As some of you know, I spent a good portion of my years in vet school regretting my decision and sure that I would have been much happier as a human doctor as opposed to an animal one. It’s been a gradual process, but over time I have come to realize that no, I actually did what was right for me. Had I chosen human medicine, I probably would have wound up in dermatology, prescribing Accutane to oily teenagers, or in pediatrics, looking down the throats of various runny nosed children.
It’s not that I dislike children, it’s just that I don’t really get them. The harsh realization of my lack of rapport with children has never been in evidence as much as it was this week, my daughter’s first week of kindergarten. On the first day, the teacher had posted a book for people to sign up to help volunteer in the classroom- thanks to California budget cuts, she was on her own with her 23 charges and needed all the help she could get. I looked at the sign, looked at the kids, and vowed to think about it.
On Friday, my day off, the one day I was available to help if I decided to do it, I walked in with my daughter just as the teacher was announcing, “If ANYONE can help, I REALLY, REALLY need it today.” The other moms murmured things about doctor appointments and work, melting into the background as the woman in charge of my daughter’s education for the next 10 months looked apprehensively at the sign on the chalkboard where she had neatly lettered, “Art Day!”
That is how I found myself pouring tempera paint into Dixie Cups instead of heading off for a long awaited pedicure. About 2 minutes into the process, the principal decided to have a fire drill, and the kids all filed out. I was left behind to catch any stragglers. Sure enough, a pigtailed little ragamuffin came wandering into the room not 2 minutes later, alone and confused.
“Hi!” I said to this pint sized stranger. “I’ll walk you to the fire drill.” She stared at me. “I’m Mrs. V.” (I try not to be too particular about titles with the 5 years olds.) “What’s your name?”
“Olivia,” she replied.
“OK, Olivia,” I said, “Let’s go.”
“It’s OLIFIA!” she said.
“O-LIF-EEE-YA.” Now she was annoyed.
“uh…O-lee-fee-ya?” This was about the time I wished I were back with the dogs instead.
“Ugh,” she said in the way only a 5 year old can. “Can’t you READ?”
“I can read,” I agreed, resisting the urge to say, “Can’t you ENUNCIATE?” which is again why it is good I avoided pediatrics. “Do you have a nametag or something?”
She rolled her eyes. Fortunately, at this moment a passing administrator swooped in to walk her the rest of the way to the soccer field. On the way back into the classroom, I saw a list of students, including one “Ophelia.”
Shortly thereafter, the class returned for a morning of painting. Herding kids is a lot harder than herding dogs. They don’t have leashes, for one. If you want one to come over, you can’t shout, “COME!” while gently tugging them by the neck. You have to call “Max!” while gently beckoning.
You get Max all ready, get him started on his painting, and assure him that his spaceship (or is it a house?) -no, it’s a giraffe- is lovely. Then when he is done, you write “Max” on his paper, only to have him look accusingly at you and say, “My name is Justin!” while the real Max sits crying forlornly in the corner since he missed his turn. All this while three other kids tug on your leg saying, “Is it my turn? Is it my turn? When is it my turn? Is it my turn?” The pack nearly took me down before the teacher strode up to rescue me.
When dogs get that loud, I put them in their kennel with a towel over the front of the cage. We lack that option in kindergarten, though the Time Out corner is somewhat equivalent, I suppose. I stood there flummoxed, wondering what the equivalent was of a kiddie citronella collar and if alpha rolls were verboten. I’m still not sure what the answers to those questions are.
Longest two hours of my life, let me tell you. What a relief to go home and have a nice, strict, structured dog training lesson with a compliant Brody who doesn’t disparage my pronunciation of his name. Or of anything, for that matter.