Snapshots

January 14,2010
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

Yesterday was not only T.'s birthday, but the first day of classes at my college. Most semesters I start this milestone day eager and well-prepared; this semester I spent so much time running around trying to get organized that I didn't have time to savor that first-day-of-classes feeling until I was right there, in the classroom, looking around at the faces of familiar and brand-new students. Only then did I feel a burst of excitement--that filled-with-promise feeling I get at the start of each semester, and the one that keeps the spark and love I have for my job aglow, in even the most trying times. Trying times like the days I spent this week in a numb fog, trying to retrace my steps so I could find a report I misplaced; a report I spent over a week working on, and had been toting around for some days, intending to photocopy, but not having the time to until I finally did find a pocket of time, two days after it was due, only to discover it missing. And the day I spent avoiding the upstairs office for fear someone would ask about The Report and I'd have to admit, then and there that it was gone--those were trying times. I wasn't ready for that, not yet. The process of coming to a reconciliation with the loss of something big that you're accountable for is a multi-step process, I discovered. First there's the denial that comes as you ransack every inch of your office (I know it's here somewhere it HAS to be), followed by anger taken out on inanimate, blameless objects (where IS it, you damn printer, you?), followed by avoidance (if I don't think about it and spend valuable hours shopping for party favors for my daughter's birthday it will all go away), followed by acceptance (I guess I'll have to tell someone). But on Wednesday, right before my 1:00 class, and as I was on the phone with my colleague/office mate, pacing around her desk area, venting about the lost report, a cloud opened up, and a ray of light shone down right onto her desk and I looked down and there was my missing report, in her in-box. I should have left it there, really. Maybe, in the same mysterious way it reappeared, the report would also have ended up edited and photocopied and turned in. *********** On the first day of classes I always go around the room and have my students introduce themselves. Then, because I'm so bad with names unless I learn something about somebody that helps me remember who they are, I ask my students to tell the class one interesting thing about themselves. I love the answers I get; answers ranging from the last film someone watched (Kung Fu Panda from an enormous, imposing young man), to their favorite food (sushi from a quiet girl in freshman comp), to a life-changing event (girlfriend found out she was pregnant). Yesterday, in one of my classes, a young man revealed that the interesting thing about himself was that it was his birthday that day. "Really?" I jumped towards him excitedly. "Because my daughter's birthday is today, too!" Later, when I escaped campus briefly to have lunch with my birthday girl at her school, I told her table of classmates that one of my students had the same birthday as T. "And how old is he today?" One of T.'s friends asked. "Nineteen!" I told them. They looked amazed. "Wow." The girl said, sitting back in her stool. Then she leaned forward, her eyes round with awe. "Does that mean he's in SECOND GRADE now?"