In the school hallway a perpetually sunny six-year-old boy, a child in another primary classroom, stops and stares at me. "Wait," he puzzles. "Are you really a doctor, I mean in real life?" I have dressed in a doctor's coat and looped a stethoscope around my neck, because it is Halloween. My best friend is a physician, and she has kindly lent me my costume. ("No doctors wear doctor coats these days," she tells me on the day before Halloween. "Take it for as long as you'd like.")
At the boy's question I suppress a grin and answer, "No. Only on Halloween." This, by the way, is why I love children. They believe that I might just leave work every day and go to my other job as a physician. Their thoughts and dreams are expansive and bold. Anything is possible.
"But you are a doctor!," calls out our classroom intern, and she winks at me. "A different kind of doctor," I acknowledge. The boy looks from me to her and back at me. Now he looks mightily confused. "Happy Halloween!," I say brightly, as I sweep him down the hallway towards his classroom. At which point I may or may not take a swipe at the chuckling intern.
My children have started asking me questions. I've long wondered not only when this moment would arrive but also how I would handle myself in its presence.
"So, Mom." This from my eleven-year-old. "You have a PhD, like Dad. Why don't you train to become a teacher? You totally could." I smile at his faith in me. I agree. I totally could.
I explain that I wanted so much to raise him and his brother, that being a mother, for me, was and is a goal in and of itself. I add that this time is precious. His older brother will start college in fewer than three years.
He nods, but I study his face and realize that he does not understand. Or does not agree. Maybe he will understand, once he has children of his own. Maybe he won't. Should I care?
At lunch I sit with the children in my classroom. It is my favorite part of my day with them. They tell me stories, about themselves and their families. They share age-appropriate jokes funny only to themselves. I answer with jokes of my own, jokes I remember my own children telling at six and seven years old. They are open and generous with their inner selves. They are wondrous: all potential. They have most of their lives yet to live. They will laugh and love and eat and drink and grieve and learn and cry happy and sad and frustrated tears. They will go places and see people and sights they never even knew to imagine. They will bear children, become mothers and fathers themselves. They, most of them at least, will know what it means to grow old. Some will make choices and sacrifices similar to my own, and others will sacrifice in different ways.
But just now they are little more than clay that sits sealed off from air and light and waits to be shaped into forms, each form novel, each form promising things valuable and worthwhile.
I view myself these days as Balthazar. I am as wise as the people with whom I journey. I offer my unique gifts. But my wisdom and my gifts do not stand alone. They complete others' wisdom and gifts just as they are completed by others' wisdom and gifts. Lately, when I sleep at night, I sleep untroubled. If when I die the public does not mourn for lack of knowing me, there are still twenty-some fresh faces each year who brighten at my presence, and on whose shoulders I lay my hands: to guide, to protect, to motivate.
They call me Mrs. P., not - never! - Dr. P. And to the call of "Mrs. P.!," I raise my head and help mold another form. The beauty is that there seems an infinite supply of workable clay in every shade of every color, and black and white besides.