Today was interesting at work. Teachers know that’s code–a code that encompasses things both good and bad, and as such, a lot of emotion. My new kids are still sorting me–and themselves–out; we are learning each other.
Theirs: Is Mrs. G serious about no cell phones? Does she give a lot of homework?
Mine: Which kid can I trust to actually come back if he runs something to the office? Are any of these kids actually going to talk to me?
In these first days, too, last year’s kids are still “mine” enough that they drop by for a hug, or to complain, or to sneak an oatmeal creme pie. And then there’s hall duty, where enforcing dress code amid the boundary-pushing requires an almost exhausting intensity.
I am knee-deep in children as I am about to lose mine: Abby is headed to Yale in two days. So sleep has not been a priority: I’ve been staying up late with her, laughing and eating Reeses and watching NCIS Los Angeles while she does the crossword on the couch and Snapchats pictures of the kitten.
Yet the kids, who are wonderful in every way, still need to be taught. And since I am on extended day this year–with no planning period–I am on all day. (In one of the best essays I have ever read about the demands of teaching, Anna Quindlen writes, “Teaching’s the toughest job there is . . . writing a column, I can stare off into the middle distance with my chin in my hand any time. But you go mentally south for five minutes in front of a class of fifth graders, and you are sunk.”) Walking a tightrope so early in the school year is difficult–doing so without even a chin-rub is more so.
Today, there was need: big need, little need, big need, little need, little need, snack need, very big immediate need–just a whole bunch of kids with their switches turned on. Of course, my co-workers and I helped every single one of these kids–I think educational lingo requires me to use the words “seamless cohesion” when describing how well we helped those kids, whose gratitude made sacrificing our lunchtimes worth it.
Facing collegiate errands, I came home tired; Abby met me in the driveway–I’d called on the way and told her to be ready to jump in the van the instant I pulled up. As she got in and slammed the door, I put the van in reverse, only for it to roll forward. I checked the gear shift again for the R. Again it lurched forward, but before it could hit the carport, it shuddered and died, windows down in the rain in the driveway. Please, God, I prayed, just let me roll the windows up. He did.
The third-hand fishing truck would have to get us to the bank at 20 MPH. There was no stress. No worry or obsession about the van–the Old Gray Mare, her catalytic converter, air conditioning, and now (likely) transmission problems were not worth our worry, so we didn’t talk about it. Didn’t even wonder how we would get around.
It was almost like we trusted the God of the sparrows and lilies.
We went to the bank, then to Ruby Tuesday’s, where we ate pretzels and drank strawberry drinks and looked at our phones too much. Next was TJ Maxx, which is our default safe haven. (You can look at ceramic French bulldogs with the same idle pleasure whether your life is tip-top or despairing.) Abby saw a favorite high school history teacher, and he was delighted to get “one last eye roll before she leaves.”
We went home. I tried to crank the van again. Nothing.
There was a large package on the kitchen table–definitely not the highlighters from Amazon that Abby was expecting. It was a late graduation gift from a friend who’d read Abby’s Common App essay, which includes her salute to a favorite song:
“Humble and Kind” is a little, gentle song sung by Tim McGraw. It stops me in my tracks, every time, with the solace it offers me. Tim McGraw sounds like me, drawing out his words, giving everything too many syllables. With the guitar I have heard my whole life, he sings “Always stay humble and kind/ Hold the door say please say thank you/ Don’t steal, don’t cheat, and don’t lie.” I listen to this song constantly, doing physics, writing essays, unloading the dishes, because it is something I can do and something I have been doing. I am humble, most days, and kind.
There was a thoughtful card full of kind words with a check tucked in, and there was a wrapped gift that was obviously framed artwork. Abby unwrapped it, read the handwritten note on the back of the painting, then flipped it over. There they were: the framed song lyrics–a touchstone for my daughter’s dorm wall, a sign to say, “You may be at Yale, but this is who you are.”
I just put my head down on the entertainment center and cried. This whole Yale thing has been cobbled together piecemeal, and in this summer of a long cancer pay dock, God had once again shown His compassion and provision. The check would have been enough of a reminder of His sovereignty through this–but the picture? Well, that was just God waltzing through my house, chewing some gum and saying over his shoulder, “I knew you would want your kid to have this, so I got it for her,” and flinging it on the table.
I could see His wink. I could hear His laugh. He Done Showed Out.
An hour later, we headed to my dad’s for the start of the Goodbye Tour. As we pulled up, I noticed a small, cute red Honda I’d never seen before nestled under a tree in the yard.
We sat around the snack bar sneaking servings of my step-mother’s stuffing and talking about Yale and cats and cousins. I talked about my difficult day in vague terms, told them about the coup de grace, the likely death of the Old Gray Mare. Off-handedly, my step-mom said, “Well, there’s an eighteen-year-old Honda in the yard.”
Dad took me outside to see it: mildewed from sitting, with a leak in the roof, it cranked right up. The AC worked, and I wouldn’t have to duct-tape over the check engine lights. He wondered if I liked it.
I just stood there in wonder.
This is what we have learned from Stephanie Grace’s death; from cancer three times; from April’s return to her birth family; from Abigail’s admission to Yale; from our long-standing financial problems and all those medical bills: to see God’s hand.