I’ve always had a lot of respect for authority figures. Police officers, military personnel, casino pit bosses—if someone’s wearing a uniform and holding a clipboard, they usually get my attention. Once I even let a strange woman at the mall sell me $50 worth of sparkly eye shadow simply because she had on a crisp, white lab coat and looked like a Doctor of Lip Gloss. It’s like I’m blinded by ID badges or something.
Of course, lately it’s become more and more difficult to hold all authority figures in high esteem, especially politicians. With all of the lying, cheating and swindling going on, not even their dogs want to listen to them anymore. But even so, I still try my hardest to respect the office even when I can’t respect the jerkface sitting in it. My pissed-off letters to my congresspeople are probably some of the nicest ones they’ve ever received.
But perhaps the person in authority I respect most, even more than librarians who scare the bejeezus out of me, is teachers. Throughout my entire school career, I always tried my best to be a good girl who listened, did what she was told, and never caused any trouble. For this reason, I’ve never been able to fully relax around a teacher. Even when my classmates and I would go have a beer with our professors in college, I usually spent the whole time worrying that they’d lower my grade once they found out I was the loser responsible for playing non-stop Gordon Lightfoot songs on the jukebox. (Although how someone can hate “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” is beyond me.)
Once my boys started preschool, I found myself having to interact with teachers on an almost daily basis, and needless to say, it hasn’t been easy. This isn’t because the educators aren’t wonderful—they are. No, the problem is all me. I’m so worried and freaked out that I’m going to say the wrong thing, that I’m going to embarrass myself, that that’s exactly what I do. I’m a 12-year-old nerd in a 40-year-old body.
For example, a few years ago when I went to pick up Jack at his preschool, his sweet teacher said, “Look! Jack has a lollipop in his pocket!” Now, a normal person might have responded with, “Isn’t that great?” Instead, I turned into a 70-year-old Catskills comedian and squawked, “A lollipop in his pocket? I thought he was just happy to see me! Whoo! Where my rimshot at?”
(I’m still assuming the tuition increase that followed was unrelated.)
Last fall when another teacher asked me about the book I’m writing, I could have just given her a simple, “Yes, it’s quite challenging work.” But no. No, good old Superdork hitched up her Old Navy capris and nervously blurted, “Oh, my God! Writing every day by myself is sooo hard! But at least now I know why most writers become insane alcoholics! Ha, ha, ha! Oh, not that I am. Insane, anyway. Hey, you like Hemingway?”
Of course, I’m happy that my awkwardness means I’ve never once been asked to volunteer in the classroom, but it also means I’ll never become the Teacher’s Pet Mom, either. You know, that one mom who always seems to be privy to the classroom news and who knows where the teacher likes to eat lunch on the weekends? Not gonna happen.
Just to prove it, here’s what happened last week on Sam’s class field trip to a farm: The day had been going fairly well and I’d already had a few good conversations with the teacher, as well as the school nurse, when one of the kids stopped and pointed to a plant on the side of the trail. “That’s poison ivy!” he yelled before running off to go hit someone with a stick. “Watch out!”
The three of us peered at the plant in question, trying to decide if the kid was right, then the teacher turned to me and asked, “What do you think, Mrs. Aarons? Is it poison ivy?”
“Well,” I stammered, “I’m not sure. I mean, I’m much more familiar with another plant that looks very similar to that.” Both she and the nurse stared at me questioningly, which then propelled me to go right ahead and dig my grave a little deeper. “You know, um, puh–hawwwtt? Um, mar-i-juuuu-ana? Doobage? Cheech and Chong? Ganja? Smokey-smokey? Can you please just say something so I’ll stop talking?”
As they continued to look at me with wide, confused eyes, most likely mentally composing the emails they’d soon be sending to the school guidance counselor, I finished up my babbling by saying that the only reason I even know what pot looks like is because my friend Leroy used to grow it in the basement of his fraternity house and sell it to the guys at the downtown pizza place. Then I turned bright red, muttered something about needing a glass of wine, and I hightailed it over to the horse barn where I hid behind my son and his friends for the rest of the trip. Chaperone extraordinaire.
Actually, now that I think about it, maybe it’s not such a bad thing that I’m in awe of ID badges.