Enjoy this excerpt from the new novel by Evanston mom, Tracy Egan, based on her one-woman play, “Who’s Driving the Bus?”
This scene is called, “Meet the Teacher.”
“Who’s Driving the Bus? My Year as a Kindergarten Mom” is available at most local bookstores.
MEETING THE TEACHER
“Mrs. Slaughter, So nice to meet you I’m Jennifer Lansing, Emma’s mom. I’ve got a lot of questions for you!”
Relieved, suddenly, that I wore pants, I feel Emma’s nose pressing against my right butt cheek and the teacher sinks in front of me and addresses Emma through the space between my legs.
“Hello?” She says right to the zipper at my belly. “Is that Emma Lansing I see? Come out, come out wherever you are?” It’s too much. I turn, grasp Emma by the shoulders and switch places with my daughter pinning her in front of me. Mrs. Slaughter, still on one knee, gasps and brings her hands together again. “You are as pretty as a picture, aren’t you? I have crayons and markers inside. And I’d love for you to draw for me inside your new classroom.”
Because I tower over the scene, I am cloaked in invisibility and from this lofty position, I hear what is unmistakably my voice booming down over the two of them. “That’s great cause she loves to draw, really. Don’t you, sweetie. Why right before we came here she drew the most amazing picture with our whole family and even a miniature poodle . . . ”
Mrs. Slaughter has Emma’s hand and in one muscular swoop she stands and tugs. Her eyes are still locked on Emma’s face. “Em. Can I call you Em for short?” she asks.
“ . . . which is funny ’cause she wants a dog but doesn’t have a dog. Behind us in the picture is a rainbow, and the clouds in the sky of course . . .”
“Can you say goodbye to your mommy for just a few minutes while I show you around inside your new classroom? I love your dress. Do you like to wear dresses a lot? Me too.”
The soft click of the latch silences my tongue and I realize, staring at the blond wood surface of solid door, that I’ve been ditched. Dumped. That’s fine though. It’s fine . . . because there’s a little glass rectangle in the door and if I squash my face against it I can see them. I can see them and hear them a little. I press my cheek against the cool wood of the door and watch. Together they sit in tiny plastic chairs at a little, low table. As soon as she’s down, Emma buries her face in the comfort of her elbow. “Come on. Look up, sweetie.” I whisper. Mrs. Slaughter sneaks an orange crayon into Emma’s fist and gazes patiently at her, her chin in her palm. Through the door I hear the teacher ask Emma to write her name. And for a while no one in our strange triad moves.
“Come on Emma,” I whisper to the pane of glass in the door.
As if hearing me, my baby lifts her head and . . . shakes it back and forth. It’s not a defiant, “No.” But a “no” like, name? What name? Nobody ever said anything about a name before.
“Come on, Emma.” I coax loudly. My heart is pounding. Everything else but the little meeting on the other side of the door has fallen away. I might as well be in there. She’d be writing her first and last name now if I were in there. My hand encircles the knob. But I know that turning it would brand me one of those parents. No, I can’t push myself in on the meet-the-teacher day. There’ll be then an invisible H for hovering on my back and each time I entered the school I’d have to live up or down the perception.
“You can do this!” I squeal. My fingers squeeze into tiny fists.
Mrs. Slaughter leans close to Emma and says something. And after a minute, a smile creeps onto Emma’s face. She likes her! Relief cleanses me. They stand now and tour the room holding hands. Mrs. Slaughter gestures to a low bookshelf and then moves on along that wall and out of view.
“Hello?” It’s an urgent voice from behind that startles me. I feel instantly like I’d committed some crime, spying here. Whirling around I see before me, pacing, the suited woman who sat next to me at information night. Today her suit is eggplant. Its hourglass shape is secured at the waist with a large button. It seems too tight, and too much to ask of any fastener working alone. The look is completed with a skirt, hose and black wedge heels. I feel suddenly slovenly in jeans.
“Hi,” I say, extending my hand for the second time this hour.
Her eyes fly to me and when she turns I see the earpiece curled around her ear like a metallic snail.
“Not you.” She whispers, wagging a finger in my face.
“Hi. I’m here,” she says briskly, lowering her chin. “No. I’m just going into a meeting now. Have him shoot me an email and I’ll get back to him later, ’kay? Thanks.”
It’s been silent in the hall until now and her voice pierces through that peace like a ceramic blade. She pushes some buttons on her blackberry then shows her teeth briefly to me in a smile prepared earlier in the day. It’s wilted, slightly spoiled now when she pastes it on.
“Sorry, Mrs. Slaughter,” she says to me, while her fingertips tap at tiny phone buttons. “I’m Duncan’s mom. And this is my son, Duncan.” She extends her hand to me. I take it and endure one firm, chilly pump. Then she turns to the small antic boy in a red polo shirt whose hand is lost down the front of his khakis and spits fiercely, “Get your hand out of your pants!” The boy screws his face up at her – but removes his hand. I’m resolved not to shake it. Even if that’s what his mom directs us to do next.
“Hi. I’m not Mrs. Slaughter,” I say. “I’m another mom. I’m Emma’s mom. She’s in there with Mrs. Slaughter.”
Duncan’s mom clearly has no memory of me, so we proceed along as if we’ve never seen each other before. She looks down at her son and says, “Duncan you and EhEhEmma must be in the same Kindergarten class. EhEhEmma’s name starts with a what, Duncan?”
The boy’s face screws up into a stormy expression that broadcasts equal measures of effort and disgust. “I don’t know.” He stomps around as he answers as if he’s holding in a liter of pee. “An ‘A’?”
“No honey, an “E!” You knew that. Didn’t you?” The mother’s hands are on her hips. “Dashenka worked with you on “E’s” didn’t she?
“Is that a giwl in there?” Duncan whines and huffs. “Are there boys in my class too? Can I go in?”
And he does! He turns the knob and walks right on in there hauling his mother. They nearly collide with Mrs. Slaughter and Emma who are coming toward us.
“Emma, do you have any questions about school?” Mrs. Slaughter is bent again, oblivious to anyone taller than a dwarf or a five-year-old.
“Yes.” I am crouching to catch some leftover crumb of her attentions. “I do. I have a question. What time does school start?” It’s out of my mouth before I can catch it. Pushed out, no doubt, by the other, better questions crowding behind it.
Mrs. Slaughter ignores me. It’s not a bad thing. I want her to be attentive to my child; I just had no idea it would be at my expense. She looks Emma in the eye. I’m folded to their level, and still, she doesn’t see me. “8:55 is the first bell. So you have plenty of time to take off your coat and wash your hands before the 9:05 start. You know what they say about the early birdie. Do you like to get woken up early Emma?”
A hosed leg lands squarely in front of me and then the whole of Duncan’s mom eclipses my view of the teacher. The hand of Duncan’s mother swims in the air like a conductors, and she sings, “Excuse me, can we get going here? I’ve got the 2:30 time and I’ve got to get back to work.”
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