So February continues in the same manner I moaned about last week. Weather crisp, for here. Daylight short. Tempers shorter. On Friday, when I was trying to get a million things done before the weekend, one of my colleagues stopped by my office no less than six times. Four of the six drop-ins he just wanted to chat. The seventh time he appeared at my door, for the first time ever I failed to hide my exasperation and he saw it. He threw his hand up as if warding off a knife attack, exclaimed, “Got it!” and headed back to his own office. “Sorry!” I called after him. His voice fading as he rounded the corner, he called back, “No problem! I understand!” Thank heavens for forgiving teammates.
Somewhat in my defense, I have spent way too much time this last week dealing with a rare discipline incident. It doesn’t matter that they happen astonishingly infrequently at our school, when they happen they are a huge time suck. Even though the miscreants confessed first thing Tuesday morning, we still have to track down witnesses, corroborate stories, fit all the puzzle pieces into place, coordinate all communications with the Head of School, involved faculty and with parents, set up a discipline committee hearing, and calculate potential outcomes. Hours. And we’re not quite done yet.
Of course, having something extra to pay attention to doesn’t mean that all of the other daily and weekly events cease to manifest. This is admission season and I get to sit on the admissions committee, interviewing bright-eyed, eager young hopefuls. Whenever he catches me coming out of an interview session, our Head grins and asks, “Cute as buttons? Sweet as pie?” (Being from Georgia, he pronounces it “pah.”) And they are! Oh my gosh, I can’t wait for next school year so I can get to know these interesting folks. If you ever despair and think our society is coming to a crashing end, let me tell you, as long as there are teenagers like this in the pipeline, there is hope.
This is not to say the week’s been all about sleuthing and chatting. One night this past week, I climbed into bed so exhausted that John leaned over to me and said, “Are you sure you still love being Dean of Students?” To be sure, this could have been because for three nights in a row I had “hit the wall.” This is our phrase to indicate the moment that sometimes comes at the end of a day when I go from merely tired to running on empty. I take everything personally. I cry and/or erupt at the gentlest drop of a hat. It is not a pretty sight. But I do, of course. Still love being Dean of Students, that is. Whether it’s talking to my colleagues, working with students who are sad or frustrated or worse, listening to the parent who desperately needs a sounding board because she’s raising her son alone since her husband died unexpectedly last year, whatever the situation, even when I suspect that I don’t know the right thing to say or do, there is a joy in this work. Plus, as John knows very well, I’m not really the Dean of Students. I’m the Assistant Dean.
Every morning, as John carries Cleo out to the car (ostensibly to help me out, but I know it’s because he wants a last snuggle with Cleo), he says to her, “Ready to go be Dean of Students?” In fact, we’ve even written a picture book titled Cleo the Bedlington: Dean of Students. Cleo is the one with the endless compassion, energy and zest for life. Just compare her reaction to the long day on Friday with mine.
8 AM: Arrive at school
8:10 AM: Troubled mom comes in. Cleo bounds to her, snots on her bare calf, then offers a series of toys to play with. Exuberance incarnate.
9:20 AM: Aunt Kim takes Cleo across the street to the outdoor lab. Auntie claims she’s giving Cleo exercise, but we know she really needs Cleo’s protection from the wild critters over there. Cleo chases sticks, tears around like a Tasmanian Devil and covers two miles for every one of Auntie’s.
10:25 AM: I come back from class to find Cleo sound asleep on the couch. Cleo’s friend Betsy stops by for a quick visit and catch-up. She’s playing lacrosse in the afternoons, so we rarely get to see her anymore. Cleo and Betsy roughhouse and chase each other around the office.
10:35 AM: A stream of visitors. Cleo flings herself on every one as if she has nothing but energy to burn. Anyone who sits in the chair instead of the couch is treated to full frontal dog. Cleo stands on their laps, her arms around their necks, and covers as much as they will allow her of their faces, necks and ears with puppy spit.
12:10 PM: Drizzling student arrives at my office door. She makes the mistake of sitting in the chair. Drizzle turns to giggles.
2 PM: Miscreants arrive for final chat. They sit on the couch, but are both pounced on, licked, presented with toys. Finally, Cleo settles down between them, gnawing loudly on her antler.
3:30 PM: A friend drops by for a chat. She and Cleo wrestle and bound around the office with Cleo’s otter. Cleo wins two out of three rounds.
4:30 PM: Head home. Cleo announces our arrival with rambunctious barking as we come through the front door, then dashes into the backyard to inspect the perimeter and reclaim her territory. The neighbors are undoubtedly glad to know she’s back. Certainly she is greeted with yaps, woofs and ar-roofs from every corner of a three block area. She comes back inside, grabs her ball and nudges John’s legs until he looks down at her. She backs up, play bows, shakes the ball and says, “Growf!” They are off, chasing each other around the house, leaping over furniture, toppling Zuni fetishes in the display cabinet and generally celebrating the beauty of life.
I take a nap.