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Similar to the “Roses and Thorns” family activity the Obamas allegedly play around the dinner table at the White House, Mr. Apron and I play a game we call “One Good Thing,” or, as he sometimes abbreviates it, “OGT”.  It’s not hard to find sucky things (ahem, “thorns”) in a shitty (“thorny”) day, but it can be hard to find a good thing.  We play OGT to help each other find one nice, decent, or even just mediocre thing in a day.  On a rough day, it might be, “I got a street parking spot in front of the house” or “The dog didn’t try to eat her shit.” 

Yesterday was just a normal day at work, until I received, out of the blue, an e-mail from a former supervisor.  She remembered that my birthday is coming up (October 9th; send presents!) this weekend, and wanted to send good wishes.  “I’m sure you are busy with your new job, but I hope you are loving that challenge too. They are very lucky to have you; I miss your positive attitude and clever insights. Please keep in touch.”  It made me feel all warm and snuggly all over.  I feel that I was able to leave my old job with no hard feelings.  Even though this woman sat in on my exit interview where I trashed the company she’s been working for; even though I left, citing irreconcilable differences with policies, management, and expectations.  That was definitely my OGT.

And my OGT was promptly derailed shortly after work.  A student I tutor, outside of school hours, inside of the school building, brushed briefly by my classroom/office/cubby/closet door, grinning ear to ear that he had no homework, making it clear he intended to get picked up with his sister today.  Bound by duty (and wary of 6th graders who proclaim they have no homework), I pulled him aside, checked his planner, and went through his classes.  Nope, seemed like no homework!  I got to leave early, all was good.

Until his mother e-mailed…didn’t he have a vocab quiz tomorrow?  Shit.  Of course he did.  And I, wonderful tutor, have neglected my duty, have shown myself to be forgetful (must not let them see my human side.  must be superhero speech therapist/tutor.), and have shirked my task.  I checked my e-mail obsessively after I replied, briefly, with a message that I hope came off more as, “Whoops!  I knew about the quiz — of course — but it slipped my mind.  Let me tell you about the quiz, to show you how much I know about. I’m responsible,”  and less as, “Sheesh, lady.  I can’t be expected to remember what every kid is doing in every class.  You do his studying with him.  You’re his mom.”  I kept expected to see her reply to my e-mail stating that she was 1) firing me from tutoring, 2) having me fired from the school, and 3) pulling her kid out of the school.  As of 8pm, I stopped checking my e-mail, figuring that she would have replied by then.  And I would have been fired by then. 

Lest I get too full of myself, it’s nice to know I will always make (and be called on) human errors to bring me back to earth, where the mortals belong.

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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.

Mr. Apron and I have been together for over six years now, and we’ve had our ups and downs in health issues, been through countless jobs, seemingly endless schooling, and lived in a multitude of places together and apart.  We’ve had those days when no evil things dare to rear their heads into our idyllic lives; and those days where nothing seems to go right.  It’s the latter that spurred a ritual we do called, “One Good Thing”.  On those worst of worst, those Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Days, we ask each other, “What was your Good Thing?”  The idea is, that even if you spend 45 minutes venting about project deadlines, GI issues, nightmare coworkers, the weather, green phlegm, being splattered with red paint, or Rush Limbaugh, there must be one small thing, event, or happening which, if it didn’t brighten your day while it was happening, may just bring you into a better mood at the moment.  Sometimes it’s really hard to come up with one, but we do it to humor each other. 

Some examples might include (for me) a compliment on my new skirt, a cute kid story, or not running into someone objectionable.  Some examples for Mr. Apron might include going a day without getting into a passive-aggressive argument with his boss, teaching a kid something, figuring out a new feature on his phone (Hello, e-mail!), or finding a shirt he thought was lost forever.  On really bad days, we have to stretch.  They’re lame.  It could be finding one last Coke in the back of the fridge; not having to make a lunch because of leftovers; remembering to bring in the groceries from thec car; looking foward to tomorrow being Friday; having enough bags for the dog’s shit; or having a “clean shit”.  But we always pull it together, even if our Good Thing is getting to talk to each other about our bad days.  Though it’s a cop-out, we often end up being each other’s Good Things. 

Today was not a horrendous day by any means, but if you’d asked me my Good Thing, I’d say it would be finding out that the garage door opener works.  Not so long ago, after a long day gardening and making repeat trips to the garage and basement, I sent the opener through the wash with my mud- and grass-caked cargo shorts.  Usually it’s Mr. Apron sending his lip balm through the wash, leaving wax marks all over my t-shirts.  This time it was me, effectively locking us out of our garage, because though it’s an attached garage (in the basement), there’s no entrance to the house from the garage.  1928.  Go figure.  You have to leave the garage, go outside to the parking pad, then in the basement door.  Quirks, ya gotta love ’em.  One of these days we’ll pay some angsty teenagers in pizza to take sledge hammers to the non-load-bearing walls and break on through to the other side, giving us access to the garage for real.  But today, as we were loading up some colors into the washing machine, Mr. Apron absent-mindedly grabbed the garage door opener and clicked it.  Lo and behold, we heard that familiar groaning and cranking as the beast roared to life once again.  I didn’t break it!  YAY!

What was your good thing?