Chapter Description: Clark starts Center Rotations in class.
“This is our schedule,” Ivy told me pointing to the painter’s stick hot glued to the far wall. “It tells us what we’re gonna do an-”
“I know, Ivy,” I interrupted. “I know.” Ten painter’s sticks were glued to the wall. A strip of fuzzy Velcro going from top to bottom. At the top of each stick was a given Little’s picture. Beneath the picture from top to bottom were laminated card symbols stuck to the Velcro. Unlike the Amazon grade tapes holding my diaper on, even a Little could pull the laminated shape off.
I ripped the upper most symbol above my pouting face. It took me a second to realize where the photo had come from. It was close cropped, laminated and the background was cut out, but from the look on my mug, I guessed it was from my first morning in Janet’s bathtub.
Lovely. Just lovely. Typical.
“So this is a red circle,” I continued. “That means I’m supposed to go to the table or work station with a red circle, right?”
Ivy grabbed her own red circle, beneath her smiling portrait. The card stock was thick enough and laminated enough that even a Little who’d lost most of their fine motor skills could manage to peel the shape off without doing too much damage. “That’s right!” she beamed. “How’d you know? Do you got sidekick powers or something?”
I didn’t know whether the malapropism was a weird language barrier leftover from her time in Yamatoa, or whether her vocabulary had been that far regressed to the point where she couldn’t say ‘psychic’.
“No,” I told her. “I just already know.”
A visual schedule is a great tool for young children. The student doesn’t need to be able to read since they’re just matching up an emblem from the paint stick to the emblem at a table, workstation or play area. They don’t have to be time or number literate either or have great tracking skills. Just take the top emblem off first, and when it’s time for the second activity, it’s the new top emblem. And because of that, a teacher had the ability to move children around in differentiated groups depending on the activity, and once trust was ensured, students could work independently and in small groups.
“Who told you?” Ivy asked. “It’s my job to help you out today. Mommy said so! Was it Chaz? I bet it was Chaz!”
I frowned. “Mrs. Beouf taught me,” I said. “Years ago. Back when I was...”
Damn. I’d just made myself sad.
Speaking of which, “Ivy! Clark!” I looked past Ivy and saw a too friendly Beouf waving us over to her kidney table.
I walked from the schedule wall over that was adjacent to where the circle time area had been and over to the kidney table. A plastic mesh basket waited for us, and I threw my card inside, grabbed a chair and sat down.
So weird. Unsettling even. Different and similar.
Her room was nearly identical to mine in how it was set up. She had her table to work with ‘students’. Zoge had hers. Between them and off to the side was an unmanned table with some kind of independent activity to work with. To Beouf’s left was a built in toy shelf with painters tape marking the boundaries of a play area. To Zoge’s right was a nook filled with bean bags, stuffed animals and well worn books for quiet reading.
Up on the board where circle time was held, was a timer: A red circle that gradually wound down before beeping. To know how much time was left was just a matter of glancing at the slowly expiring circle.
Speaking of time, the room had a kind of clockwork precision. Billy and Jesse dumped out some collection of puzzle pieces at the independent workstation. Mrs. Zoge was doling out clay to who I would learn was Shauna and Mandy. Tommy and Sandra Lynn made themselves comfy over by the books and beanbags, preferring to cuddle and snooze than actually read. Chaz and Annie crawled and played with dolls, blocks and toy trucks to my right.
People talked, but it was that organized non-disruptive talk that you only get in a well structured setting. It was only the second week, too. If I could have gotten my own children to be this disciplined by the end of October, I’d have called it a miracle.
But oh yeah, many in Beouf’s caseload had been here for several years; more than long enough to internalize routines and expectations. Oh yeah, and we weren’t actually children. Oh. And my students were actually learning, not being forced to pantomime the steps so that insane Mommies and Daddies could play house with us forever.
My so-called mentor only had to pretend to do what I actually did for a living. That made me angry. Good. Angry felt stronger than sad.
Angry or not, sitting down at the teacher table was weird. I felt weird and out of place, and for once it had nothing to do with the diaper...though just thinking that made me scoot in more. I’d lost count of how many times I’d sat in one of these chairs, almost directly across from where Beouf was now sitting. But the things we talked about wasn’t colors and alphabet sounds or whatever she was about to shove down my throat...
“Here you, go.” Ivy slid a plastic bottle over to me. “For you.”
I looked at it. True enough, it had my name written on it in permanent marker. Might’ve been the bottle that had been shoved in my mouth last week. “Thanks? But I just had some milk at breakfast?”
“You carry it with you,” Ivy giggled. “Our bottles are at our first tables every morning. We carry them with us. It’s so we can have a drink whenever we get thirsty since we can’t reach the sink.”
I looked to Beouf. She was busy sorting cardboard squares into even rows. A memory game of some kind. She nodded without looking up.
That was something different. I didn’t have that equivalent in my room. I shifted and heard soft plastic rustling beneath my bottom. I wasn’t trying to get my kids to pee themselves on the regular, either.
Ivy took a sip. So did I. I wasn’t getting pants put back on me until my diaper was changed again. And I had the lingering suspicion that it was possible to be wet but not ‘wet enough’. How awful would it be, being marched back out in public with a drooping diaper swinging between my thighs with every step?
Might as well load up. That and some part of my own muscle memory associated having something in my hand when sitting at this table. It was no coffee cup, but...
“Ready to play connection?” Beouf asked.
Ivy bounced in her seat and clapped her hands. “Yes yes yes yes! I love this game!”
I took another sip from the bottle and swallowed my disgust. I had the distinct feeling that Ivy would love everything we did today.
“Is it like memory?” I asked.
The Amazon nodded. “Yes. A lot like memory. You flip over a card and look at it. Then you flip over another. If you find a picture that goes with the first, you get a point.”
I spared Ivy a glance. She was still in her own world, excited to find a game to play. “So...like a postal worker and an envelope?” I asked. I’d done similar games when teaching basic community social studies. Fireman went with a hydrant. Police officer went with a squad car. An EMT went with a hospital.
“That’s one example.”
“Or a choo-choo train and a bird!” Ivy said. “Or a rocketship and a trombone! Or a dog and the color green!” Ivy was proof that you don’t have to be good at something to like it.
“Clark? Would you like to go first?”
Nothing left to it but to do it. “Sure.” I reached out and flipped over the first cardboard tile. My skin started burning. “A safety pin…” It didn’t matter that babying technology had well advanced beyond the old pin and folded cloth, the association was still there. I hadn’t seen what the other tiles were, but I had the sinking feeling that I’d be forced to sort through rattles, and cribs, and cartoon babies whose ages were counted in decades…
I grumbled to myself and flipped another tile over. A bright yellow wedge of cheese greeted me. How about that? Satisfaction at losing. “Nope. No match.” I flipped them back over and shrugged at Beouf.
My former friend seemed bemused. Leave it to an Amazon to think that random chance meant lack of skill. How typical.
“Awww,” Ivy said. She gave me a pat on the back that almost hurt. “That’s okay Clark. You’ll do better next time.”
She reached for the same tiles that I’d just flipped over. “Safety-pin! Cheese!” It was a common mistake that my three year olds made the first time they played memory match games. They’d just copy whatever one of my four year olds did instead of experimenting with new options. This was going to be a long game. “I got one!”
I did a literal double take as Ivy took the pair of tiles and stacked them together as if they were a match. “Good job, Ivy!” Beouf said. She took a chalky tablet from a nearby candy dish and popped it right into Ivy’s mouth. “You’re so clever!” Ivy practically purred and chomped down on the pill. She grabbed her bottle of water with both hands and took some gulps.
Like the Vye-king god Thore, she practically slammed down the bottle back on the table. She might as well have been spiking a football and doing a touchdown dance. I raised my hand slightly above my head, but didn’t wait to be called on. “How is cheese and a safety pin connected?”
Bouef looked over to the mindfucked Little doll. “Ivy?”
Ivy picked up the tiles and practically shoved them in my face. “See the holes in the cheese?”
I jerked back. “Yeeeah?”
“See the pointy end of the diaper pin?”
“The pointy part poked the holes in the cheese!”
“That’s right!” Beouf beamed.
“But why didn’t I get to keep those?” I asked.
Beouf explained to me. “You didn’t make the connection.”
A new dawn of understanding came to me: Bullshit. This game was utterly bullshit. It was a game of bullshit that encouraged you to make bullshit up and bullshit with the utmost confidence. Which in a weird way made sense to me. Why teach Littles facts and object permanency and memorization exercises when they’d never get to use those facts.
“Can I try again?” I asked Beouf. “Or is this a make it take it situation?”
“It’s your turn,” she said. “If it was make it take it, Ivy would never stop and get allllll the candies.”
“Oh..” I said. “Yeah.” Duh. Shame. Would’ve been nice not to play. Not an option though. Janet would get a report at the end of the day.
I flipped over two tiles. It didn’t matter which two. “A sponge and a vacuum cleaner…”
Ivy’s hand shot up. “Oh I know, I know!”
“Wait your turn, baby girl.”
The sponge and a vacuum cleaner. Something that I might’ve wished for during the first round. Easy enough. Both were household cleaning implements. But now that I knew the rules...I wondered.
I licked my lips and faced Mrs. Beouf. .“The household cleaning sponge is based off the oceanic variety whose filter feeding system could be argued to be a basis for a vacuum cleaner’s own filtration.”
“Very good, Clark! Two candies!” Two more chalky bits; one white and one pink came to me and I reared back. Beouf paused. “Okay okay. One for me. One for you.” She popped the pink one into her mouth and bit down. Wincing a bit like she’d just taken a bad pill.
As if to prove something to me (which she did) she stuck out her tongue and showed me the dusty residue left on the middle of her tongue. I held out my hand. The white one. “Pink one, please?” Beouf rolled her eyes and picked a pink one out of the dish of treats. “They all taste the same.”
It wasn’t the taste I was worried about. I was going to pee my diaper before lunch if I wanted to get my shorts back. Didn’t mean I wanted some kind of spiked candy to make me completely incontinent by daysend.
I bit down on the pink and just like Beouf, I winced. It was somehow both sugary and bland at the same time. The chalky aftertaste wasn’t great either. Beouf didn’t wince just because this was sugary and her Amazon tastebuds hated it. She winced because it was just generally bad candy. I grabbed my bottle and took several pulls from it. The cool water washing the aftertaste away was a bit akin to drinking milk after eating a pepper. It lessened the aftertaste, without completely getting rid of it.
A way to ‘reward’ Littles with sweetness while encouraging them to hydrate.
“You got two?” I put down the water and looked back to Ivy. There was a fire in her eyes that I couldn’t remember seeing before. Not angry. Just intense. She looked back to her teacher. “My turn?”
Ivy flipped over the tiles. “The color green aaaand a tuna sandwich.”
I crossed my arms, sat back in my chair and waited to be regaled about lettuce or something or how tuna turned green if left in the fridge too long. I was wrong. “Algae is green and plankton feed on algae and tiny fish eat the plankton and the tuna fish get gobbled by us as a sandwich.” Ivy exhaled. “The circle of life.”
“Three points!” Beouf praised. Ivy opened her mouth and let the three little tablets be dropped right in her mouth. She crunched down and chugged at her bottle. Her eyes looked past it and to me.
She hadn’t said it. But the message was obvious.Game on.
“Okay Clark, your turn.”
I chose two more.. “A blackbird and a desk?” I chewed my bottom lip. “A blackbird and a desk…”
“Anything?” Beouf asked.
I threw a look at Ivy. She was giggling behind her hand. “I’m thinking...I’m thinking...is there a time limit?”
“Not really but-”
“Mrs. B?” Ivy interrupted. Her hands were by her stomach. Her face was contorted into a harlequin frown. She hadn’t been giggling, after all. She made a fist by her belly button and pointed up to her face; sliding her hand up until her pointer finger touched her chin.
Beouf stood up and reached across the table. “Drank too fast, huh?” She picked up Ivy off the ground. “I gotcha.” She started to pat Ivy’s back and sway a bit. “Come on. Let’s get it out.”
Burping. A woman almost my own age just asked to be burped. I looked away and forgot the glimpse of an adult I’d seen with her food chain answer. A discomfort that had nothing to do with my intestines grew with every little ‘urp’ I heard.
Over at Zoge’s table, some kind of arts and crafts project was being done with clay and what looked like food coloring. The puzzle that Billy and Jesse were working on seemed magnet based and three dimensional. For the longest time, I’d suspected that the Littles in Mrs. Beouf’s room did the exact same thing as my own students. And to a degree they did...but to a degree they didn’t...
At least Hell wouldn’t be boring...
“Clark?” Beouf called me back to reality. She’d finished burping Ivy, and added a pacifier clip to Ivy’s dress. “Did you make a connection yet?”
Shit! Black bird? Desk! Black bird...desk. Bird? Wood? “The bird sits in a tree that gets turned into a table..that...?” It didn’t sound good coming out of my mouth. I hated it. It was like a riddle that I couldn’t quite solve, and like any good riddle, you knew.
A shadow fell over me. “How is everything going Mrs. Beouf?” My heart stopped beating for an entire three seconds. I’d heard that voice too many times before.
I looked up. Towering over me was a grim gargoyle, a skeleton of a woman. Even her smile, prim, proper, and polite as it was, didn’t hide a barely simmering malice just behind the eyes.
Even now, on what might be the worst day of my life, I hated being so close to Principal Brollish. Her legs were touching my chair, practically pinning me up against the kidney table. And I couldn’t even vocalize that disgust because of the faint bit of carrot dangling over my head.
Melony Beouf seemed unphased. “Doing well,” she said “just getting into the routine, ma’am.” It was the second week of school. Teacher observations, scheduled or otherwise didn’t happen nearly this early. “Anything I can help you with?” Beouf’s smile didn’t quite reach her glasses, either. And while polite, her tone had an implied ‘quit interrupting me and let me be’ to it.
Like as not, I was just imagining that particular bit of subtext. Amazons were Amazons, through and through. Yet better the monster I used to like than the one I’d always loathe.
“How did the new cafeteria equipment work out?” Brollish asked.
“Very well, thank you.” Beouf said. “Thank you for managing to get it for us.”
“Of course.” More phoney smiles from Brollish. “Your students deserve all of the support that their same maturity peers get. We’ve got new playground equipment too. I think I can have maintenance deliver and set it up for you during their naptime.”
“Thank you very much.” Again, I could swear there was an implied ‘go away’ in there somewhere. Maybe I was just projecting….
“It’s been something I’ve been meaning to do but just got wrapped up in other things. You know how it is. Testing. Organizing. Meetings. Union issues. All the little distractions.” Translation: “I’m bribing you now that Clark is a baby and not your coworker. Let’s keep it that way.”
Beouf nodded, noncommittally. “Of course. You’ve got a lot on your plate” She tilted her head and called over. “Mrs. Zoge? How much time do we have left before center rotation?” Hint hint hint!
“Timer’s about halfway through, ma’am.” Hintety-hint-fucking-hint!
“How’s Clark adjusting?” If I’d had any hair on the back.of my neck it would have stood on end. I hated having my name on that witch’s lips. “I heard that he might have had a tantrum in the cafeteria this morning.”
I wanted to have a tantrum right then. Or at least open my mouth and advocate for myself. Ivy tapped me on the hand. She was sucking on her pacifier, her eyes alight with panic, and her finger pressing where her lips would be. Grown-ups were talking to each other...or the boogie woman was in the room. Best to shut up when someone wouldn’t listen.
Beouf made a show of looking thoughtful. “Not really,” she said. “No more of a tantrum than any of my kids on their first couple of days. Better than a lot.” I wanted to erupt at that. Ivy kept sucking on her pacifier and pantomiming with her thumb on where I should stick mine.
Self-soothe. Keep quiet.
“No throwing food?”
“None. Ate up all of his breakfast and he’s drinking from his bottles.”
“Has he been changed yet? Any resistance there? Any escape attempts?”
My ex-mentor put her hand to her mouth. “Mrs. Zoge? Any problems changing Clark this morning?”
“No ma’am. He was a perfect Little Angel once I laid him down.”
More pacifiers being popped into mouths all around me. Thumbs substituted where manmade soothers weren’t available. Snickers were muffled and blushes of sympathy were distracted from. Self Soothe. Keep quiet. Don’t let the giant grown-ups know what you were thinking. A purposefully taught behavior or a nervous tic quietly encouraged and reinforced? I didn’t want to find out.
“Good,” Brollish said. “I’m glad everything is going smoothly. I’ll leave you to it.” She didn’t leave through the classroom’s front, however. Quietly, she opened the back door, the one that used to lead to my classroom. It still did; it just wasn’t mine anymore.
A shrill scream from a child pierced the air before she managed to close the door. One of my kids was crying, though for the life of me I couldn’t tell which. I wasn’t used to hearing children cry; least of all mine.
I reached over and drained the baby bottle of water, wishing it were vodka..
“How is a raven like a writing desk, Clark?” Beouf asked, refocusing on the game.
My head wasn’t in it. “Pass.” And I’d be damned if I wouldn’t have welcomed a hug from either Ivy or Beouf just then. But I’d be double damned if I’d have asked for one. “Ivy’s turn.”