Friday was the third anniversary of my mother’s death. I would have completely forgotten about it had the student I’m working with this year not asked me that afternoon, “Do you have a mother?”
The question startled me. It seemed like an odd coincidence he would ask it on that particular day, especially since he usually shows very little interest in other people, a symptom of autism. I answered truthfully. “She died three years ago.”
“She died? Of what?”
She was very sick and old. “Oh.”
Then, cheerfully: “What about your father?” Uhh, he’s still living but he’s old and sick too. I don’t want to talk too much about Dad because that normally leads to a discussion about why I don’t see him anymore. But my student dropped the inquiry so he could dig for dinosaur bones in the field. We had a discussion earlier about the land where the school had been built being very old, and it may have been the site of a Native American village or a pioneer’s cabin or…”Dinosaurs?”
Well, sure. So he’s been scraping the soil in the field behind the school, looking for fossils. This is fine, especially since it means we can sit in the shade of the few trees planted back there. The heat has been brutal these last two weeks, with afternoon temperatures in the high 90s. Why school has to start during the hottest part of the Central Valley summer, I cannot understand. On Friday it hit 102. I brought ice pops for the class that day, partly because it’s been so bleeping hot in the afternoons and the air conditioner is turned ‘way down to
torture us all save energy, and partly as a reward for the kids being relatively well behaved during lunchtime. Lunchtime in the cafeteria is normally bedlam, thanks to the lack of adult supervision. There have been days where I looked around the room and saw that I was the only adult staff member keeping order, which is like the little Dutch boy standing with his finger in the dike as a tsunami approaches. Where the cafeteria supervisor and staff goes during that time, I don’t know. The principal sometimes makes an appearance, but he doesn’t really do much besides glare at the screaming hordes at the tables.
Anyway, as I was passing out ice pops, the teacher told me not to give it to the one kid who got sent to the principal earlier in the week for kicking another kid in class. I was a little dismayed—call me a sucker, but it was so hot everyone was dripping with sweat, and denying this one student an ice pop seemed pointlessly mean. I mentioned that this same boy had been exceptionally kind to my student when he was struggling in the computer lab that day, but she brought out the if-we-make-an-exception-for-him-where-do-we-stop? reasoning. So I told the boy, no ice pop for you. His eyes teared up and Ms. Softy Sucker had to turn quickly away. Five minutes later, the teacher said “Wait….” The student got a blue raspberry ice pop after sitting through a lecture about appropriate behavior.
I treated myself to an orange ice pop. Nobody wanted orange, and I needed the sugar. I thought it was too bad there was no vodka in that ice pop, it was that kind of day.
Back to the anniversary of Mom’s death: in Japanese Buddhism the deceased’s family is supposed to hold a hoji, or memorial service on the third anniversary. ‘Memorial service’ is kind of a misnomer, since the purpose of the hoji is to make offerings to the Buddha and gain merit, which in turn gets transferred to the deceased, who might still be waiting in limbo because she doesn’t have enough merit to be admitted into Nirvana. (I don’t know why someone who can’t pay the merit toll doesn’t get detoured to hell. Maybe if you’re just a dollar short, they let you park in the overflow lot until your family sends you some extra change.) I haven’t been contacted in regards to any plans for a hoji, so either I wasn’t invited at all, which is fine, or nobody made an attempt to schedule one, which is most likely. Dad and my brother aren’t any good at making plans: that was always Mom’s job when she was alive. My sister probably shrugged and said, “Not my job.” I don’t feel bad: but it’s more evidence that we are not a family anymore.
I had coffee with a friend today. We talked about this book on climate change that my friend had been planning to read for awhile and had finally found at a used book store. (We’re both overeducated and poor, so these sort of things thrill us.) I talked a little about work and saved these two cars from backing into each other in the parking lot by screaming “STOP!” My friend chuckled and said, wow! you got lungs! I said I’ve had a lot of practice, screaming at kids.