Thursday, July 30, 2009
Facing Forward by Robyn Sheridan
The holidays were usually my favorite time of year, but this year I was dreading them. I had only spoken to Grace on the phone in the weeks since our dinner, and our conversations were short and strained. We were both hurting and instead of being able to comfort one another, there was a wall between us. I also missed having a man around and desperately wanted someone to share my life with. I needed a shoulder to lean on, and I was feeling very much alone.
School was my refuge. I loved being with the children each day. They were so smart and full of life. They made me laugh, and I was grateful for each one of them. I had been conducting parent-teacher conferences, and it was intriguing to find out more about the parents of my kids.
On the last day of school before the Thanksgiving holiday, I had the last of my parent meetings with Emma’s dad, Ted. When he arrived, I shook his hand and said, “It’s nice to see you again, Dr. Manning.”
“Please call me Ted,” he replied.
“Then you must call me Jane. Have a seat. Let me first say that Emma is a pleasure. She is so well behaved. She is still very quiet, though, and I’d like us to work on that.”
“Does she interact with the other kids?” he asked quietly.
“Yes, but she is reluctant to join in the group on her own. She has to be coaxed a bit,” I answered.
“Is this something I should be worried about? I hate to sound ignorant, but this is my first child, and I’m at a loss with certain things. These are the things a mom is supposed to know how to deal with,” he said wistfully.
“No, no. I didn’t mean to worry you. She’s a lovely child. I just know that she’s been through a lot, and I want to help her.”
“Thanks—it’s been quite the challenge. When Annie died, I was caught completely off guard. Not only did I lose a wife, but I had to be both mother and father to Emma. Annie was a stay-at-home mom, and she knew everything about taking care of Emma. In an instant she was gone, and here I was left with a toddler who was missing her mother as much as I was.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat. “How did you get through it?” I asked softly.
“My mom came and stayed with us for three months, and eventually I got a routine together. But there’s always something to worry about.”
My heart was breaking for him. I wanted to reach out but reminded myself that he was the parent of one of my students. “Please don’t worry about Emma at school. She’s very close to Mattie, and I’ll make sure that she’s all right here.”
“Mattie and Jim have been so good to us. I was extremely grateful that Emma was in her class.”
“And just so you know, she is really bright. Look at this,” I said, pulling out an evaluation I had done on Emma. “I tested her, and she is already reading at a first grade level.”
He smiled, and said, “Annie was adamant about reading to Emma from the time she was born, and that was the one tradition that I made sure I kept up with.”
“It’s paid off because she is extremely capable of expressing herself. We’ll just work on getting her to be a little more outgoing.”
He looked relieved and said, “Jane, thank you for everything. This is new territory for me, and I appreciate all the help I can get.”
“Feel free to call me at any time if you’re worried or have questions.”
“I will.” He stood and looked at his watch. “I’m sorry I kept you so long. You must have some place to go.”
“Actually, I’m just headed home.”
He paused a moment. “Emma is with my in-laws, and I don’t have any plans. Would you like to have dinner? Or is that against the rules?” he asked awkwardly.
“I would love the company, but it probably wouldn’t be a good idea,” I said feeling somewhat disappointed.
“I didn’t mean to put you on the spot. It’s very quiet without Emma around. I need to go running anyway,” he said quickly.
“I’m a runner, too. Do you ever race?” I asked hopefully.
“I’m going to run the 10K on New Year’s Day. Are you interested?”
That was a loaded question. “Sure, can you send me the information?” I asked hoping I didn’t seem overly enthusiastic.
“I’ll email it to you. It starts and ends in the town square, and there are booths and games for the kids. It’s a fun time and even better in the snow.”
“I’m looking forward to it. Have a nice Thanksgiving.”
“You, too, Jane. And thanks again.”
When Ted left, I was full of mixed emotions—annoyed at myself for not being more professional, yet excited by the attraction. He had such a warm demeanor, and I wanted to get to know him better, but knew it was dangerous territory. I had made so many bad choices. I didn’t need to make another.