My husband and I stand to leave, the allotted 30 minutes over almost as if they had never happened. So much to explain in such a short amount of time, we feel rushed and wonder if we really got through…through to Sam’s teachers who will now be in the position to help make his next 175 school days tolerable or a living hell.
As I shake the science instructor’s calloused hand I hope he really understands. His snow-white hair would indicate he has been at this profession for quite a few years, and I expect that has jaded him. Did he take it to heart when I described how gut wrenching it is for Sam to hear the words, “Pick a lab partner”? How hard it is to be put in that position because he’s been there too many times before, knowing it always ends the same way with him standing awkwardly alone while his classmates eagerly rearrange their metal chairs, clanking them together as they slide the seats across the room to be close to their pals. The odd man out because nobody wants to be paired with that kid who “…used to be a girl.”
“Glad to have met you,” I say to the young woman, not yet thirty, who teaches English. Going beyond the handshake she ventures to give me a hug and I am filled with gratitude for the simple gesture. Perhaps it was because of the way she maintained eye contact when no one else would or maybe could. Shaking her head with empathy as we described Sam’s struggles to fit in, I felt a connection and hope that she is a mother too, because then she will tuck him under her wing and protect him from harm for the 50 minutes he is in her class. At least this is what I want to believe because it is too hard for me to imagine anything else.
Saying goodbye to the gym teacher we can see in his unsympathetic eyes that he thinks this is complete crap. Already outfitted for the day with a standard issue whistle and stopwatch around his neck, we are wasting his time. Checking his watch 15 minutes into the meeting we are not confident he understands much less cares, but we need him to at least try to pretend because Phy Ed is so stressful for Sam. Choosing teams. Lining up in girl’s lines and boy’s lines. Changing clothes in a locker room that does not fit with the gender in which he identifies — all psychological mine fields for our child, who is not yet equipped to protect himself from emotional harm.
We can sense the band director feels our angst, but when she gets back to her office will she remember the seating chart for the horn section is crucial to Sam’s well being? Does she recall that a fellow band member began calling Sam “It,” last year, under the direction of his parents? Encouraging their son to use the term whenever referring to our child because “It” wasn’t conforming to their, albeit ignorant, understanding of gender. “Please remember not to sit him next to Brian,” I whisper to myself, silently willing her to oblige.
“Thank you for your time,” we say, trying to convey one last time with words and body language how much we appreciate whatever they can do for Sam, but I am afraid we sound insincere because we are emotionally drained. We know they are overworked and underpaid and we cringe at the thought of adding anything more to their plate. As we head out the door, I notice the cold, institutional steel framed clock hanging on the wall, the same model that was in my junior high thirty years before, and think about the long and lonely eight hours my son has ahead. And I hope one last time that his teachers truly understand they are not only providing Sam with an education, but more importantly they are serving as a lifeline while he is in their care.