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Saturday, August 29, 2009

4 days down, 176 to go

The youngest is lying on the loveseat in the den. He agreed to eat some bacon, and he's doing so slowly in between moist coughs. Having new classmates equals making new friends, but it also equals enjoying new germs.

It's just some sort of coughy virus some other classmate has, I'm sure. Or rather, I think; I haven't actually seen his classmates, as the new teacher stands outside the classroom door and greets each student then directs the child to his or her desk, deftly separating the child from parents with no drama but with complete authority. It's terribly easy on everyone.

And so day before yesterday, the oldest and the youngest and I stood a few steps down the incredibly noisy hall saying our goodbyes at the place where the oldest turns away to go downstairs to his classroom. As always, the oldest turned around one last time before leaving us and signed, "I love you." I signed back, "Thank you, and I love you," while beside me the youngest signed, "I love you," while sort of sing-saying the same.

And as the oldest disappeared into the stairwell, a disdainful voice behind me said, "Oh, God. You're not going to be doing that thing with your hands again this year, are you?"

That thing with your hands. If your stomach just fell, good. So did mine at the time.

I turned to see a woman I don't actually know, whose child I couldn't point out though I know he was a kindergartner in a different class last year. All last year she studiously avoided any friendly smile of recognition I gave if I passed her in the hall.

And I looked at her in shock and said, "My son is hearing impaired." A wave of horror and shame swept over her face, and she said, "Oh, no. I did not know that. I am so sorry."

And the awkwardness of that moment was almost crushing. Every bit of my Southern upbringing, with its emphasis on graciousness and hospitality, has taught me that in those moments I should smile and say, "Oh, it's OK," or some such, to put the other person at ease. But you know what? It's really not OK.

And so I just looked at her without speaking for what seemed like an hour but was probably seven seconds. Then I turned away and walked the youngest the few remaining feet to his classroom, to his smiling teacher, to a swim in the new germpool.
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