Thursday, May 26, 2011

they didn't

"So, what is it that you do?" 

As a server, and particularly as a server dressed like a firefighter, I would get this question a lot.  "Surely," they were really saying, "that red shirt and black suspenders couldn't represent every one of your current ambitions."

"I'm in school," I would respond, with my bright server-smile and nod.

"Oh, wonderful," they would reply, with an even bigger smile.

(I never understood why people were so enthusiastic about my being in school.  As far as I knew, it was just what people did when they were my age.)

"What are you going to school for?"

"I'm a Humanities major."

"Oh." And then came that face they all made every time: the smile was still there, but I could always see right through it to the confusion or even skepticism.  The slight squint of the eyes is what usually gave them away.

"What will you do with that?"  I think they asked this for their own sake more than for mine.  They wouldn't be able to sleep that night if they knew there was a young person out there paying money (borrowing, even) for a degree in Humanities and no brilliant idea as to how they would earn that money back.

"I guess I'll teach.  Either that or be a very educated homeless person," and we would both laugh as I ran off to get them their sweet tea.

How is someone who has majored in Humanities (yes, in general) supposed to get a job?

This was a funny thing we martyrs of the universities laughed about with each other and I even used as a boilerplate server joke (I apologize to anyone holding onto the idea that their server makes up those jokes just for them).  

To be honest, I was never really worried about finding a job while I was in college. That could have something to do with being surrounded by so many others in the same boat.  We were like lemmings:  surely this wasn't any kind of suicide - there were so many in front of me and behind me.

In the fall of my senior year, I heard of this wonderful program called Teach for America.  Program.  What a lovely word, especially for a college student who, despite all of the quests for independence, would really like nothing more than for someone to tell them what to do.

As soon as I heard about it, I was sold.  I submitted my application in January and by February I had passed my phone interview and was preparing for my day-long interview in Knoxville - writing a lesson for high school students about the social commentary in Oliver Twist.

I chose this topic because I had written an essay on it during my semester in Oxford.  That's right, Oxford.  These interviewers had no idea what they were in for.  I had this. I knew I had this. This was clearly where my life was going. I needed the program and the program needed me. I would teach underprivileged children for two years all while earning a graduate degree, loan forgiveness and, gasp, a salary!  

The day on which I was to receive the email containing my school-assignment (where I would teach for two years), I was spring breaking on a large boat in the middle of the ocean, with no internet access that I cared to pay for.  I spent the whole week enjoying myself and wondering at the new life I would begin in only a couple of short months. 

As soon as the boat docked in Florida, I turned my phone on and called my mom.  I had given her my email account login information so that she could check the assignment for me.

"Hi Mom, we're back in Florida.  Where are they sending me?"  I had no time for small talk about islands and sunburns.  I could barely speak through my smile!  She didn't answer right away and my mind went wild with thoughts of the possibilities: Boston, San Diego, or even North Carolina.  Sure, it was less exciting, but at least I'd be near my family.

She still didn't answer me. It had only been a few seconds, but I was impatient.

"Mom?  Where did they offer me a position?"  I put my finger in my other ear, in case I just wasn't hearing her.

"They didn't."

Fast forward two months.

Location: A restaurant near my (parents') house, North Carolina

"Would you like toast or an English muffin with your omelet?"

"Oh, toast is fine.  So, are you in school?"

"Well, I just graduated a couple of weeks ago."



"What did you study?"

"Humanities, actually."

"Oh.  That's nice.  What will you do with that?"

"You're looking at it." 

We both laugh.  

"I'll be right back with your toast."

This post is part of a synchroblog.  Topic: surprise.
Fellow synchrobloggers' posts:
Years That Ask Questions
Surprise Ending
a whale

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

pince caspeen

"Caelia, I've already kept you up too late, I don't think we should read."  

Trying to reason with a six year-old works about 15% of the time, which is a good enough success rate to justify an attempt.

"But dad lets me and Rose stay up to read!" she protests. 

This would not be among the 15%.

"Okay," I say, but draw out the word with a sigh, so it is very clear that I am making a sacrifice here, "but just for a little while."

I scoot sideways into the bottom bunk next to her while she settles in with a flashlight and her chosen reading material.

"This is Prince Caspian, one of the Chronicles of Narnia."

As soon as she says it, my mind hurls a memory to it's forefront and I smile.

She was only about three at the time, and sitting on my lap in a movie theater.  It's one of my fondest memories of her at that age.

The lights dim and the previews start, but Caelia is not participating in the settle-when-it's-dark agreement between movie-goers. Not one bit.

"I'm fursty! I'm so fursty!" she "whispers."  For any of you who have heard a three year-old "whisper," you understand how the quieter they try to be, the louder they actually are.  (This phenomenon, unfortunately, does not leave us as we grow, but only manifests itself differently.)

Down the row comes the closest community drink cup (Yes, even now, no one gets their own drink cup when my family goes to the movies.) to quench her painful "furst," and, more importantly, to quiet her so as not to disturb our movie-neighbors.

Once the paper cup is in both of her hands, there is quiet, apart from the loud breathing and humming sounds, which escape between large, satisfying, three year-old gulps. I move in my seat, getting comfortable and squeezing her a bit, thinking, "How nice it is to have a three year-old on my lap.  She's so sweet." 

Silence interrupts my thoughts - the breathing, humming, and gulping has subsided.

"I'm hungy! I'm so hungy!" she, again, "whispers."

Down the row comes one of the two oversized popcorn buckets.

"Om, om, om, om, om, om," she says (yes, says) as she crunches away.  At this point, I'm even more concerned about the movie-neighbors - the movie has just begun.

"Caelia, you need to be quieter. People are trying to watch the movie," I whisper, considerately.

"I'm dust eating!  Dis is how you eat!" she retorts, apparently offended that I would accuse her of doing anything purposefully disruptive.

I can't really help but laugh.

About ten minutes later, she exclaims, "Who's Pince Caspeen?!", frustrated because the plot is not introducing/developing this character quickly enough for her liking.

Then there are the many lap-changes, demanded as she decides she is bored with her current seat.

"I want to sit with Unkew Mahco!" (Uncle Marco) she says, and we do as she demands - a movie theater is not really a place to start an argument.

Perhaps my favorite is when Susan (the character) tells one of her brothers to "shut up."  Caelia, shocked at the explicit nature of the dialogue, announces "Oh, she said a bad word!"  It takes me a while to figure out which word, exactly, is "bad."  Leave it to a three year-old to expose desensitization.

All of this played in my head until Caelia had finished reading a couple of pages to me.  Her eyes were tired because I really had kept her up too late.  She put the book away and pulled the covers up to her neck.  Then, just as she was starting to doze, and I was looking at her all sentimental-like, she wiped her runny nose with her hand and then, with the same hand, hugged my head.

What a shame it is that we, as adults, retain so little of that natural candor.  The older we get, the better actors we become.  We learn to eat and drink quietly; question, demand, and judge only in our heads; and use tissues, all so that the world can be protected from both our noises and from our runny noses.

My fellow synchrobloggers' posts: