Fall is here.
It’s beautiful in New England–the trees are starting to look like they grew out of a Norman Rockwell painting. We used to watch this guy on Public Television back in the days when there were only three channels. He’d paint “happy trees.” We called him “Happy Brush” even though I think his name was Bob.
A few more lessons from Bob and I could’ve embarked on a career as a landscape painter for hotel art. I didn’t. I’m teaching.
Being a teacher changes the definition of fall dramatically. Instead of fall being a time of harvest bounty–fairs, festivals, cider, and cinnamon baked apples–it’s a bounty of germs.
Every year, I get a million new students. Every year, they bring me two million new germs.
I could be miserable about this. I should stay home. Staying home miserable does nothing for humanity–all it does is waste a good sick day. Who wants to use a good sick day actually being sick?
I’m not going to die, so I go to school. I tell the kids I’m searching for whoever got me sick so I can lick their test papers and return the germs. It’s an idle threat since I don’t give a lot of tests.
I take a black Sharpie and write “FOR THE PLAGUE ONLY. NOT FOR CLEANING SNEAKERS!!” on the Kleenex, which have been disappearing at the rate of a box a day. Nothing gets me more angry than a box of Kleenex that’s empty because some kid got a scuffed shoe.
Then, I change my lesson plans. I sound like Kermit the Frog–I need a day or two where I don’t have to talk. I shuffle next week’s project to this week and bring some student-directed lessons to the top of the batting order. Students learn better when they’re in charge anyway.
I restock my tea and check the honey and cream levels. Full. I’m officially ready to teach all the way though plague season.
I find all the usual germ-spreading suspects. The kid with the red nose, the kid who can’t talk, the just-recovered girl who shouts, “I did it! I gave you the plague!” Each of them is really nice, though, so I can’t stay mad. I gift a handful of tissues to the boy who’s been using sandpaper. Both of us have that peely Rudolph nose that stays red long after the megacold hunts down new victims.
I make Kid-With-No-Voice a cup of tea. “I’ve never had tea before,” she types on her phone notepad.
I say it was my grandmother’s secret cure–tea with extra honey and cream. I also confess my grandmother’s real secret cure was whiskey, but schools get a little cranky about such things.
On and on it goes, the entire school processing and recycling bacteria and viruses in a community spirit of misery–the bounty of fall. I could swim in hand sanitizer, and still pathogens tap me on the shoulder, laughing at my weak attempts defeat them.
“Don’t you know anything! We’re viruses! You think Rome was powerful? Wait to you meet my cousin, Antibiotic Resistant Plague. You can call him Big P.”
I make more tea and sit.
Down time reminds me how much clutter there is in my day-to-day life. It helps me simplify, relax, prioritize the things that matter. I clear my schedule and rest. I tell the sick kids they should do the same.
“It’s your open house today,” I say to Declan that evening. “I want to meet your teacher.”
“No, Mom, you’re going to give her germs. She’ll give me an F and the principal will expel me. Let’s stay home and play.”
“Okay,” I say. I try to play between sneezes. I hold the car track while he makes a loop.
It’s funny how life fills up so we never have a moment of space in our schedules for anything important until something shows us none of the everyday nonsense means a thing…that the only thing that matters is the gift of the air we breathe and the people we choose to love. Everything else just swirls and clutters.
That’s the lesson I learn being sick, the one I have yet to master.
The sports, papers, chores, and errands will have to wait. For now, there’s a Hot Wheel’s track and a little boy, and a bunch of trees turning red as my nose.
I play, then I look at the trees–the beauty of fall, the harvest, nature–before it all goes to sleep for its long winter nap. Then, I follow suit. A nap sounds like the perfect thing.
I wake up the next morning. Still sick, germs laughing. Big P is nowhere to be seen, so I stuff a new box of Kleenex in my bag, look over my lessons, and smile. I am ready to do this all again.
After all, who wants to waste a perfectly good sick day being sick?