Well, it didn’t take long to figure out that no babysitter would take me
I couldn’t find my left shoe anywhere. Chaim, Yosef, and Yisroel were already halfway down the block to the school bus, and I was stuck with one shoe. It wasn’t under the bed, and it most definitely was not in my closet — even though Mommy always tells me that if I can’t find something I should first look in the place where it belongs. Oh well. Mommy really wouldn’t like it if I came to school half dressed. But today had to be an exception. If I kept looking for my shoe, I’d really be late.
So, ignoring the voice in my head that sounded an awful lot like Mommy’s, I sat down at the desk in my room, completely shoeless. It’s not like I was coming to school in pajamas! I mean seriously, no one could even see my shoes. If there would have been someone else in the room, I would have rolled my eyes.
I heard the doorbell ring and Mommy greeting one of the babies being dropped off for babysitting. It’s really ‘cuz of me that Mommy stopped working in the office and switched to babysitting. You see, way back when I was a baby, I was that baby who always screamed and cried and had terrible stomach pain. The family went crazy. Mommy tried everything, but I just wouldn’t stop screaming. Then one day we went to an allergist. Turns out I was allergic to mostly everything. “He’ll probably grow out of it,” the allergist said. But here I was, in fifth grade and ten years later, and I had still not grown out of it. Worse than that: I wasn’t just unable to eat a million and a half foods. I couldn’t even be in the same room as a lot of them. I couldn’t have honey or nuts or wheat or eggs or a whole bunch of fruits or vegetables. And most candy and snacks have something in it that I’m allergic to, so I couldn’t have those either. If I went to a babysitter or school and someone there had a food I couldn’t have, I would stop breathing. And that’s pretty dangerous.
Well, it didn’t take long to figure out that no babysitter would take me. So Mommy had to quit her job. It was then that she decided to babysit other kids too. The only rule was “no outside food.” For me, that made the difference between life and death.
That was all just fine, until it was time for preschool. Mommy called every school within an hour’s drive, and even some a little further, but it was no use. No one wanted to take responsibility for my crazy allergies. But of course, Mommy didn’t really want to take the risk of sending me, either.
So I didn’t go to school. Mommy taught me Chumash and Navi and math and science in the morning, and Daddy did Mishnayos with me in the evenings, and I had my brothers to play with in between. I always wished, though, that I could go to a regular yeshivah. Every morning, as Chaim, Yosef, and Yisroel made their mad dash to the bus, I would watch them from the window and dream. Maybe, just maybe, I could go to school too. One day. When I grew out of these allergies. Yeah, right.
Then one day, Daddy came home with an amazing announcement. We were all sitting around the dining room table eating supper when he walked through the door.
“Hey guys, how was your day?” Daddy called.
“Great,” we all chorused in response.
“I have the most amazing thing to tell you,” he said. We all perked up. “Daniel — this you’ve got to hear. I found a way for you to go to school!”
“What?” I asked, not sure I heard right.
“Sort of,” Daddy added. “I found this really cool tech company that makes kid-sized robots that they want to try out. They’ll even give us one for free! The robot will be in the classroom, while you participate from home. You’ll be able to control the robot from your computer, and the robot’s face will be a screen with you on it. What do you think?” he finished, ruffling my hair.
My face split into a grin. “No way!” I whooped. “This is even cooler than going to school. I’ll get to be a robot!” I was jumping around the table now. Even my brothers looked a little jealous.
The robot was every bit as cool as I hoped it would be, and my brothers and I took turns controlling it. We spent the last two weeks of summer vacation making it raise its hand, turn its head from side to side (it could even turn completely to see behind it), and drive around the house. The robot had wheels, so it couldn’t go from floor to floor, but who cared — the school had an elevator.
The night before the first day of fifth grade, I kept popping out of my bed to check on my robot.
“I’ll tie you to your bed if you don’t go to sleep,” Mommy joked. But she kept checking on the robot too. I think everyone was really excited.
The next morning I was up with the first ray of sunshine that slipped through the cracks in the window shade. I got dressed and tried to quietly check on my robot. He looked perfect — just sitting and waiting for school to begin. A few hours later, when it was (finally) time to leave for school, Mommy picked up the robot and strapped it into the car. My brothers all piled in and off to school they went. I went to my computer and logged into my robot. On the screen, I could see my brothers sitting in the car, and it really felt like I was there.
“Hi guys,” I called, and my brothers burst out laughing.
“Daniel!” Yosef exclaimed, “Great to have you in the car with us!”
School that day was a dream. I even got to “raise my hand” and answer my rebbi’s question. At recess, all the boys crowded around my desk.
“What’s your name?” one boy asked, staring at the robot’s face. At my face.
A shiver of excitement ran through me. “Daniel,” I answered.
“Why don’t you come to school like everyone else?” a boy with red hair piped up.
“Um — hellooo?” Another boy shoved him in the shoulder. “Rebbi said his allergies could kill him.”
“I never saw a robot like this,” another boy added, from somewhere I couldn’t see. I swiveled the robot’s head all around to see who was talking.
“That was sooo cool!” the redhead oozed. “Do it again.”
It was only after recess was over that I realized that I didn’t know anyone’s names.
The next day, school was even better and I was soaking it all in. I may have been sitting at my little desk in my bedroom, but it sure didn’t feel like being home.
But for some reason, after the first week, things weren’t as good as I wished them to be. It started at gym class. The whole class lined up at the door of the classroom, and I wheeled my robot into line. I was in the back of the line, but really, who cared. Following the class, my robot made his way to the gym. Until we got to a staircase.
“Rebbi,” I called, “I need the elevator.” But no one heard me. Left with no choice, I wheeled my robot back to the classroom to wait for everyone to return. After fiddling around with my computer for half an hour, I finally heard the sound of two dozen boys — or maybe it was a stampede of elephants — stomping down the hallway to the classroom. They were all sweaty and smiling, slapping each other on their backs and rehashing what seemed to be a great game of basketball. And for the first time since school started, I felt like I didn’t belong.
There were more and more things like that. Things like no one listening when I talked during recess. Things like working in partners, which doesn’t really work well for a robot. And I slowly felt myself fade into the background. My robot was no longer exciting. Where did that leave me?
Although no one wanted to admit it, we all knew I was Mr. Nobody in school. Just a hunk of metal sitting at the back of the classroom. Just a computer. And about as noticed as one.
Sometime around Purim, we were all sitting around the table eating supper. “Boys,” Daddy addressed us, looking up from his mashed potatoes, “It seems like sometime soon the schools might have to close. This coronavirus everyone is talking about is turning into a monster.”
“School’s closing?” I asked, trying to stop the excitement in my heart from creeping into my voice.
“Well, they’re working on having school over the computer,” Daddy answered, “so don’t worry. You’ll still have homework.” He chuckled. Yisroel and Chaim groaned.
Well, it seemed they did work out this “school-via-computer” thing. And after Pesach, instead of rushing to the bus, we all flicked on our computers and logged into class. I could see the faces of each of the boys in my class. There was the redhead — who I now knew to be Yonasan — sitting on what looked like his bed. Everyone else’s faces were there, too.
“Hey guys,” I called into the babble of voices.
“This is so much fun,” I heard someone say, but over the computer I couldn’t really tell who it was.
Rebbi’s face came up big on the screen.
“Good morning, boys,” he began. “Let’s take attendance.”
I looked at the screen. Two dozen faces stared back at me. And there, in the far-right corner, I spotted my face. For the first time in months, I could feel a flutter of excitement stirring up inside me. There I was. Just like everyone else.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 830)
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