| Calligraphy |

On Your Mark

I press the pen hard between my fingers as I note this next to Rivky’s name. How do they all know everything about everyone?


Mrs. Fertig has a mug with the words Your Principal Is Your Pal sitting on her desk. I remember staring at it back when I sat here for my interview last spring, wondering if she meant it to refer to the students or the teachers. Right now, Mrs. Lipshitz and Mrs. Engel, the other second grade mechanchos, certainly appear at ease with the principal, making small talk about their families’ Succos experiences. I pull on a strand of hair and cross my ankles awkwardly.

“Chavi.” Mrs. Fertig turns to me, and I give a little jump. I see Mrs. Lipshitz hide a smile, and I want to melt in shame.

“Why don’t we start with you? Let’s get an update on your students. How have they been adjusting to the new school year, now that we’re post-Yamim Tovim?”

I uncross my ankles and pull out a notepad. Mrs. Lipshitz throws Mrs. Engel a tiny smirk, and I stiffen. What? Does writing down my notes scream “new kid on the block”?

“Sima Beigelson,” I begin. “A sweetie. She’s having some trouble with kriah, but I’ve been in touch with her mother about it. They said they’re getting her tutoring. I don’t know if they started yet, I’ll have to follow up.”

“Oh, trust me, they started,” Mrs. Engel says knowingly. “Esther Beigelson is very on top of her kids’ academics.”

I make a note next to Sima’s name. “Oh… okay.” I wonder what I’m supposed to do with that comment. Take Mrs. Engel’s word for it? Would that paint me as a team player, or as totally unprofessional?

“I, uh, think I’ll follow up anyway.” I glance at Mrs. Fertig, who gives me a little nod of approval, and let out my breath.

“Next… Rivky Binder. She’s been having some trouble concentrating in class recently.”

“Well, no wonder, with her grandmother in the hospital,” Mrs. Lipshitz says. “Her mother’s barely been home.”

I press the pen hard between my fingers as I note this next to Rivky’s name. How do they all know everything about everyone?

“I’m glad you told me,” I say stiffly, “considering I’m her teacher.”

I must sound miffed (well, I am, a little — and a whole lot insecure), because Mrs. Fertig, who was checking something on her phone, now says, “Oh, absolutely. It’s good you mentioned it, Henya.” It takes me a few seconds to remember that Henya is Mrs. Lipshitz. I still have trouble thinking of the older teachers by their first names.

I look at my list again, and my heart sinks. Rookie-teacher alert, here we come. It’s time to talk about— “Mashy Davidowitz. Um… she’s been having serious behavior issues, ever since the beginning of the year, and I haven’t been able to figure out a good system to help her.”

Mrs. Lipshitz snorts. “A Davidowitz? No surprise there.”

“The whole family has ADHD,” says Mrs. Engel.

“And then some!” adds Mrs. Lipschitz.

“Oh.” I falter. Once again, out of the loop. “Um, why wasn’t I told about her diagnosis? Is she supposed to be taking Ritalin?”

Now Mrs. Lipshitz gives a short laugh. “A Davidowitz on Ritalin? Heaven forbid!”

Mrs. Fertig frowns and drums her fingers on a pile of papers. “Does she actually have a diagnosis, Henya?”

Mrs. Lipshitz shrugs. “Of course not. You know very well what Yitta Davidowitz would do if any teacher would dare suggest she take her daughter for an evaluation.” She turns to me. “Unfortunately, she has some anger-management problems. As her daughter’s teacher, it’s important for you to know.”

Gulp. “Uh, thanks for the heads-up. But, if there’s no diagnosis, maybe it’s not ADHD,” I venture.

Mrs. Engel raises an eyebrow. “I had Brachi Davidowitz in my second grade two years ago. The girl was a mess, never did her homework, her things scattered all over the place, wandering around the room in the middle of class as if it were perfectly normal. Believe me, I’ve been teaching for years, and I know ADHD when I see it.”

That’s a direct hit at me, I know. But didn’t we learn, back in my seminary teaching classes, that a teacher should never diagnose a child? I write ADHD? next to Mashy’s name.

“Nebach, you can’t blame her.” Mrs. Lipshitz shakes her head. “This is exactly the home she’s being raised in. I still remember running into the mother once, in Kosher Mart. It was Erev Yom Tov, I think a three-day, even, and Yitta was yelling at one of the workers because there was no meat left. Who waits until Erev Yom Tov to buy meat?” She purses her lips. “And then, when the poor fellow finally managed to scrounge up some forgotten piece of meat from who-knows-where, Yitta discovers that she left her purse at home! I almost laughed, except that it was so sad.”

“You should’ve seen the types of lunches Brachi would bring,” Mrs. Engel chimes in. “Sometimes she’d have these elaborate spinach-and-kale concoctions, and other times, it was cookies and potato chips for lunch. Those were the days her mother couldn’t get her act together, clearly.”

The other women are nodding in unified disapprobation, but I shift uncomfortably in my seat. As it happens, my mother’s not the most organized person, either. There were many days back in elementary school when I packed my own lunch, too. But it was fine, my mother made up for it in many other warm and loving ways. Now, however, I wonder: Were teachers sitting in conferences back then, clucking over her parenting?

  


“So I tell the shadchan, he’s a One, I’m a Four-Seven combo, it’s clearly a no-go.” Zisi is sprawled on the pouf on my bedroom floor, her favorite spot since back when we were in high school.

She leans up on her elbows. “And would you believe, the shadchan actually asks me, ‘What’s a One and a Four-Seven?’ Like, oh my gosh, how can you call yourself a shadchan if you don’t know the Enneagram?”

Ever since I’ve known her, Zisi’s been obsessed with personality-typing systems. When you hang around her long enough, as I certainly have, you pick up the lingo.

“So then I started explaining to her the whole number system, and she’s totally fascinated by it! She’s like, ‘Wait, tell me again, what’s the difference between a Two and a Four?’ So I’m on the phone with her for literally an hour, giving her a tutorial, and by the time we’re done, she’s totally forgotten to give me her usual shpiel about giving it another try, and he’s such a gem of a bochur, and you never know, yada, yada, yada. How’s that for the Enneagram saving the day?” She laughs, and her red curls bounce against my mint-green pouf.

I sit up on my bed. “So what was wrong with Mr. Gem of a Bochur?”

“Chavi, have you been listening? I just told you, he’s a One! A One! Honestly, can you picture me with the rigid, rule-following, non-emotional type?”

Zisi is a kickboxing instructor in our local women’s gym. No, I couldn’t, but then again…

“What about us? I’m a boring intellectual type, and we’re friends.”

Zisi lifts herself up and looks at me pityingly. “My friend, hate to kill your self-image, but you are neither boring nor an intellectual.”

My eyes open wide. “Whaaat? I read Jewish philosophy books for fun! I listen to classical music! I went into teaching for the intellectual stimulation!” I am seriously offended.

Zisi snorts. “What you are is pretentious. You want people to think you’re an intellectual. And give me a break, you get intellectual stimulation from teaching second grade?”

I make a face.

“You’re a Six and you know it,” she continues. “Anxious, insecure, wants people to like her—”

“Okay, okay,” I grumble. I hate when she types me.

Zisi eyes me. “Hey, maybe I should set you up with the Gem. You’d do well with a One, as long as he has a strong Nine wing. I think this guy does.”

I scowl. “How many times did you go out with this guy? Once? How can you possibly know his wings?”

“Believe me, once is enough. As it happens, I went out with him twice.” She pulls out her phone. “And I’m texting the shadchan right now about you. I can’t believe I didn’t think of this earlier!”

  

Mashy Davidowitz is late to school for the fourth day in a row. I don’t actually mind; I almost hope she’ll be absent today. I find myself hoping this every day, which is terrible of me. But, oh, the difference in the class! When she’s here, there are interruptions every five seconds: “Miss Mandel! Mashy took my pencil!” “Tell Mashy to stop making noises!” “Miss Mandeeeeel! Mashy scribbled on my notebook!”

And then there’s Mashy herself, who shouts out irrelevant comments when I’m in the middle of speaking, and will suddenly get up and walk out of the classroom, making me look like a fool. Zisi tells me I’m crazy to want to teach when I’m the type who could handle a perfectly boring office job, and there are times that I agree with her.

But ever since the second-grade teachers’ meeting, I’ve been thinking a lot about ADHD and how I can help Mashy. That’s what I’m here for, right? So this morning, when Mashy’s mother brings her to school just as we’re breaking for recess, I follow Mrs. Davidowitz into the hall.

“If you have a moment, I wanted to speak to you about something.” I try to make my voice as mature and professional as possible, so that maybe Mrs. Davidowitz won’t notice the fact that I’m a twenty-year-old kid who’s really just pretending to be a teacher.

Immediately, she begins to apologize. “I’m sorry Mashy was late again. Usually my husband brings the kids to school, but sometimes Mashy’s just not ready for him, and he needs to get to work. And then, by the time I can get out of the house to drive her… well, you know how it is.”

She peers at me for a second, as if seeing my lack of a sheitel for the first time, and suspecting that maybe I actually don’t know how it is. But Mrs. Davidowitz’s own sheitel is askew, I notice, and she’s pulling at one side of it now, as if she realizes something’s off-kilter. Somehow, this gives me confidence.

“That’s okay, Mrs. Davidowitz, these things happen, although—” I falter for a second. Is it my job as a teacher to remind her at this point how crucial it is for a student to get to school on time? “Although Mashy is missing out on important schoolwork each time she comes late….” My words trail off and I wince. I can just hear Zisi’s voice: “You. Sound. Like. A. Jerk.”

Mrs. Davidowitz’s expression stiffens. “Oh, of course. I’ll try harder to get her here on time.”

Before my first day of school, Zisi had presented me with her homemade hand guide of helpful teaching advice. One of the items on the list was, “Remember that no parent wants to get mussar from a twenty-year-old pipsqueak in heels.”

I’m not wearing heels right now. But oh, my goodness, do I feel like a pipsqueak.

I clear my throat. “Um, anyway, I wanted to talk to you about something else. Uh, Mashy—”

“Yitta! How are you?”

Mrs. Engel has just stepped out of her classroom and spots us in the hall.

Mrs. Davidowitz brightens. “Mrs. Engel! Good to see you! My Brachi really misses your class.”

“I miss Brachi, too! Her smile used to brighten up the entire room. How is she doing? She’s in Mrs. Stein’s fourth grade now, right?”

Of course she knows that. She’d mentioned darkly at the teachers’ meeting that Mrs. Stein has her hands full with Brachi this year.

“Yes, yes, she’s very happy. Still on the lively side, but that’s my Brachi!” Mrs. Davidowitz laughs indulgently, and Mrs. Engel chuckles along. They’re both grinning widely, as if they’re best friends.

I look back and forth between the two of them, eyebrows raised.

Mrs. Engel finally breaks up the lovefest. “Well, I must get going. Wonderful running into you, Yitta! Much hatzlachah on the new school year. You’re lucky to have Miss Mandel — she’s an excellent teacher.”

I flush. That’s really nice of her to say, considering that she has no clue what kind of teacher I am. I mentally add an item to Zisi’s hand guide: Always compliment your colleagues in front of parents.

Now I turn back to Mrs. Davidowitz. I wonder if I should call her Yitta too, to establish more of a friendly footing, but decide that I can’t.

“So,” I begin again, “I wanted to talk to you about certain — um — behavioral issues I’ve been having with Mashy.”

Mrs. Davidowitz’s smile fades, but she still nods pleasantly, if resignedly. “Sure, I’m happy to talk. I need to run now, but how about you call me at home tonight?”

And then she adds, as if to make me feel less uncomfortable about having brought up the topic, “I’m glad you’re on top of things this early in the year. We both want to see Mashy succeed, right?”

I stare at her curiously as she runs off. This doesn’t match the picture I was getting of Mashy’s mother. Anger-management issues? She seemed perfectly sweet and accommodating!

What’s the real story?

  

I forgot, when I told Mrs. Davidowitz I’d call her tonight, that I had a date with Zisi’s One-with-a-Nine-wing bochur. (I must stop thinking of him like that; I keep picturing him with wings sprouting from his shoulders. Menachem. His name is Menachem.) So I’m sitting here across from Menachem, in the Marriot lounge, and the only thing running through my head is that Mrs. Davidowitz must think I’m a real flake.

No wonder our conversation isn’t going well.

“So, um, you teach?” Menachem tries.

“Yeah. Second grade.” And I have a student named Mashy, and her mother’s probably sitting by the phone right now— Stop, Chavi. Stop.

“That must be nice.”

I can think of several better adjectives, but I just nod. “Yeah, I enjoy it. I just started, it’s my first year.”

“Oh. Do you like it?”

I just told you that. “Most of the time. But it’s hard work, more than I expected.”

“Have you been teaching long?”

I stare at him. This guy is either a terrible listener, or really, really nervous. I watch him jiggling his cup of Coke, and decide it’s the second.

“This is my first year. I actually studied computer programming, but I didn’t like it, and I decided I really wanted to teach.”

And here’s the part where he says something polite about following your dreams and doing what you love, but, wasn’t it hard to leave such a potentially lucrative field for teaching — and, as my mother would say, another one bites the dust.

This boy doesn’t say that. Instead, he says, “Klal Yisrael needs good, dedicated teachers who are excited about what they do. Good for you.”

Oooh. How refreshing. “Thanks!”

And then he begins to ask me about computer programming. As he describes some app he’s been thinking of developing in excruciating detail, my mind wanders back to Mrs. Davidowitz, sitting by the phone, shaking her head at Mashy’s flaky teacher….

  

Nu? Second date?

I lie on my bed and frown at Zisi’s text. She thinks she’s the shadchan here. Just because it was her idea… Okay, technically, that does make her the shadchan. But that doesn’t give her the right to be pushy. I ignore her text.

A minute later, she calls. I pick up and yawn loudly. “Zees, it’s midnight. I have to teach tomorrow.”

She ignores me. “Tell me! He’s a great guy, no?”

I sigh. I might as well get this over with. “Yeah, he seems very sincere. And, uh, I liked what he had to say about teaching. How Klal Yisrael needs dedicated teachers, and good for me that I’m doing this. Instead of thinking I’m crazy.”

“Well, no surprise there,” she says. “He’s a One. Idealistic. Non-materialistic.”

My eyelids are drifting shut, but now I open one. “I don’t know, I didn’t see any of those other things you kept going on about. Rigidity and rules and all that.”

I can practically hear Zisi’s eyes roll. “That’s because you don’t know what you’re looking for. You’ve never been good at personality typing.”

I can’t argue with her about that one. I change the subject. “I have my first scary teacher phone call tomorrow, where I tell a mother that her daughter needs an evaluation.”

“Whoa, that sounds heavy. Good luck. Remember helpful hand guide rule number 3: Don’t say anything negative until after you’ve complimented like crazy. Even if the mother knows you’re laying it on thick, it still makes her feel all warm and fuzzy. And speaking of warm and fuzzy, nu? Second date?”

  

I go on a second date, mostly to keep Zisi from nagging. We’re back at the same Marriot lounge — does that say something about his One rigidity?

Meanwhile, it’s five days later and I still haven’t managed to connect with Mashy’s mother. I’ve left her voice messages, but she hasn’t returned them. What’s up with that?

“What’s up with what?” Menachem asks.

I nearly drop my glass of water. Oh my gosh, did I actually say that aloud? Blushing, I mumble, “Sorry, I was just thinking of a student of mine. She has ADHD — that is, we don’t know if she does, but she acts like it, and the other teachers told me her whole family has it, though no one’s been diagnosed. And her mother has anger-management problems — or, at least, that’s what the teachers told me, though I haven’t seen it. And now I’m trying to get in touch with the mother and she doesn’t answer my calls. Is it because she’s scatterbrained? Or because she’s angry at me? I just don’t know.”

Menachem’s face has suddenly tensed. He shifts backward, and his chair scrapes against the tiled floor. “Hmm. Sounds like there’s a whole lot of assumptions going on here.”

I stare at him. “What do you mean?”

“Just because a teacher has a few interactions with a parent, in a very specific context, she gets to make a sweeping statement that the mother has anger- management problems? Maybe she’s just touched a very sore spot regarding her daughter?” He’s frowning deeply, and the thought occurs that maybe I’ve touched a sore spot with him.

“That’s a good point,” I say slowly.

Menachem’s shaking his head. “What gives anyone the right to make assumptions about someone’s character, after meeting them just one or two times?”

Ha! He should have a talk with Zisi, I think. And then I remember that he has. And then I wonder — wait a second. Can he be referring to shidduchim here? To her?

I hide a smirk. He got you, Zisi! Ms. Judgmental! Hmm… maybe he’s actually exactly what you need?

  

Zisi sends me her Nu? Third date with the One? text the second I enter my door. At first I think she’s being presumptuous. Then I realize she’s Enneagramming. I grit my teeth and call her.

“Listen up, Zees, newsflash of the night: He is NOT a One! And, for that matter, I am not a Six, and you are not a Four-Seven combo! We. Are. People! Human beings, with our own unique personalities and hopes and dreams and all that, and no one has the right to label us into a box of numbers or letters or medical diagnoses or anything!”

In all the years I’ve known her, Zisi has never been speechless, but she is right now. At last she says, tentatively, “Chavs, is everything all right? Did something weird happen on your date?”

“No!” I practically shout, frustrated. “But I’m tired and I’m going to sleep now.”

“Good idea.” Zisi says quickly. “You sound like you could use a really good night’s sleep. We’ll talk tomorrow, ’kay?”

I’m officially on a crusade. Menachem is right; there’s way too much judging going on in society. The next day, I come into class determined to look at Mashy with fresh eyes. She isn’t an ADHD-question mark in my notebook; she is a little girl who is struggling with boundaries and needs understanding and help.

Only problem is, the little girl who’s struggling with boundaries pulls Sima Beigelson’s new headband off of her head and throws it out the window. It’s all done in such breathless speed that no one has time to react until the incident is over. And then I have a wailing Sima, a defiant Mashy, and twenty-five shrieking girls to contend with.

By the time I drag myself into the teachers’ room for a coffee during morning recess, I am totally drained. There are two teachers already there, talking to each other. I recognize one as Mrs. Stein, Brachi Davidowitz’s fourth grade teacher.

“—really needs meds, poor girl. She isn’t learning a thing, the way things stand now.”

“And her mother won’t give them to her?” asks the other woman, a new, young teacher like me.

Mrs. Stein shakes her head. “There’s no talking to her on the subject. She won’t even get her evaluated. You should hear what Miriam Engel has to say about this — she had Brachi back in second grade. The mother has anger-management issues, apparently.”

“Really?” The second teacher shakes her head.

I press my lips tightly together. And then, suddenly, the words burst out.

“How do you know that?” I ask. The two of them look at me in surprise. “Has a psychologist given you a professional diagnosis? Or is that she got angry once or twice at some teacher, and suddenly she’s forever labeled as having ‘anger issues’?” I think of Menachem. “Maybe — I don’t know — maybe her daughter’s behavior is a particularly touchy subject for her, and that’s why she gets upset. That doesn’t give us the right to talk about her ‘anger-management issues’!”

Mrs. Stein’s eyes are wide, while the other teacher’s mouth is hanging open. At last, Mrs. Stein says, haltingly, “You’re right. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. It was inappropriate, and, of course, halachically wrong. Thank you for reminding me.”

There is total silence in the room after that. I’m feeling proud of myself for having spoken up and perhaps made a small change in our culture of judging, but I’m also feeling really awkward, so I take my cup of coffee and leave.

  

I am a superhero. I am righting society’s wrongs. My head is floating way above my shoulders by the time I get home.

I’ve already decided on my plan of action. I will try Mrs. Davidowitz again, and this time I will keep calling until she picks up. I will speak to her nicely and empathetically about today’s event in class. And then I will suggest, in my professional opinion, that she bring Mashy to a neuropsychologist to get her evaluated.

And then I will show up in school tomorrow in my superhero cape, and demonstrate to all the naysayers how they’d been too quick to judge.

I am still grinning to myself half an hour later, when I get the text from the shadchan: He wants to go out again. Should I tell him yes?

I lean against my bedroom wall and tap my fingers against the phone. I hadn’t expected him to say yes. Our conversation had not been very exciting, other than that impassioned speech of his about judging. And passion was much more up Zisi’s alley…. I lift my head and smile slowly. How cool would it be if I convinced him and Zisi to go out again, and they got engaged? After so many years of being told I knew nothing about personality typing — what sweet revenge!

Resolutely, I text back the shadchan. Sorry, don’t think it will work.

And then, while my determination is still going strong, I call Mrs. Davidowitz. And again, five minutes later. On the third try, I hear an actual human voice.

“Hi, Mrs. Davidowitz. This is Chavi Mandel, Mashy’s teacher. I’ve been trying to reach you to discuss that behavioral issue we spoke about last week.” I’m pacing the room, talking too quickly, as if scared she’s about to hang up, and I force myself to slow down. I catch a glimpse of myself in my full-length mirror, and straighten my shoulders. Remember, you’re the authority here.

“Oh, hello, Miss Mandel. Thank you for calling.”

There’s no mention of the hundreds of messages I’ve left, no apology for not getting back to me, but I decide to ignore this.

“So, um, since the beginning of the year, Mashy’s been having a lot of difficulty, um, focusing in class.” I stop, as I suddenly remember that I forgot to start with a compliment. Help! “That is, uh, Mashy’s such a lively, fun girl, with lots of high spirits, and she adds so much, um, energy to the class—” Is that enough? I hope so, because I’ve run out of adjectives for can’t sit still. “But she has a very hard time concentrating, and her distractibility is causing a problem not just for her, but for the rest of the class.” I give some examples, including today’s headband incident.

Mashy’s mother keeps murmuring things like, “Mm hmm” and “I see,” and when I finally finish speaking, she says, “So you’re calling to ask that I send in money for that little girl’s headband?”

Nonplussed, I say, “Er, that’s not necessary. The janitor managed to find it outside in the bushes. No, I want to discuss what we can do to help Mashy, um, self-regulate better.”

I pass the mirror again, and flash a thumbs-up at myself for using such a professional word.

“Oh.” There’s a pause. “Well, you’re the teacher. Discipline is your job, isn’t it?”

I frown, as I feel heat rising inside me. Does she know I’m a brand-new teacher? “Ye-es, but this case goes beyond normal discipline. That’s why I’m calling, so we can work together — because we both want to see Mashy succeed.” I intentionally use her own line.

“What do you want me to do?” Mrs. Davidowitz’s tone has cooled several degrees.

I take a breath, and try to infuse my voice with as much warmth, sincerity, and good cheer as possible. “Well, I’ve been consulting with some of my colleagues, and we feel that some of the behaviors she’s exhibiting may be signs of — um — that is, that it would be helpful to take her for an evaluation, to see if there’s any neurological basis to her behaviors.”

I hear her breathing on the other end. “I see. You think she has ADHD.”

“I didn’t say that,” I quickly reply. “I’m not qualified to diagnose. I’m just saying, it’s important to find out, so that Mashy can get the help she needs. Which is what we all want.”

She is silent, and I find myself counting in my head, one, two, tensely waiting for her reaction.

It comes.

“What we all want? Gimme a break, what you want is to drug up my daughter so that she’ll be a little robot like all the other girls! ‘Consulted with your colleagues,’ I bet! All you teachers are alike!”

I feel like I’ve swallowed my entire hammering heart whole. I can barely even open my mouth, much less defend myself.

She’s still shrieking into my ear. “Ever since my oldest started school here, it’s always been the same story. Nobody knows how to deal with a girl who has different needs! All you know how to do is straitjacket them into following all your rules, so your job can be as easy as possible! And then you wonder why so many kids go off!”

Now I feel my own anger begin to rise. Fist clenching around my phone, I say, “Mrs. Davidowitz, no one is looking to straitjacket anyone. But if all of the teachers are telling you the same thing, maybe it might be worthwhile to listen?”

Wrooong thing to say. “Excuse me, Miss Mandel, but how old are you? With all due respect, I think I know a little more about raising children than you do. So how about I give you a piece of advice? It’s easy to recommend evaluations. If you really want to become a good teacher, try coming up with a creative way to engage my daughter!”

The conversation ends very soon after this, mostly because I do not want to cry on the phone. The second we hang up I fling myself onto my bed and sob out my hurt and humiliation. I spend the rest of the evening stewing in burned ego, and so it takes a while before I notice the shadchan’s return text: You sure about that? Cuz he really really wants another date.

  

I’m sitting in the teachers’ room the next day, marking Chumash homework, and I must look pretty pathetic, because a teacher I’ve never even spoken to before asks, “Is everything okay?”

She’s probably just being polite, but I so badly need to unload to a fellow teacher who can commiserate, so I say, “Oh, I just had a really nasty phone call with a student’s mother last night.”

She makes a sympathetic face. “Sorry to hear that. We’ve all been there. What happened?”

“All I wanted was to suggest she get her daughter evaluated. And then this mother goes ballistic.” I shake my head, all of last night’s shame and indignation rising to the fore. “The lady has anger-management issues, I’ve been told.”

Oh man, that feels good. I’m terrible, but it feels really good.

The teacher eyes me curiously. “You’re Chavi Mandel, the new second-grade teacher, right?”

“Yeah.” I shift uncomfortably from her look. “Why?”

She shrugs. “Nothing. Just — Leah Stein from the fourth grade was telling me about you.”

“What was she saying?” I ask, though I want to slap myself for the question. Probably that I’m a sanctimonious little jerk.

She hesitates. “That — uh — she’s impressed with your values.”

Oh. Ouch.

  

I’m dialing Zisi’s number as I unlock the door to my house. It goes to voicemail, and, frustrated, I call again. This time, she picks up, sounding out of breath. “Chavi! I have eleven ladies standing here, but when I saw it was you calling, I told them that this is my best friend in the world, and she wouldn’t interrupt my advanced kickboxing class unless it’s a real emergency.”

I pause, hand on my doorknob. “Wait a second. You’re not serious, are you?”

“I’m putting you on speaker. Ladies, say hi to Chavi!” she calls.

I hear a chorus in the background. She is serious.

“Sorry, Zees, I forgot your schedule.”

“Oh, no problem. Best friends aren’t expected to memorize each other’s schedules. Right, ladies?”

“Get me off speaker!” I hiss. Zisi cackles.

I walk inside my house and continue, “Listen, I won’t keep you on long. I just needed to tell you something: I know nothing.”

“Chavi! Are you about to be arrested by the FBI?”

I throw my bag on the kitchen table and sit down. “Of course not! I’m trying to tell you that I thought I was being smarter than everyone else, but I’m not. I don’t know anything. And that you shouldn’t judge other people until you get to their place. Oh, and that I’m going out on a third date with Menachem.”

“Is this an apology for the way you spoke to me the other night?” Zisi asks. “If so, apology accepted. And — hold on, what did you say?”

I start to repeat myself, but Zisi shushes me. “Ah. The ladies in my class think you’re being too hard on yourself. You surely know something.”

“Zisi!” I cry, horrified.

“And that second point, they say you cribbed off Chazal. Good catch, Marla.”

“Will you turn off the speaker?” I am mortified.

“And they all send you their warmest wishes for a successful third date.”

“I’m hanging up!”

“Just remember, you are alllwaaays on speaker,” she intones dramatically, as I press the Off button.

From now on, I’m typing Zisi’s schedule into my planner.

  

I fully expect to be taken to the Marriot again for a third time, but Menachem surprises me by pulling into the parking lot of a Barnes & Noble instead. Score one for imagination. As we walk through the aisles, I somehow find myself talking about the whole embarrassing incident with Mashy’s mother. He listens carefully.

“So those teachers were right after all,” I finish. “And here I was, looking down on them for being quick to judge.”

He tilts his head to the side. “They were quick to judge. But so were you. Maybe you just touched—”

“—A sore spot, yeah, you said that last time. But come on, the way she spoke to me! No one is that rude unless they have a problem!”

He pauses by a bookshelf, scanning it idly.

His silence unnerves me, and I continue reflectively, “So what you’re saying is, no labeling. Just swallow a hurtful event, and move on. Since the mother doesn’t want to hear about evaluations, I should be focusing on what else I can do to help Mashy. Is that right?”

He still doesn’t answer, and I finally notice that he’s absorbed in some book. I clear my throat.

“Sorry, were you saying something?” He blinks. “It sounds funny, but I’m kind of obsessed with personality typing. I was just looking at this book on the Enneagram. You’ve heard of it? Me, I’m a Four-Seven combo. You?”

(Originally featured in Calligraphy, Issue 781)

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Tagged: Calligraphy