I’m standing in the classroom, stirring a fragrant broth loaded with vegetables, shredded chicken, garlic, spices, and pasta. The classroom I am borrowing is a somewhat-converted Home Ec facility: the stoves serving as counterspace, now, and counters cleared of kitchenware and hosting physics experiments and water testing equipment. Sinks and cupboards full of scientific equipment and rinsed Tupperware. A fridge housing God-knows-what. A dingy space but, as far as classrooms go, a fairly cheerful one. The teacher here loves his job and it shows in how he attends to the children in his care.
I come out every Monday to lead my son’s class through either a bit of arts-and-crafts – or, as in today’s case, cooking. I’d set forth volunteering to cook during Phoenix’s inaugural year, in the sixth grade. Parents who actually spend time in the classroom are as rare as ever. I think it’s because, although schools serve at our behest, they still feel like foreign territory.
This week’s Monday, however, the hot plate I’d purchased for my son’s class proves inept at getting a good boil of soup on; thus my return on a Thursday to finish the job – borrowing another classroom. A lot of driving back and forth to this rural little school but it is worth the effort, time and expense to support my children. The drive is a pleasant one, too. Often on the trip I come across a herd of about thirty Roosevelt elk – I’m so used to it I give them only a cursory glance. Until I think it through and realize many people in the world would be in awe at such a sight.
Finished now, I tidy the kitchen space, thank the resident teacher, and carry the large tureen through the hallways – carefully, arms out ahead so I don’t slosh on myself or the floor. I’ve the soup – which the kids have been looking forward to since Monday – and two loves of day old bread donated by a local deli. The class is happy to eat what they helped prepare – children will dine in a much more democratic fashion when included in the cooking work.
It is a cold and soggy day outside; as a few other classes filter out for a wet recess, I talk with my son’s teacher about her pregnancy – her first. I’m tired, but content to have a job to do, a simple one at that.
Tonight, finally – the last work of the evening, making a pan of homemade double-chocolate brownies at my husband’s suggestion. My son stands on a stool, putting clean and dry dishes away. “Mama, I love you. Who wouldn’t love you?”
“Oh… lots of people don’t love me. Don’t even like me.” The moment I say it, I know he will be shocked.
Sure enough: “What? Who? Who doesn’t like you? Mama?” Nels is amazed.
“Oh…” I tell him. Thinking of a few names. Then I say, “I can’t tell you. Because actually – I don’t know for sure.”
“Who wouldn’t love you?” He is less distressed than confused.
Then, when he sees I am still not forthcoming:
“Can you tell me a little bit, maybe just someone you guess might not like you?”
“No, Nels.” I am firm. “It’s not my business anyway.”
“Oh. … then can I have some cake batter?”
We finish up in the kitchen – I place the batter in a pan in the oven. Nels finishes the dishes.
Today was a good day.