Day 19: A Child’s Labor

Linda almost gasped as she entered Mrs. O’Malley’s classroom for Open House. Every inch of wall space was covered. Bulletin boards with geometric shapes, pictures of Fairbridge, Virginia landmarks, posters for each season, and groups of odd objects clustered to represent numbers. American Indian artifacts filled the top surface of a bookcase, various oddities on the lower shelves, including a collection labeled ‘minerals’ and another labeled ‘fuzzy things.’ The children’s work was on the walls, on the shelves, on their desks, and along the floor in some places. Two rats snuffled around in a sizable cage on the floor in back. On the desktops sat toothpick sculptures with white squares of paper for bases and student-made construction paper folders packed full. Colored and embellished name tags were affixed to the fronts.

Mrs. O’Malley, big blonde bouffant and a fake pearl necklace, looked like a high school student. She spoke with a mother while a few others, including a father, looked around the room. Linda sought Abraham’s name tag, which she easily found due to the Captain America shields in each corner. He was toward the back on one side. His folder appeared nearly empty and no toothpick sculpture.

Linda went to his desk and opened the folder. She found two items. A picture of a balloon under which he had written ‘Are is gas’ and on wide ruled paper a few sentences about his favorite pet, Boleg the turtle. How is my child getting all Ses and Cs if he’s not turning in any work?

She peeked at another mom going through a folder on Daneesha’s desk. The name tag had nicely drawn flowers and bumblebees. Her sculpture was a nicely formed heart-shaped box, a yellow origami kangaroo sitting in the middle. The mother held an eight-lined poem bordered with detailed drawings of butterflies, mushrooms, and a single unicorn. The next item on the thick stack was a pink sheet of construction paper, cutouts of a circle, a table, and a dog and cat glued on, all labeled for clarity.

Linda regarded the bleak folder in front of her, and worry wormed its way into her chest. Did Abraham have a learning disability? Was he just being lazy? Didn’t Mrs. O’Malley grade him for the same work as the others? Anger rose as she considered the teacher’s part in it, so she braced herself to be firm and unremitting as she waited for her to finish with the other mom.

She stood by the desk and fixed her unwavering eyes on Mrs. O’Malley to convey her demand for attention, and it worked. The teacher nodded to the mother, then smiled at Linda and walked over.

“Hi, Mrs. Zuccaro. So glad you could make it.”

“Wouldn’t miss it. You have a very busy classroom. I’m amazed you have time to properly evaluate their work with all the setting up you have to do.” She stressed the word ‘properly.’

Mrs. O’Malley shook her head. “I have the students do most of it, and the textbook companies give me most of the posters. Have you looked at Abraham’s work?”

Linda hesitated. She wanted to lay into this inexperienced young woman, but didn’t quite trust herself to let it fly. “It appears to be a bit sparse,” she said and handed Mrs. O’Malley the folder.

Mrs. O’Malley tossed the folder onto the desk. “His work doesn’t fit in this.” Come over here.

Under the heading ‘My Home,’ several sheets of construction paper with labeled cutouts hung taped to the wall in the back of the room next to the rat cage.

“Here’s Abraham’s,” said the teacher. Brown construction paper shaped into a roof protruded several inches from the paper, a wall with a door folded slightly outward hanging from it. To the side of it, blue construction paper had been cut into the sides and top of a car, taped together, then the front glued to the paper and a Mercedes hood ornament added in crayon. “Open the door.”

Through the folded door, a table and comfy chair were molded from red paper and glued to the back.

“Huh,” said Linda. “I would say ‘this is more like it,’ but this is amazing.”

“Look over here,” said Mrs. O’Malley. She took her to a side counter with a sink. To the right of the sink a tall monstrosity of toothpicks leaned against the wall.

“What the hell is that?” asked Linda.

Mrs. O’Malley laughed. “I’m afraid little Abraham was feeling competitive that day.” She pointed to the bottom. “See how these toothpicks crisscross like a fence?” Linda nodded. “When he started he said he was making a house, and this was the fence around it.” She moved her finger up a few inches. “See how it starts to look like a stone henge? He tried to make a Tyrannosaurus Rex behind the fence.” She grinned cheerfully. “That boy is brimming with ideas.”

“What did he try after he abandoned the dinosaur?”

Mrs. O’Malley tilted her head back with a feigned grimace. “He sits next to Lucas. When Lucas’s TV tower started getting some height, Abraham started gluing his to go higher. It looks like he may have tried to make something cylindrical at first, but then he just started gluing and supporting as high as he could make it. His turned out the highest, and this curiosity was the result.” They paused to study it. “It does have a sort of graceful fractal chaos, doesn’t it?”

Linda shared a chuckle. “I suppose it does.”

Mrs. O’Malley took her around the room looking at various assignments that Abraham had taken to three dimensions. Linda’s son had clearly done his work and more.

“Wow,” said Linda. “It looks like those Kid Genius classes paid off.”

Mrs. O’Malley’s eyes went wide. Her mouth tightened into a pursed smile. “You’ve done very well for him.”

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