Friday, March 12, 2010

Spring Break

In which we see Ms. Bradstreet experience an unexpected twist

The Maria Chronicles, #44

It is the Thursday before Spring Break, and Maria has been having a notably pleasant day. She likes Thursdays because she doesn't have any class first period, and if she arriv
es early, as she has today, it give her a nice chunk of time to accomplish something discrete. This morning, that means some lesson planning for after the break at the school library. As part of a week's worth of classes on the 1920s, Maria is leafing through a fabulous collection of bound periodicals that somehow remain in the library's collection even after this age digitization (and after an age of microfilm). She wants to find an advertisement or two that can be the basis of a discussion.

She's leafing through a 1923 copy of the Saturday Evening Post when she finds something priceless. "Just what is it to be a good wife in the modern age?" asks the headline for an advertisement for a laundry service. "Deep down in your heart -- deep in the heart of every woman -- is that eager, wistful wish to be a good wife -- a partner in your husband's plans, his cheery companion in leisure hours. You realize that in this advanced age your husband needs a mate as modern-minded as himself." Maria loves the Janus-faced quality of the ad; she knows the kids will laugh at the language, and yet its incipient vision of companionate marriage is one they will recognize and affirm (the woman in the ad is also wearing flapperish clothes). Should be good for a half-hour conversation easy. She photocopies the ad and then scans it onto her course website.

By now there's an assembly going on in the auditorium. Maria decides to skip it, the luxury of not having an advisory in which she has to keep tabs on a group of kids (this will presumably change next year). She goes to the faculty lounge and gets a cup of coffee. While she's there, she flips through a copy of Education Week.

Next, it's on to a department meeting. The agenda today is staffing for the fall. Actually, there's not a whole lot to talk about: for the first time in years, there is no anticipated turnover in the History Department. Maria is slated to have the same slate of classes next year as she did this year, which is fine with her. Her chair, Jen Abruzzi, does point out that final decisions are pending approval of next year's budget. But she assures Maria that she has no reason to think it will not go through. Maria thinks maybe she should be worried, but somehow can't quite work up the anxiety right now. She finds herself struck by this sense of equilibrium.

Since the meeting ended early, Maria has time to go to the women's room. She goes back to her desk, checks her email, and pulls out her cell phone to make an appointment to get her hair dyed and cut. Then it's off to her "Great Debates" class, where the discussion today will be about Ronald Reagan's role in ending the Cold War. The assigned reading is a chapter in the book Imperfect Presidents by Jim Cullen. It's not a great book, but the chapter is just the right size for a night's reading and a class discussion. Her son Evan gave it to her for Christmas a couple years ago; she photocopied the chapter rather than scanning it, fearing that if she didn't students wouldn't print or read it.

Then it's on to lunch. Maria joins Jen and Penny Perez, who are eating with Edie Wilson, who regales them with tales of the idiots she encountered on her last spring vacation in the Bahamas. This year she's going to St. Barts. Penny will be visiting family in Puerto Rico; Jen will be going skiing with her new boyfriend in Vail. Maria feels a pang of envy at all these plans. She'll be home, doing spring cleaning, grading, and, she hopes, hosting her friend Janice from Boston.

After lunch it's time to teach her survey class. On the way she encounters her student Derek Clark, who's coming up the main corridor staircase she's about to go down. She's about to say something to him when he smiles at her, and Maria is taken aback: this is the first time she's ever seen him give an unironic smile. "I'll be right there," he says. "I just have to drop off something at my locker."

Maria, smiling back, starts to say "That's fine." But her left foot covers a stray empty bag of potato chips the ninth grade history classes have been collecting for a science project. The last thing she remembers is a sudden pain in her ankle as she tumbles down the stairs.