Thursday, August 4, 2016
Wenatchee, Washington 1991
Having a bad day at work goes with the territory; ask anyone. There is one particular day that I will never forget. It was beyond bad! It was a nightmare and unfortunately, I was wide-awake for the entire ordeal. At the time, I was employed by EPIC, an early childhood agency that provided daycare programs for low-income migrant families in the Wenatchee area. I served in a dual capacity…facility director and preschool teacher… at the Applewood location. As director, I was required to be on site from opening until close which was from 5:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. I was also in charge of supervising the staff of eight. There were seven daycare providers and one cook who also filled in wherever needed. The children ranged in age from one month to five years, and our enrollment this particular month was 45 little angels. Let’s just say for better or worse, everything and everybody depended on me!
My alarm went off at my least favorite time of day 3:00 a.m. I peeked out the window to discover that we were under attack by a torrential downpour that appeared to have taken up permanent residence. I hoped that this was not an omen for how the rest of the day would go.
By 3:45 a.m., I was in the Applewood parking lot and realized that I had forgotten my umbrella. I got drenched! My key would not cooperate, and I couldn’t unlock the door to the building. I stood in the driving rain for five minutes trying to finagle the stupid mechanism. Finally, success!
I dripped and squished my way down the hall to my office and was promptly greeted by the blinking red light of the message machine. Two of my staff had called in sick, and the cook was going to be an hour late which meant hungry, cranky kids to start the day. Was this day over yet? I felt the start of a headache coming on, and I was shivering and cold from being wet.
Over the next hour, the rest of the staff meandered in and grumpily protested as I informed them of the need to combine rooms due to the staffing shortage. I almost had a full-blown mutiny on my hands when I explained that breakfast would be an hour late.
At 5:00 a.m. the sleepy eyed children began to congregate. They usually arrived and were greeted by a nutritious hot breakfast, but not on this day. Within ten minutes, the building exploded with bawling and tantrums coming from every nook and cranny. Was 5:15 a.m. too early to drink, I wondered?
I scurried from room to room trying to put out the fires before the flames engulfed us all. Two of my staff threatened to leave. I started to sneeze and could feel the beginnings of a cold coursing through my body. My head felt like it was about to split open. Thoughts of fleeing surged through my mind. I reminded myself that according to maritime tradition the captain goes down with his sinking ship if all else fails, and we were sinking fast.
By 6:45 a.m. breakfast was being served, and the morning’s mayhem seemed to be subsiding…or so I thought. At my post in the preschool room, I noticed that several of the kids’ oatmeal bowls had blue specs in them. Upon closer observation it became evident that something that should not be there was in their cereal. I quickly grabbed the affected bowls despite the irate objections of the children.
OMG! It was blue gravel from our aquarium. I knew exactly who did it. “LEE,” I bellowed. “”FRONT AND CENTER-NOW! ”
Lee was the class scoundrel and 9 out of 10 times the instigator of all classroom disasters. Lee appeared with two empty milk cartons in hand. “Where is the milk Lee?” I impatiently inquired. He pointed to the fish tank, which was now a murky white color. By the time I made it to the tank the other students were gathered around crying that their “fishies” were going to die. Grabbing the net, I blindly stabbed into the milky waters hoping against all odds to snare a fish. No such luck. We put a stopper in the sink and cup by cup, we emptied the tank and eventually recovered all six of the missing “Nemos” to the delight of the kids.
We then moved the fish into a large clear bowl until we could properly clean the aquarium for their return. If any of the fish were lactose intolerant they would soon be dead for sure. Crisis averted for now!
Next, I faced the task of cajoling the irritated cook into remaking oatmeal for the preschoolers. Was this day ever going to end? Is it time to go home yet? The clock read 7:30 a.m. You have to be kidding! My pity party was interrupted when a small voice inquired, “Teacher, where did the fish go?
”Fish? What?” I looked at the bowl, and it was empty. “LEE.”
“Yes teacher” he brazenly replied.
“Where are the fish?” I demanded.
“In the ocean,” he retorted.
“What ocean, Lee?”
“In there, “and he pointed to the bathroom.
Realizing that their beloved pets had been flushed down the toilet, the reaction was instantaneous. First one child burst into tears, and that led to a spontaneous combustion of sobbing grieving little ones with one exception. Lee was writhing on the floor convulsed by a fit of laughter. My headache now blossomed into a Category 5 tropical storm.
Finally, placated from their fish disaster, we settled onto the rug for story time. Teacher’s helper for the day has to select the story. I consulted the chart and today of all people it was Lee. Wonderful! Lee made a beeline to the shelf and returned grinning like a Cheshire cat with book in hand. I had a bad feeling about this. He had selected “A Fish out of Water.” I nonchalantly took the book and began reading. Lee enjoyed every word…the rest of the class not so much. For the others it was the catalyst for another round of waterworks.
Snack time did little to lift the dampened spirits of the miniature mourners. It was naptime, and with any luck that would give me a few moments to try to regain my now quickly dissolving sanity. The snivelers went down without a fight, exhausted by their harrowing morning.
As the angels peacefully slumbered away, I made a disturbing observation. Several of them were scratching their heads as they slept. A feeling of dread washed over me. “Please, not today,” I lamented. “I don’t know how much more I can take.” After the kids awoke, my helper and I donned our latex gloves. Armed with tongue depressors we did a lice check on everyone in the room. We had a full-fledged lice-a-thon in progress. A lice check in the other rooms confirmed my suspicions that our infestation had taken on global proportions. My skin began to feel creepy crawly, and I began scratching and itching everywhere.
Being a provider for the low-income migrant families, we could not send the children home, but were required to treat them on site. We had no medication available. We needed 40 boxes. I retreated to my office and started calling establishments in search of the needed number of cartons. My third call paid off, and I found a store that had the number needed in inventory.
Driving to my savior’s destination, I itched and scratched all the way. Upon arrival, I made my way back to the pharmacy, and there they had a shopping cart full of the treatment waiting for me. As I wheeled the lice-mobile to the front of the store, people stared at the contents and stepped back from my cart, providing them with a comfortable buffer zone. I felt like shouting “Lice can jump 10 feet you know,” even though I knew it wasn’t true! I wanted them to suffer too!
As I unloaded the 40 boxes of RID onto the conveyor belt the lady in front of me gasped in disbelief and got as far away from me as possible. The people behind me went to another line. When it was my turn, the cashier stopped to put on rubber gloves. It was downright embarrassing and humiliating, and I was sure that Lee was responsible! It was a lousy situation for sure.
Back at the center, we spent the rest of the day washing heads and using the nit combs. Next, we sanitized the mats and thoroughly vacuumed and laundered all the blankets. My staff were not happy campers and threatened to quit every 10 minutes. I shared their pain and wanted to abscond just as much as they did…maybe even more! By 6 p.m. all the kiddos had been picked up, and I spent another four hours cleaning and disinfecting. I had arrived in the darkness of morning and fittingly left in the blackness of the night. It had been a day of gloom and doom from beginning to end, and in five hours, I would get to do it all over again.
It was a day from which nightmares are born, and one I never want to repeat. I fell into bed and dreamed of super-sized lice taking over the world, dead fish, and yelling “LEE!” The only positive out of the entire escapade was that I did not get lice. Two weeks later, I quit when Wenatchee School District offered me a teaching position at the juvenile center. Writing this memoir is making me itchy!
August 1, 2016