Friday, February 11, 2011

A Gray Tooth Day

There are days when I don't think I am doing a good job. There are days when I don't think I am doing anything right. I question myself as a daughter, as a sister, as a wife, as a friend, as a teacher, and as a mom.

One such day that stands out most in my mind began on a day much like today. We were rushing to get out of the house in the morning and we were running late. Paul was little and I ran upstairs to go help him brush his teeth. That's when I noticed. He had a GRAY TOOTH ! I was shocked. I was in disbelief. How long had he had a gray tooth? Had it just happened? How had it happened? What was going to happen to that tooth? Would it fall out? Would it remain gray? I wanted to call the dentist right away but it was only 6:30am. I would have to drop him off at his caregiver's, head to work, and call in a few hours.

I got to school and felt shaky. I tried to put Paul's gray tooth out of my mind as my teens poured into my classroom at the bell. I started to greet them with the morning's agenda and suddenly my words got caught in my throat. I took a deep breath but the tears were already there. The room grew silent. I felt 16 pairs of eyes looking at me with confusion.

As I have done for most of my 20 years of teaching, I took a chance and spoke with honesty. I slowly told them about the start to my day. I quickly told them about Paul's gray tooth and of my insecurities as a working mom. It did not take long before I started laughing through my tears. Luckily, my students laughed too. I'm sure several thought I was a basket-case but that never had stopped me from sharing stories in the classroom before. I wrapped up my story and we moved on with the day's lesson. I'd learn later that day that Paul's gray tooth had most likely been caused by a bump to his mouth. The dentist was not concerned and said it would most likely fade back to its normal white color. It did.

Several weeks, if not months, later I had another rough day. I was moving about my classroom, trying to push aside my feelings to focus on work, but I had someone watching me closely. I forget what had happened to cause my distress but I do remember Danielle, one of my students who had been present the teary time before. Mrs. Walker? she asked smartly, Is this another gray tooth day? I immediately started nodding and laughing. Again, my class joined in and we all laughed. Nothing more needed to be said.

Having a "gray tooth day" would become a traditional expression in my classroom for many years afterward. Just when I think a class is not aware of the expression, I am surprised to find someone who remembers my story about Paul, a story I find myself retelling whenever I'm feeling out of sorts. Yesterday Ian used the expression and it caught me off guard. Ian smirked at me. I remember you telling us about this two years ago he said. Suddenly a few more students who I'd had as freshmen nodded in agreement. So the story was retold to their classmates who did not know. I do believe this tale will live on indefinitely.

There's nothing like a gray tooth day to remind me that my connections with my students, as well as my parents, my sister, my brothers, my husband, my friends, and my children, are real and have been built by taking chances with honesty. A good gray tooth day serves to show me that I am doing right by the people in my life. The insecurities will come and go but yes, I am doing just fine.

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