Two Mornings, or Something Worthwhile

“I’m ready to go,” June announced for about the twentieth time yesterday morning. It was her first day back at school after an almost three-week-long break and she was raring to go. I glanced at my watch. It was 8:30, still a bit on the early side. Then inspiration struck.

“Do you want to walk?” I asked her.

“Yes!” she said in satisfied tone.

It was a bright, sunny morning after two days of miserable weather– steady rain and temperatures in the mid to high thirties. Now the air was cold, but dry. Everything looked clean and shiny. The sun sparkled on the wrinkly skins of ice that covered the puddles.

I hadn’t let June walk to school in a long while. I’d gotten tired of her pulling her hand out of mine and running away from me. But this morning June walked along with me, slipping her mittened hand into mine when we crossed the street or walked along the stretches of road that have no sidewalks.

We arrived at the school at 8:55. A few children had reverted to the teary goodbyes we saw so frequently in September, but not June. (I would have been surprised if she had, since she never cried in September either.) I helped her hang up her coat and backpack and washed her hands. Then I took her into the playroom where a group of children was building a castle out of blocks. I kissed the top of her head, said goodbye and left.

I walked home at a brisk pace, planning my much-anticipated time alone. I had just under two hours to myself. I spent about half of it reading and printing health newsletter articles for Sara and the rest reading other people’s blogs and watching the dvd with the comic-book style animated short film that came bundled with the Stephen King short story collection Beth got me for Christmas ( Then it was time to go back to school.

When June was dismissed from the front porch, she ran to me with a huge grin. I swept her up into my arms and asked her “How was your day?”

“Good,” she said. “I played with blocks.”

“It looks like you played in the sand pit, too,” I said. The long underwear bottoms she was wearing under her rainbow-striped jumper were soaked and encrusted with sand from the knees down. I surmised she’d been kneeling in damp sand for much of her playground time. There was evidence of painting on the toe of her sneaker, too. (I’d find quite a bit more when we got home and I took off her coat.) Blocks, paint, sand: all ingredients of a good morning. It must have been a tiring one, too. She fell asleep in the stroller on the way home.

This morning June wanted to walk to school again. We couldn’t, though, because I was going to Noah’s school to tutor. I wouldn’t be going back home while she was at school and we’d need the stroller for the walk home. (June’s usually pretty worn out by the 11:30 pickup.) On my way out of the parking lot, I talked to the Caterpillar’s mom. We’ve been trying to find a weekend evening when the Caterpillar and his moms can come over for a pizza dinner. It looks like we might not have mutual free time until February.

I am making one of my sporadic efforts to be more social. It doesn’t come naturally to me, but it’s a new year and a good time to stretch myself.

Tutoring has been difficult to get off the ground as well. I went to Noah’s school three times this past fall to tutor parents with limited English. Two out of three times no one showed up. I’d decided ahead of time this would be the last time if I didn’t get any takers today. I could look for tutoring opportunities elsewhere or volunteer in Noah’s classroom. I knew he’d like having me there, but I was more interested in actually teaching than in assisting his teacher with photocopying and other clerical tasks. The frustrating thing was that on the one day people did come, back in November, all three of them seemed enthusiastic and motivated and I felt like we’d even established a tentative rapport.

After that meeting one of them asked if I was an evangelist because I was wearing a skirt and had no jewelry on. I said no and the others conferred among themselves in Spanish, obviously trying to figure out the strange gringa. They decided I was “una persona sencilla. A ella no le gusta las vanidades.” (“…a simple person. She doesn’t like vanities.”) When I told my sister this story, she laughed and said their assessment of me was “remarkably accurate.”

I hurried down the path by the creek to Noah’s school. The meeting was scheduled for 9:15. In my backpack I had a bilingual children’s book I wanted to use in my lesson, a list of English vocabulary words from the book and a schedule of future sessions so I wouldn’t have to keep calling everyone on the phone. (My phone Spanish is painfully bad.) I also had a book (The Reader) for myself in case no one came. Once at the school I checked the cheery conference room with the big skylight where my group was supposed to meet. It was empty. I waited a bit, then dropped by the volunteer coordinator’s office and asked her to direct anyone looking for me to conference room. She let me know that one of the three women who had come before had a job interview and couldn’t come today.

The volunteer coordinator dropped by after fifteen minutes to check on me. I’d emailed her earlier in the week to say I wouldn’t be coming any more if no one came today. She urged me not to give up and offered to help publicize the group if I’d keep coming. I agreed somewhat reluctantly. I wasn’t sure there was a point.

I stayed in the conference room until 9:40, reading my book. Then I put on my coat, shouldered my pack full of teaching materials and left, feeling downhearted. On my way out of the school, much to my surprise, I ran into Sofía*, one of my students. She didn’t say why she was late, but she did have a message from the last woman, who was home with a sick child.

I thought briefly about the Caterpillar’s busy moms and how life gets in the way and sometimes you just have to keep trying to make something happen.

We headed back to the conference room. I’d asked everyone to bring an article from a newspaper or magazine to share. Sofía had a review of a Mary Cassat exhibit at the National Museum of Women in the Arts ( She said she picked it because liked the accompanying pictures. It was short but advanced for her so we spent forty-five minutes going through it sentence by sentence. She read aloud and I helped her with pronunciation and gave her a summary of each paragraph after she finished it, partly in English, partly in Spanish. She was struggling but determined and clearly surprised that Cassat had received negative reviews during her lifetime. (The one about Cassat’s babies being ugly really seemed to get her goat.) I listened carefully to decide where she most needed help. The silent e trips her up almost every time, but after I’d explained it a few times she did manage to correct herself once.

When we’d finished reading the article we tried chatting in English for a while and finally we turned to the children’s book. Sofía seemed relieved to have something easier than the Cassat review to read. First we went over the vocabulary list and then I read the book to her. She stopped me a few times with questions. I asked her to bring a children’s book next time and encouraged her to read to her daughters at home in English and in Spanish. She said her English wasn’t good enough yet, but that she was improving. I gave her the tutoring schedule, every other Friday morning from now until the end of May.

As we left the room, Sofía tapped me on the shoulder and asked if we could meet once a week instead of every other week. I said I couldn’t. These sessions aren’t the kind of teaching I’m trained for and they leave me almost as worn out as June is when she gets home from school and I do need my alone time, but I was still happy she asked. It made the hour and fifteen minutes we’d spent together seem like something worthwhile.

*Not her real name.