|From my writer's notebook|
The week before spring break in sixth grade sometimes feels a little like this:
My students and I are packed into a wood paneled station wagon, bumping down a dirt road in Learning Land. It's raining. I'm in the driver's seat trying to facilitate a discussion of the five themes of geography and, in the back, boys and girls are arguing loudly about who is the most hungry, the most tired. One is silently looking out the window, following raindrops as they snake down the glass. Everyone has to go to the bathroom, including me. As I am trying to review the difference between relative and absolute location, I notice there's a boy trying to exit the vehicle. I flip the child locks to secure him in.
The window watcher begins to cry. Another girl is complaining someone called her a name. Could I talk to them about this?? Meanwhile, a quiet voice from the back is explaining the difference between absolute and relative location. I can barely hear her but I try to make eye contact in the rear view mirror and smile. The girl next to her reaches over and puts a hand over her mouth. They begin to poke each other in the eye. I reach back and gently touch a shoulder, give a precision request for their kind attention. I mentally cross out Five Themes on my lesson plan, shift gears and turn up NPR on the radio. At least it's educational.
More arguing over who farted and someone has organized a betting pool over who's going to win the manly man leg wrestling contest in the hatchback. The eye poking has now transitioned to hair pulling. "Stop NOW," I say. Another students yells, "Girl Fiiiiight!!" Yet another who has been silently connected to ear buds the whole trip now decides to take inspiration from Katy Perry and lets out a thunderous, ROOOOOOOAR.
That's it. "I WILL PULL THIS CAR OVER!!!"
As if on cue. The station wagon sputters to a standstill.
A helpful voice from the back says, "I think it's your alternator."
It's still raining and I can't get the radio. I tell everyone to take out the book they were supposed to have brought with them. Two people do. "This is stupid." Someone says.
A clap of thunder shakes the vehicle and it begins to rain harder.
"I'm starving," says someone. I unwrap a granola bar and split it twenty-seven ways.
One piece gets tossed out the window. "I don't like raisins."
"This is $%#," says someone else.
I put my head down on the steering wheel and try to imagine myself on spring break, lying on a beach with my book, a palm tree, maybe a shot of vodka. I've never had vodka but begin to consider I might be missing out. Maybe I'm too conservative. I should have pursued my childhood dream of being a television journalist. I start mentally updating my resume.
The car goes silent.
Eventually I hear the rustling of eleven and twelve year olds angling toward me. "Is she okay?" One says.
"I don't know."
"Is she dead?"
"I don't know!"
Sirens. A knock from a uniformed officer of the law. I roll down the window. He leans in and smiles, proceeds to write me a ticket for being in a no parking zone.
I burst into a hysterical, hyena-like cackle that sends tears down my cheeks.
The raindrops on the windshield begin to sparkle in a splash of sunlight peeking from behind a cloud. The beauty of it catches my eye. Is this what going crazy feels like?
"Did you know your tabs are expired?" The officer mentions.
I barely hear him. We're all watching the glass slowly dry as the sun comes fully out. One of our more whimsical girls whispers, "It's a raindrop resurrection." She goes for a pad of paper and a pencil as we exchange that look, you know, kindred spirits.
Another says, "Why does the rain look like little water bags dragging down the glass? And why does it go so slow, and then fast?"
"It's surface tension. We learned about it in science," says another.
"How many raindrops do you figure make up that puddle?"
"How long was it raining?"
"How wide is the puddle?"
"You know, there aren't enough seat belts for every passenger in this car."
Is he still here?
We get out. The kids jump into the mud and splash their teacher before proceeding to complain about their clothes getting "nasty." They all look at me, expectantly.
I smile back, my mud freckles displayed like tiny badges of honor, because I love them all.
Even the one hiding underneath the car because he's secretly afraid, perhaps with good reason, the officer of the law is really there for him.
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