“She was bornded on the same day as me!” Shayla chimed in, “On number 23. I was bornded on the number 23 too, but in February and Mrs. ‘P’ was bornded on the number 23 in March.” She grinned at me revealing a gaping hole where two teeth used to be. In fact, most of my lunch table companions were missing at least two teeth.
“Were your there when Mrs. ‘P’ was borned?” Jacob asked.
“I remember it well,” I replied as pictures of the delivery room danced in my head. Mrs. ‘P’ was refusing to be bornded so the nurse was straddling me pushing on my belly as a last ditch effort before rushing me to surgery for a “C” section. Luckily, the nurse’s Herculean efforts paid off and Mrs. ‘P’ was bornded - only back then her name wasn’t Mrs. ‘P’; it was Jennifer. “I’m Mrs. ‘P’s’ mommy,” I explained. “So, I was there when she was born.”
“Mrs. ‘P’ has a mommy!” Josh exclaimed. Some of the more worldly children at my table patiently explained to Josh that everyone has a mommy - even Mrs. ‘P.'
The reason we were all discussing Mrs. ‘P’s’ birthday is because she just celebrated her twenty-fifth birthday a few days ago. In the world of seven-year-olds birthdays are ranked first in the top ten most important life events; followed closely by losing teeth.
“So,” I asked my table of munchkins, “can anyone tell me where all your teeth went?”
“The tooth fairy took mine,” Elizabeth yelled from the end of the table. Even though she was yelling, I was finding it hard to hear her over the chatter of the surrounding lunch tables. It didn’t help matters when they all started talking at once; "I got five...once I lost three...the tooth fairy left me...dollars...teeth...a note...at once...when I fell off my bicycle."
As the children clambered for my attention, I glanced over at Jennifer who was sitting at another table eating lunch with the rest of her class. The chatter going on at her table was as lively as mine. I had to smile as I observed the adoring faces of the children surrounding my daughter. It seems like only yesterday she was sitting on the floor of her bedroom with all her stuffed animals surrounding her. I remember vividly one particular day: She was telling her furry kindergarten class the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. She couldn’t have been more than five herself - in fact I think she was still in preschool. She had set up a makeshift chalkboard (a piece of cardboard), and she was holding her pointer (a stick from our yard). By her side, she had a box of stickers (a must have for all kindergarten teachers). As she told the story, she periodically pointed to the invisible scenes on her chalk board while asking questions of her well-behaved students. I noticed that most of her stuffed animals were covered in “great job” stickers - all except one. Then, I discovered why. I didn’t know that Jennifer was aware of my presence in the doorway until she turned to the stickerless dog and sternly informed him that the principal was here to get him. I took that as my cue and entered the classroom. “Miss Jennifer,” I said in my dour principal voice, “Do you have a student who is misbehaving?”
“Yes,” she replied, “Will you please take Jason to the office and call his mother? Tell her that Jason keeps interrupting our story.”
“I will,” I said gruffly as I took Jason by the paw and escorted him out of the room.
Jennifer is married now to a Jason (who I’m guessing was as well behaved in school as the Jason I escorted out of her classroom twenty-some years ago). I still marvel at the fact that she has never wavered from her dream of becoming a teacher. She would come home from school and play school. Even on weekends she would play school. In fact, the neighborhood kids would send their stuffed animals to Jennifer’s school! Jennifer didn’t “become” a teacher. Jennifer was born a teacher.
Now, I have the privilege of volunteering in her class (and I don’t even have to play the part of the gruff principal). Today, as we were walking to the lunchroom, I noticed how happy all her students were. They didn’t walk to the lunchroom, they bounced, hopped, skipped, spun and laughed. They weren’t misbehaving in line; it was just a happy line. I commented to Jennifer that they were a merry bunch. She laughed and said that she’s been told by a lot of teachers that her class has become transformed since she took over. The previous teacher became ill and had to retire in the middle of the school year.
Mrs. ‘P’ didn’t fly in like Super Woman, and she doesn’t even wear a cape but, to her students, she is a hero. Her classroom is a place of joy where the children feel safe and loved. She’s my hero, too. She has grown into a beautiful, kind woman who I have the honor of calling my daughter.
We were getting up from our lunchroom table when I heard a voice at my side, “Are you Mrs. ‘P’s’ mommy?” I looked in the direction of the tiny voice and saw a small child who must have been about five. “I want to be in her class when I grow up,” The voice continued, “because she is the bestest teacher in the whole school!”
Most of us can point to that one teacher that had a profound impact on our lives. I know Mrs. ‘P’s’ students will remember her for years to come. She may even be the “bestest teacher in the whole world” to that one child who just needed someone to care. Perhaps Kyle summed it up best as I sat next to him during reading instruction. “Before Mrs. ‘P’ came, my reading was broken,” He confessed. Then he grinned proudly and pronounced, “But, she is helping me fix it. She is fixing all my broken spots.”