Thursday, December 16, 2010

Work: Looking a gift horse in the mouth

My students have been really nice to me lately, and their benevolence concerns me.

I've experienced this before.  Years ago, when I returned to work still shaken after travelling to my grandmother's funeral, one student quietly spent an entire class period organizing and arranging every messy, overstuffed cabinet and shelf in my classroom.  In the last swollen, lumbering days of both of my pregnancies, an immediate hush would spread over the room any time I hoisted myself from my chair.  If anyone failed to quiet quickty enough, I could count on someone to come through with an angry hiss, "The baby!"  And of course, there was last year when among the various kind gestures from my students, there were countless back pats and shoulder squeezes.

In my experience, my students' solicitousness is directly proportionate to my own piteousness.  Only I'm not currently mourning, pregnant or fired.  Lately, I'm just a little...batty.  I'm trying to keep up with new curriculum and mountains of grading at work; I'm mounting Big E's dog-themed birthday party complete with homemade puppy cake, dog bone cookies, and tableclothes handstamped with pawprint paths; I'm replicating the same party for Little E this weekend --with the addition of the in-laws and a grilled cheese-themed dinner; I'm shopping for Christmas; I'm writing and losing lists; I'm trying not to think about the untouched stack of Christmas cards that must be addressed; and I'm kind of losing my head. 

The messy collision of work, birthdays and Christmas has me feeling frantic.  I find myself speaking at a pace my seventh grade English teacher once compared to a runaway train.  I am running down hallways and across parking lots, and --because as I am busy lately, I am vain always-- my rapid little high-heeled steps only make me look all the more deranged.

Recently, a student in my senior class cocked her head at me as I fumbled for a pen just before I started class.  "Are you...okay?" she asked, prompting me to launch into a rapid-fire recount of the previous evening's cookie-baking and tablecloth-stamping.  She has gently asked me the same question every day since. 

On Monday, after flying through Act II, scene i of Othello with a class of sophomores, I stopped for a breath and somehow managed to knock over my entire bag full of papers.  I waved off the students who rushed up to help and instead proceeded to tell, from my hands and knees (and like a runaway train), the story of how the dog had gotten into the birthday party trash, then my husband had set the alarm clock wrong, then he stepped in dog vomit, then he walked the dog vomit around the carpet... Since then they have eerily quiet and disconcertingly polite.

This year is supposed to be about equilibrium, but lately I feel like I'm hustling through life trying to balance a heavy tray cluttered with brimming glasses, overcompensating with every attempt and making a mess of everything.  I'm just hoping 2011 brings steadier hands ...and a lighter tray.

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