One of the many hats I wear is that of substitute teacher at my daughter's school. Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away I received my Masters in Teaching and spent one year as a full time teacher before moving on to my next career as a full time mom. Many moons later I have been lucky to get to put my toe back into the profession that was always as natural for me as breathing.
The unique advantage I have in my situation is that I have chosen to only substitute teach at my daughter's K-8 school. This has given me the opportunity to really get to know all of the kids in the school. I know each of them by name (even if I occasionally mix them up now and then...there are a lot of them) and it's a real advantage as a substitute when you can walk in a classroom and immediately be on a first-name basis with the kids.
Recently, I had a moment of triumph when I was unexpectedly called in to sub in the jr. high because a teacher suddenly fell ill. The kids weren't anticipating having sub since they had seen the regular teacher there earlier in the day so they were surprised to find me standing at the front of the room. But I won't lie, I was pretty pumped when one of the 8th grade boys walked in and looked at me quizzically and said, "Are you subbing today?" Upon hearing that I was indeed going to be at the helm for the afternoon he thrust his fist in the air and said, "Yes!"
Now, that could have been because having a last second sub in jr. high usually means some version of study hall and a chance to get your homework done early but still...I decided to take it is a compliment. With that age group you have to take what you can get.
The last few weeks I have had several opportunities to spend the day on the opposite side of the school building with our littlest students. Anyone who knows me knows that in the depths of my teacher's heart my affection lies with the primary grades, even though I have grown to enjoy different aspects of all the grades (another advantage of being a sub-you get to see it all). So, I'm not kidding when I say that I really do enjoy teaching the Kindergartners...but...
Lately, as we get closer and closer to the end of the school year, days in Kindergarten have started to feel like feeding time at the zoo...for six hours straight.
Last Friday, as I was watching the clock and willing it to inch closer and closer to dismissal time I noticed one my little peanuts had tears welling up in her eyes. Some of her loyal little friends rushed up to me clearly in a state of utter panic.
Mrs. S! Gracie can't find Pink!
I needed clarification.
Wait. What? She can't find Pink? What or who is Pink?
Looking at me like everyone should know who Pink is they cried in unison:
Her baby doll!
And then they all fell all over themselves trying to make the urgency of the situation abundantly clear.
She sleeps with Pink every night! She's had her since she was baby! She never goes to bed without Pink! It's the most important thing in the world to her!!
I pride myself on staying pretty cool under pressure but even I was picking up on the fact that this was a BIG deal.
Search parties were formed. Backpacks were dumped out. Children were crawling under tables and chairs. All while poor Gracie became increasingly inconsolable.
Wiping the sweat from my brow, I looked at the clock and saw we were mere seconds from the final bell of the day. We had no choice but to start gathering everything back together at lightning speed and get ourselves out to the carline. I've noticed Kindergarten parents in particular get concerned when their small children don't appear at the end of the day so I was now focused on not being the cause of unnecessary heart palpitations for 25 parents out in the parking lot.
I held little Gracie's hand as we walked down the hallway and assured her I was going to turn the classroom upside down until I found Pink and that once I did I would bring her to her house.
She was still weepy and looked skeptical but I could see she was trying to be brave.
Gracie was being picked up by another mom so I went up to her and gave her the news as calmly as I could. I didn't quite know what to say but figured it was best to just give it to her straight.
We can't find Pink.
Her eyes flew open wide in terror. She literally grabbed my shoulders and said in a restrained whisper,
Dear God, NO!
I nodded solemnly.
It's true. We looked everywhere but I'll keep searching.
She patted my shoulder gravely, her eyes weary with resignation, and told me she'd be praying my quest for Pink would be successful.
At that point, so was I.
I went back to the classroom and enlisted my daughter's help to search the room. My own child was tired, hungry and ready to go home but when I told her it would be like losing her own precious Pinky Bear she was eager to help.
I knew they had been playing in the Kitchen Area during Centers and figured Pink must have been a central feature of their game of House so I concentrated my efforts in that general area.
And then I saw a little, dirty pink foot poking up out of the rubble of a tub of blocks.
I'm not ashamed to say, I shrieked.
Annie and I both did a little dance around the classroom feeling victorious and relieved at having fulfilled our rescue mission.
I realized then though that I wasn't sure if I was going to have to leave Pink on their front porch. It was starting to sprinkle a little so I went in search of a plastic bag to put her in.
I found a group of teachers standing out in the hallway so I inquired if any of them might have a bag I could put the doll in.
One of the teachers wrinkled her nose and said, "What is that??" (I will admit, Pink does look like she's seen better days. Well loved toys usually do.)
I quickly explained it was Gracie's special doll and it had been lost but, thank goodness, I found her. I'm pretty sure I was beaming, still basking in the glow of victory.
Another teacher said, "Why did she even have it at school?"
I was a little confused then because at that point it seemed irrelevant to the good news of something so precious having been lost and now found.
I told them that in Kindergarten the children are allowed to play with an appropriate toy from home during Center time at the end of the day (they are five- remember?)
I asked again if anyone had a plastic bag because I wanted to be able to take it to her house and wasn't sure if they'd be home. I didn't want to just leave Pink lying on the front porch at the mercy of the elements. She may not be much to look at but I wasn't going to be responsible for her ending up soaking wet.
One of the teachers disappeared into her classroom to get a ziploc bag and another one looked at me half-smiling and said, "You're too nice, Lori."
I just grinned as I made sure Pink was safely tucked into the bag and shrugged.
When I got to Gracie's house, her older brother and a friend were playing in the front yard. When they saw me, her brother asked excitedly,
Did you find her??
I held up the bag triumphantly and he went tearing into the house yelling,
Gracie! Mom! Mrs. S. found Pink!! She's here! She's here!
Gracie's mom and I met at the door at the same time and without hesitation she folded me into a huge hug. Over her shoulder I saw little Gracie peeking around the corner smiling shyly with red-rimmed, puffy eyes.
I handed her Pink and felt a little teary myself as I watched her squeeze that ratty baby doll close and heard her whisper to me,
I knew within that household, for a moment, peace had been restored. Redemption had found a sad little girl and a worried, tired mama and hopefully everyone would be able to sleep that night.
I know that I, myself, slept like a baby, completely comfortable with having allowed myself to be consumed by a small child's sorrow, a lost baby doll and the journey to see them reunited.
I'd do it again in a minute.
** Names have been changed to protect the innocent. Except Pink. She really is just Pink and I'm hoping she is okay with having starred in this little narrative.
*** This is not intended to be a criticism of the other teachers. They teach older kids and sometimes when you don't work with the little ones you forget what issues are very real to that age group. Everyone is also a little war-torn by this time of the year. That is another thing I enjoy about being a sub- I always get to see things with fresh eyes and don't get as worn down by facing the same mini-dramas day in and day out.