From feeding talk, to sleep talk, to baby-proofing talk, the talk at the mommy table has now transitioned to preschool talk. It seems like all the good parents have applied to half-a-dozen top-notch preschools in the area.
What languages do they offer? Do they have Mandarin-immersion? Full-time? Montessori? Play-based learning? Science-heavy curriculum? Specialize in arts?
The questions skim past my ears, sounding more like a faint buzz than actual words.
I must be a bad mother. Not only is my 16-month-old not enrolled in preschool, his mother has yet to fill out a single application or even walk through the doors of one of these prestigious genius-manufacturing factories.
As the preschool conversations continue at the table, I let my mind wander. Memories of a distant past enter my thoughts.
2008, Grade 7
“Miss, can you get my pencil? I dropped it.”
I didn’t give his request a second thought, and quickly bent over to pick up his pencil on my way down the neat rows. The quiz was going to be over soon and I had noticed that Jen’s hand had been up for a few minutes. The boys at the back snicker loudly disrupting my quiet classroom. I shoot them a look. I realize it’s me they’re laughing at. These middle-school boys got a good look down my v-neck. I am disgusted. I make a mental note to wear turtlenecks for the rest of the school year.
2009, Grade 3
The minute the recess bell rings, the children run out the door like caged puppies. Dora is dawdling over by the coat hooks.
“Hurry up, Dora, recess will be over soon.”
“Mrs. Joshi, I want to ask you something,” she responds meekly. “Is it okay if I play with Nina at recess?”
“Of course, it is. I am sure Nina would love to play with you.” I smile at her innocent question.
“Okay. I just hope my mom doesn’t find out. She said that Indian kids are ugly and smell weird. I think Nina is really pretty and smells nice too.”
I am quiet for a few seconds, and don’t know what to say. I smile, and open the door for her to go play outside. I stare at her run off excitedly towards Nina, but I notice her excitement damper as she gets closer. Dora pauses for a moment as if reconsidering her decision. She turns around and walks away.
2010, Grade 5
“Nick, you are either staring at your crotch or texting under your desk. Whichever it is, please stop.” I am serious, but I shoot him a quick smile as I walk past him. I am trying to cut him some slack. Despite his deepening voice and 5-foot-7 stature, he is still a child.
He looks up at me. Picks up his desk and effortlessly tosses it in my direction. It misses me by a few inches.
“F*ckin’ b*tch is always on my case.”
“Leave. Now.” These are the only two words I can muster up. I am so incredibly angry, but I can’t let it show. It’s the response Nick is trying to elicit and I won’t give him the satisfaction of seeing that he’s succeeded.
The classroom that was buzzing with conversation only moments go has fallen eerily silent.
2011, Grade 7
I look at the clock to see how much time I’ve got left, and then glance back at my marking pile. Ten minutes. I opt to eat lunch instead. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a pair of gold glitter shoes whoosh by. I know the 11-year-old who wears those shoes.
I wait a few moments, and let out a heavy sigh. No lunch today. I walk out into the hall, and approach the girls’ bathroom. I knock on the door.
“Is anyone in here? You need a hall pass to be inside.” I wait a few moments, but there is no response.
“I’m coming in!” I wait another minute. Nothing. I walk in through the doors and see four legs in a stall. Two glitter shoes and two basketball shoes. One pair of feet has a pair of shorts around the ankles. One pair of legs is kneeling down.
2012, Grade 8
Minutes before I hand-out the lab sheet for today’s experiment, Penn makes a disruptive entrance into my Science class. He smiles at me. I don’t smile back.
“How nice of you to join us. Take a seat.” I am careful to ensure there is no kindness in my words – just direct instructions.
I glance over to the opposite side of the room towards a sweet, well-mannered boy who is sinking deeper in his seat. He avoids my gaze, and covers the large bruises on his arm. I have overheard the kids in the hallway. Penn is responsible for the large bruises. I am overcome with a deep sense of hatred towards the cocky, spoiled 13-year-old who just walked into my classroom.
My thoughts are interrupted with a little boy pulling at my leg.
“Mommymommymommy!” he shouts. I look down and my eyes well up. No matter how hard I try to avoid thinking it, the dreaded thought sneaks its way into my mind. What if it was my little boy?
No, I am not a bad mother. I have seen too much. I am simply a mother who is terrified to her very core.