I am re-inventing my January strategies and traditions. Because while January seems to me to be a series of dreary, cold low notes, I still hope to see many, many more Januarys; it would be ridiculous to simply endure them all, as if they were punishment. If I send optimistic, hopeful thoughts out into the universe, maybe they will come back to me as a dozen healthy, happy Januarys. I wish I’d thought of this strategy sooner.
Reeling with a severe cold that felt almost flu-like, I drove with my husband to the airport (again, again) on Sunday morning. We talked about essential things, the sort of things that blur my mascara. Good for Us, for sure, but not good for head colds. I kissed him goodbye, my body and soul mostly numb to the blow of parting. I was nearly a third of the way home when he called his own cell phone, which happened to be lying on the floor next to me in the van—unnoticed til that moment, to let me know he had forgotten it (the cell phone). So after my return to the airport to hand off the phone, and my drive again back home, I felt hectic and disheveled, with no time to get everything and everyone ready and off to church. Nora had bedhead, and Meisha’s hair looked just as gnarly, though she assured me she’d hit it with a comb. We were so late there was no place left to sit but the very front of the chapel (and I wasn’t about to go there).
I realized, as I sat with my children in the foyer, that I was probably too fuzzy to teach a class well. I was supposed (and thought til then I was prepared) to teach about Adam and Eve, and the gift of agency (the power to choose, a beautiful thing) in the Garden of Eden. To eight year old children. While the lesson manual was thorough in principal and detail, I worried about how to address it, in less than 40 minutes, to children just turned eight. All of whom would have to leave at some point to get a drink, and again to go to the bathroom, and then would want to tell me a personal, completely irrelevant-to-the-lesson anecdote. How would I explain Adam and Eve’s conundrum of choice in terms they would understand? Before their attention wandered? When my eyes were swimming with suppressed sneezes?
The lesson manual suggested an object lesson, where I would tie several small items to strings, all but one of them undesirable (I used my wedding ring as the one and only valuable). I would hide the objects in a bag, with the ends of the strings dangling outside the bag, and tell each child to choose something wonderful by pulling on the end of a string. Of course, they couldn’t see what they were choosing—that was the point. True agency requires knowledge about choices. In my frantic hurry to gather my object lesson together, I had grabbed an old tin soap box that I had rescued from my mom’s house one summer. It had been stashed with other effects (handkerchiefs, aprons, Mother’s Day mementos) left by my great grandmother Wilson, and that summer, feeling hopelessly deprived of heirlooms, I had clutched at it and its store of little nothings like a treasure. On Sunday, as my eye fell on it in my hurry, I saw it simply as a convenience. I had a vague memory of the nothings it held inside. And those were the other things I tied onto the strings as I waited in the foyer of the church. Two old buttons, a safety pin, a cheerio (swept off the table), a red plastic belt buckle, and a big, scarred, yellow tooth. The tooth was fascinating, surreal, delightfully gross. I was distracted by the tooth.
And a little dismayed to be introduced to my new teaching partner, the mother of one of the class members, when I walked into my classroom. I think under normal circumstances I would have been pleased, happy to make a new friend and happy for help, but I had progressed beyond fuzzy into dim with the head cold, plus I was still feeling the repressed aftershocks of parting with my husband for yet another week. She sat through the class, serene and unruffled as I clumsily traversed the intricate terrain of the Garden of Eden, bumping gracelessly between trees, fumbling tunelessly through scriptures. When we did the object lesson and she took her turn and pulled that nasty old tooth out of my purse by a string, she barely flinched. After that, she generously bailed me and the children out a couple of times with her lucid grasp of the story, a kindness for which I’m grateful. And one little girl put the final touch on it all by telling us (smug and darling) a tale so important she saved it for last: how her dad outsmarted Santa Claus.