I have a lot of things to be thankful for. The first, of course, is my son, who brings me a kind of happiness that just can’t be described in words. Quite simply, I worship him.
Another great joy in my life is my job. One of the most wonderful aspects of being a teacher is when I get the opportunity to see former students grow up to become happy, successful adults. As an 8th grade teacher, there are few things I enjoy more than running into the once awkward, moody, hormone infested teenagers that not so long ago sat before me in class and seeing how they’ve transformed over the years to become wonderful human beings with thriving careers and children of their own. The special friendships that I’ve formed over the years with some of these “kids” mean the absolute world to me.
Recently two of my greatest joys in life collided when I had the pleasure of running into a student who I taught during my student teaching experience 22 years ago. She’s now 34 years old and has not one, not two, not three, but four children of her own. As is the setting of so many of the fiascos that I find myself writing about, I happened to be at a store with Owen when the encounter took place. At the grocery store, in fact, where I was somewhat unabashedly trying to decide whether I should buy the Crunchy Taco or Four Cheese Lasagna flavored Hamburger Helper to take home and throw together for dinner.
It’s true. Nothing’s too good for my family.
Already plagued by guilt because I was, once again, planning to serve a meal from a box (my son once told one of my friends that he was super impressed that she made homemade cookies because his mother only made cookies from powder that comes in a box), I was trying to be patient with him as he chattered on and on and on and on and on and…on about his latest Pokemon card purchase. When the conversation about the cards reached the official 25 minute mark, I decided it was time to beg him to please, for the love of all that was holy and pure, stop talking, just for one darn second, so that I could concentrate on the Hamburger Helper. And no…the profound sadness of that statement is not lost on me, but a decision had to be made (taco or lasagna flavored seasoning packet?) and I simply was not going to be able to make such an important call if my mind was clouded with thoughts about Pokemon water type attack moves…it just wasn’t.
I can only imagine how ridiculous I must have looked standing there in that aisle while holding each of the Hamburger Helper boxes about an inch from my face. As it turned out, I’d forgotten my reading glasses in the car, and in order to read the mouth watering descriptions on the boxes of powdered goodness, I had to do what I had to do.
And that, unfortunately, is the position I was frozen in when I heard a familiar voice say, “Miss St. Louis?” Still holding the boxes in the air, I turned my head to see the world’s most adorable family standing side by side in the aisle beside me. The first thought that struck me was that each of the children, though very clearly different ages and heights, looked nearly identical. I couldn’t help but be reminded of a set of nesting dolls all dressed in beautiful cream colored shirts with different variations of blue plaid pants and skirts. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought they’d just stepped out of the cover shoot for Town and Country Magazine. The most interesting part was that two of the children were holding chapter books in their hands and were lost in reading. They hadn’t even looked up when their mom had stopped to talk.
I recognized my former student immediately, embraced her, and after a very quick discussion about how neat it was to be running into each other after 22 years, and a somewhat unexpected declaration from her that she was at the store looking for goat cheese for an organic recipe she was making (this revelation made the fact that I was still holding two boxes of Hamburger Helper all the more mortifying), the conversation turned to our children. She introduced all four of her beautiful little cherubs and they all smiled brightly and said their hellos. I commented on how impressed I was that two of them were reading in the grocery store and their mom assured me that reading was a passion for her children and then mentioned, as an aside, that they did not watch television or play video games. I would have started to explain my son’s limited exposure to video games, but the fact that he was standing there wearing a Minecraft t-shirt at that very moment seemed to speak for itself. Oops.
And that’s when the real fun began.
Realizing it was probably time for me to introduce my son, the one I just absolutely adore, the child who makes me proud in one million ways every single day, the same one I am always so eager to show off to the world…I was more than a little alarmed when I looked over to see him leaning up against a display of Rice-A-Roni, eyes lifted to the ceiling as if he were concentrating really hard on something, and while he was holding Pokemon cards in one hand, with the other he appeared to be using his index finger to drill holes into his head in a frantic circular motion.
What happened next is truly one of life’s mysteries.
The next thing I knew I was watching my child, who, because of the look on his face and the strangely contorted position of his body, looked more like a character from a Stephen King novel (you know, the creepy one in the insane asylum who’s crouched in the corner playing with a Jack-in-the-Box?) than a nine year old boy as he stood there twisting and turning a matted ball of his hair just above his temple.
Honestly, I would have been less horrified if he’d been picking his nose.
Thinking it couldn’t possibly get worse, I stepped toward him and asked, “Owen, what in the world are you doing?”
Are you ready for this?
With my former student and her choir of neat, clean, beautiful little angels watching intently, he removed his index finger from the knot he’d made in his hair to reveal a clump of brown gunk on the end of his finger. The very same finger that he then lifted to his nostrils and began sniffing.
Yes, I said sniffing.
When he was done taking several nice long whiffs, and with the brown stuff now outlining his nose, he held that finger out to me and asked, “Mom, does this smell like chocolate pudding to you?”
I can’t be sure, but I think I lost consciousness. The next thing I remember, my maternal instincts kicked in, and making the sudden realization that perhaps he was bleeding, I quickly grabbed his head and began looking for some kind of open wound. It’s going to make me sound like the world’s worst mother, but an open wound would have been more welcomed than what I found amid the mass of brown goop that was still dripping from his head.
Because what I found was a peanut.
That’s right. A peanut.
Though it took awhile, I eventually regained my ability to speak, and asked him where he thought he might have come into contact with chocolate pudding and peanuts over the course of his day. However, it seemed that he was as dumbfounded as I was and had absolutely no idea where he might have been in the general vicinity of either item. Seeing as we had been home together pretty much all day long, and knowing for a fact that there was no trace of either ingredient in our home, we were both at an absolute loss.
Completely flabbergasted, I decided that that moment was as good a time as any to introduce my son to my long lost student and her children. So, in as dignified a manner as was possible in a moment like that, Owen and I turned to look in their direction. The first thing I noticed was that both of the kids who had at one time been reading their books like their lives depended on it, now held each of the novels down by their hips as they stood wide eyed and gaping at my son. And while I’m not completely certain, I’m pretty sure the other three (mom included) took a few steps backward when we turned to face them.
Determined to have my moment to shine, I introduced Owen to the clan. To his credit, he was super polite…so polite in fact that he made the very valiant effort to swipe his index finger down the front of his Minecraft t-shirt in one long stroke to rid it of any excess pudding before reaching out to shake hands with my former student. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more proud of him, and I really mean it.
I’m also not sure I’ve ever seen a more awkward handshake exchanged between two people in my entire life.
On my drive home I recapped the events of the last 20 minutes. I’d had the pleasure of reconnecting with a former student, one who had four children, all impeccably dressed and well behaved, and one who only cooked organic meals for her family. She’d introduced me to her children who had smiled politely and then returned to the novels they were reading or waited patiently for their mom to end her conversation. In turn, she’d had the opportunity to reconnect with her former school marm, one who is 9 years her senior, one who clearly cooks processed meals from a box, and one who has only one child who wears t-shirts displaying video game icons and who finds ways to mysteriously acquire gigantic blobs of chocolate pudding and peanuts in his hair without having the slightest clue how it happened.
As many of my current 8th graders would say, “Seems legit.”
In all of my 42 years on this planet, I have never, not even once, thought that the combination of chocolate and peanuts was a bad idea. Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups? Oh yes, I’m a huge fan. Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies? Absolutely, bring them on. And finally, anybody who knows me can attest to the fact that I’ve always considered Dairy Queen’s Peanut Buster Parfaits to be the closest thing to Heaven this side of the Pearly Gates.
But chocolate pudding and a peanut in my son’s hair…in the middle of the supermarket…while meeting one of my former students? I just did not see that one coming.