One my students asked for help with her college essay during last period. I said I would help, but she didn’t have a physical copy on her; I told her to print one out and we could get to work. I left my classroom to meet with another teacher and the student was overly concerned with when I would return to my classroom. “I’m going to be on the 200 side,” I said. I met with the other teacher and before I could make it back to my classroom, I was accosted by the help-seeking student. She was standing with another student. “Where’s your essay? I asked. “It’s at your classroom where you said you’d be,” she said. Just in case the sass doesn’t translate in this space, I want you to know it was there. “Fine,” I said. I walked with the two of them back toward my classroom. “But wait, Mrs. Clare wants to talk to you first,” she said. I think I muttered something under my breath. It was getting pretty close to traffic time.
As the door to Mrs. Clare’s room opened, I saw streamers in the door way. “PEET-ZA PAR-TAY!” I shouted. I thought maybe I had stumbled upon some student government meeting with refreshments and possibly snacks and hopefully pizza. It’s happened before. When I moved through the doorway, I was stunned to see a mix of students and teachers. “SURPRISE!” they shouted. I looked around the room. I don’t think I said anything. “It’s your baby shower!” Mrs. Clare said. “What?” I said. I looked around at the decorations. It was real.
I was speechless. Instead of immediately enjoying the wonderful surprise, my mind did what it always does: take things apart. “Do you really need help with that essay?” I asked the help-seeking student. “No!” she shouted. I snapped back to myself. “Oh, you know what? You’re right. How foolish of me to actually believe that you could actually care about an essay,” I shot back. She laughed. “You right, mister, you right.”
Apparently the rest of the English department conspired to throw me the baby shower. They invited a couple of my long-time buddies on the staff. There was Coke and Sushi and BBQ pork sliders. I mean, three direct hits, right? Playing in the background: “Walk on the Ocean”, “Cherish”, “Linger”, “Call and Answer”, and “Interstate Love Song”; when the Cure’s “High” came on over the speakers, I felt a sting in my heart. I almost got teary. I love that song. The young women in Student Government contributed food (one of the girl’s mothers baked baseball cakes and pumpkin cupcakes – IN BLUE AND ORANGE CUPS), and planned and ran games: guess the size of Phil’s waist (bullying) and guess the crushed chocolate (fake feces in the diaper). You will never convince me that they didn’t choose the first game with the specific purpose of body-shaming me. Clever girls.
Not quite fourteen years ago I started at Damien at 22 years old and there was a pretty large group of teachers in their early 20’s to early 30’s. We went out all the time. Work was super-fun. But then time did its thing. Ron left and Dale left and so did Scott and Jo and Yarbs and eventually Hils and Biggers and Paulie followed then Chris and Mariel left at the same time, and by then I had a family and retreated into them. Limos and I are all that remains of that original group. Over time, for all these reasons, I stopped extending myself. I didn’t try as hard to be social. I chaperoned dances less and less until I stopped going completely. Same with prom. My participation in the baseball program became sporadic and I doubt I will ever go back. I am 35. I spent my best years at Damien – twice – for better and for worse.
Looking back on the set up of the baby shower makes me feel stupid. It was so obvious. The random text from Limos, the SG girls trying to make sure I didn’t leave campus. The random “I need help with my essay” plea. But it worked because never in a million years would I have expected a frickin’ baby shower. After school. Right next door to my own classroom. I mean, I know what it looks like, but I’m not pregnant. Who does that?
My English Department. My Friends. My students.
All of my fancy words will fail me. None of them will be able to express my shock and gratitude and how I was humbled to the point of embarrassment by all of your efforts. The best way I can put it is like this: Since 2008, we have celebrated my birthday as Madison’s birthday. By and large, I have gotten used to never being celebrated. I don’t mind, actually. But if I appeared to react oddly to your shouts of surprise, it’s because I literally couldn’t process what was happening. In the time since then, I’ve come up with so much I want to say, and I hope to say these things to you in person soon. My wife and I are grateful for your support. For now, just know that you all made a random Thursday – following three solid days of disappointment – incredible.