity of the daily routine.  She was asking the kids if circle or story came first. 

4)I walked into a classroom as the kids were finishing up breakfast.  What is usually an intimate meal at one table with each child within reaching distance from a teacher now resembled a buffet table, with 3 teachers manically running in circles, not understanding why some kids were having trouble eating, or not  eating at all.  I quickly saw 2 kids in the wrong chairs altogether, another child seated a foot away from the table using the wrong bowl.  No wonder he coudn’t get any food to his mouth.  The girl who only eats bread at school was just stirring her rice krispies around aimlessly.  The teachers were trying, very hard.  It didn’t help that the kid with the most complex adaptations (chair, spoon, bowl, strap, and one-on-one support) hadn’t been in school  at all last week for the new teacher to learn his needs.  It also didn’t help that the labels with the kids’ initials on them weren’t up to date.

5) The afternoon class (combined, of course) contained 3 screamers.  One smallish boy, barely three, who is just getting used to being at school, but has trouble separating from his parents and still cries sometimes, and who can only be calmed by repetitive singing of the ABCs.  One boy who enjoys tearing around the room dumping everything out, and v0calizes at any attempt to redirect his plan.  And one enormous five-year-old who plays the exact same game with a baby doll, all the blankets/cloths, and a basket, all while twisting her nipple under her dress.  Screamer?  Yes, if you even attempt to interfere with this game by, say, hiding the dolls in the closet, asking her not to pull the fabric covers off the computer monitors, or trying to redirect her hands to do something more productive than self-stimulation.  So she screamed all afternoon.  Thankfully the other two were relatively quiet. 

6) The bus was late.  Did I mention the bus?  It’s been doing so much better lately!  Used to be that it dropped off kids at 9:15 for a 8:30am start, and picked up who-knows-when, but it’s been on time and the staffers have been competent.  Until today.  Sure enough, it dropped off at 8:40, which was not cause for alarm but should have been an omen.  The half-day kids get plucked at 11:30.  Usually.  Today that happened closer to 11:50, which meant we were all (15 kids, 4 adults) crammed into the staging area (corralled is more apt) for 25 minutes (having been ready early, in a optimistic effort to kick the morning class out) waiting for the bus.  It finally arrived, depositing 15 more small children for the afternoon session.  They were shepherded into the play yard to make room on the bus for the other crowd.  There are not enough humans on deck to triage this complex changing of the guard.  Finally the morning kids were gone, and it was time for the afternoon of screamers.  Ah, but I’ve nearly forgotten the best part.  After the bus finally picked up the afternoon kids at 2:50pm (dismissal is at 2:30, of course), our program director (“boss”) came up the stairs to the office, where I’d been fielding frantic phone calls about the bus’ not coming and buzzing in other parents, where he related the following tidbit.  Someone reported our bus driver (we contract this privilege) squatting to pee out in broad daylight while dropping off or picking  up kids.  The director dismissed it, telling the dispatcher the driver was male, why would he squat to pee? (in broad daylight, besides)  As he related this funny snippet to one of my coworkers, he was shocked to learn she’d seen the bus matron (decidedly female) squatting to pee right across the street from our center this morning.  His remark: “We have bathrooms!”

7) As I was checking out my hotness in our bathroom mirror, upon arriving home, I noticed a peach-colored splotch on my strawberry-colored shirt, an adorible dotted-swiss number Mr. Apron bought me from Anthropologie, and on which a coworker complimented me today.  It was not food.  It was not bodily fluid (ah, but this happens at work).  It was a bleach spot.  And there were others, little spots from the errant spray of the diluted bleach we use to sterilize the kids’ tables.  Soon they will be holes.  And I will be sad.  I can’t wear nice things to work. 

8) Or flip-flops.  In addition to banging my knee the requisite number of times on small tables and small children’s objects, I had my toes run over by tricycles, squashed by leg-braces, trodden on by lead-footed children, and eviscerated by wooden chairs. 

What’s the damage?  The program director says as long as the children were happy and safe, everything worked out alright.  I don’t blame him; it’s not his fault.  The children were mostly happy, and almost entirely safe (only one incident  report I’m aware of — for a bruised lip caused by a nun-chuk-like toy).  I never want to have another day at work like this.

But in the spirit of my post last week, I give you My One Good Thing: Since we all worked so valiantly as the ship was going down and the education was going to pot, we were allowed to leave early, as soon as the last kid was out the door.  I’ll have unwritten notes to attend to tomorrow, and piles of undeciprable observations on my desk, but I needed that gift.  My commute was shorter as a result, and my last ounce of sanity was saved.

Married white female, aged 27, ISO Shrinky Dinks brand shrink plastic to complete craft project for the upcoming library craft fair this Sunday, May 19.  No substitutions, please. 

I’d love to say I found Mr. Right on the way home from work, in the closest thing southeastern PA has to a general store.  This is a store which, while bearing the ACE hardware logo, carries everything from men’s undershirts to 1/2 price Easter candy, to model cars, to greeting cards, to spools of thread to lugnuts, and anything in between.  Once upon a time, there were three of these stores within a 1/4 mile walk.  One was your Hallmark-type store, selling cards, wrapping paper, novelty desk sets — I have no idea.  One sold toys and craft items.  It had a vast backroom full of boy toys like plastic weapons, model vehicles, and enough model paint to make any 12 year old semi-permanently high.  And, it had crafts.  This, dear readers, is important.  My mother is forever lamenting the Wal-martification of America, claiming that it’s becoming harder and harder to find a spool of thread in a small town.  And now that Wal-mart is phasing out many of their sewing department, even harder.  I guess a spool of thread is some high-water mark for her.  But in downtown Narberth, in a toy and craft store, one could buy a spool of thread.  The third store was pretty close to being an only slightly confused hardware store — having some kitchen supplies, candy, school supplies, and sweatsocks in packs of six. 

I guess I should have seen it coming when the card store imploded and the storefront became a knitting store instead.  Soon the hardware store was sporting a card rack.  Next the craft department moved in between sporting goods and garden hoses.  I hoped they were just making room for more toys down the street.  Today, as I frantically pored over the craft aisle ISO Shrinky Dinks, I wondered if they qualified as a craft (in my eyes) or as a toy (being marketed to children for amusement).  Finding none, I set off down the street to the toy store.  Which.  Was.  Vacant.  Huge “For Rent” signs hung in the windows.  And as I made my way back amidst raindrops to the hardware store cum card store cum toy store cum craft store, it all became clear.  Why puzzles and games and stuffed animals had been pushed in between Con-Tact paper and Tupperware.  Why GI Joes were opposite Snickers bars.  Why the model cars were shoved in some back corner next to car activity books.  Why I could not find Shrinky Dinks. 

Some helpful sales associates know exactly where everything is.  Not so here.  I can’t say I blame them, as the store is in such disarray and nonsensical order.  Usually the response to a help query is, “If we have it, it’d be in aisle 3 or 5a.”  Today I got a real answer and actually persuaded an associate to walk me over to aisle 2, where they had thought to put Shrinky Dinks.  In the school supply aisle.  Because often when I sit at my school desk, I pull out my Trapper Keeper and make some Shrinky Dinks.  Which I cook in the cafeteria oven. 

Except they weren’t.  Not really.  It was a kit.  Oh, how I loathe kits.  As Anne of Green Gables would say, there isn’t nearly enough scope for imagination.  And this kit, dear readers (more than one of you yet?), was pre-stamped, pre-cut, might as well have been pre-colored and pre-shrunk.  Anathema to crafting, or any creative endeavours.

Disheartened, I scanned the quaint storefronts in the business district of little Narberth, and spied Character Development, a toy store which prides itself on having toys which have nothing but scope for imagination and which (steel yourself, Toys ‘R Us shoppers), have no batteries.  “This,” I said to myself, “is exactly the type of store I need.”  (Except I didn’t say it outloud, because they wouldn’t have let me in the store near the children.)  What I did not need was to pay $9.95 for 5 sheets of shrink plastic which was billed as “refill pack” for the Klutz Shrinky Dinks book when I’m fully aware I can buy 10 sheets for about $5 at Michael’s or A.C. Moore.  Both of which are about 20 minutes from my house.  In spite of the helpful sales staff (“Yes, we do carry Shrinky Dinks.  Let me show you where they are so you can give us too much money for them.”) and convenience of having them staring me in the face, I left the “refill pack” at the store.  I actually snuck out.  When you come into a store asking for a specific item, and they have it, there’s some sort of unwritten code that you should buy it.  Sometimes I’ll say, “Thanks.  I was doing some reconnaissance work for a future project.”  This time, I put my hoodie over my head, waited for the nice lady to help someone else, and slinked (slunk?) out the door into the raindrops again. 

Arriving home empty-handed, I once again tore the house apart for the second day in a row looking for the pack of Shrinky Dinks that were lost in the move.  I know we moved February 20th, and it’s almost 2 months later, and I still have sealed boxes, and my craft stuff is piled into corners…but I thought I could find them. 

But no Shrinky Dinks. 

You know when I will find them, don’t you?  When I drag my sorry ass out to A.C. Moore and buy a pack of new ones.  I will return home, open one more unmarked and highly improbably box, and find them.  How do I know?  Because that’s how it worked with my address book, our blank address labels, my craft knife (which has survived 4 moves over 7 years), our packaging tape, and my ugly neckties I use for crafting.  That’s how it always works.

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May 2020