Playing School

antique desk.jpg

During the same years my daughter was still young enough to believe pretend was a place to visit, she would hurry home from school to “play” school. 
She was the teacher. I was the student.
We owned an antique oak and cast iron classroom desk. It took two people to lift. An inkwell in its upper right-hand corner served as a history lesson. Carvings of initials, illegible hieroglyphs really, marked time on its surfaces.
My daughter conducted class from that desk. She stocked it with her very, very important school supplies and spent an inordinate amount of time opening and closing the lid; rustling papers, foraging for the perfect pencil, fiddling with an assortment of erasers.
She was all busy-ness.
Finally ready, she’d sit plank straight on the edge of her chair, clasp her hands together on top of the desk, swing her feet and begin.
“Okay class. Please take out a piece of paper. We are going to draw a picture of a lion. If you need more crayons, raise your hand.”
She spoke in a high sing-song voice, enunciating each word, sounding close to condescending and I wondered where she learned it.
“Now. Does the boy lion or the girl lion have a mane?” She said. “Do you know where lions live? Do they eat grass or monkeys?”
She asked a lot of questions. I was a good student.
“Let’s see, where do lions live? Well, I know they don’t live in New Jersey. Maybe they used to, but not anymore. Hmmm . . . maybe Italy? Alaska? No, lions don’t like snow. I know. Africa!”
“You are right. Very good. You get a star. Okay, now we are going to do math. Please take out your rulers.”
Patience is not my virtue. I loved “playing school” … for all of ten minutes.
“I have to go soon,” I would say.
“But we haven’t had reading circle yet.”
“Next time. Mommy has things to do.”
“Did you finish drawing the picture of a lion?”
“I’ll hand it in tomorrow.”
“Wait, there’s homework.”
“If you want to play school with me, you can’t give me homework.”
Every day, for a too short time, my daughter hounded me. “Mommy you wanna play school with me? Pleeeze.”
Her eyes — blue pools of hope and worry — melted any resolve I had into a hug I’ll call heaven.
“Okay,” I’d whisper in her ear, “ but only for a little while.”
Her joy flattened me.