Updated: Nov 20
By Carolyn Alessio
“Just one more thing,” my student’s mother said as I was winding up the report-card conference. “I heard you teach Sofia’s class remotely on Fridays.”
A pebble of dread formed under my ribcage as I feared complaints. “I’m so sorry--I should’ve informed all the parents,” I said. “The class is always supervised, and we do all the same work. But yeah, I hate to have any more remote learning after the past two years.” I waved my arm out at the sunny, once-open collaboration space that our high school had converted to private cubicle workspaces during the pandemic.
“No; that’s not what I meant,” Sofia’s mother said. Her gold-colored earrings swayed like tiny, soundless windchimes.
I waited, but when she didn’t elaborate, I tried again. “Sofia’s advanced, so she can use more, you know, enrichment opportunities,” I said, speaking so quickly that my breath sounded a bit labored, like my elderly mother’s. “I already told her about a summer STEM program over at SLU. The students stay in dorms, and they even get to keep their new iPads.”
“Yeah, she told me—that’s awesome,” the mother said. I wasn’t surprised to hear that the two talked a lot. Less than 18 years separated them in age, and Sofia had written vividly of the challenges her accountant mother had faced as a teen parent. My own mother had given birth to me in her mid-30s some 50 years ago but even now, I still shared so much with her.
A whirring sound came from the hand sanitizer at the entrance. The mother of another student was waiting for her conference. I waved, and Sofia’s mother stood. “Sofi thinks you’re funny,” she said. “She likes your class, and science.”
I wish I had hugged her, and mentally stored away the unexpected compliment for later, like a chocolate bar I hid for myself from my children. Instead, I blurted, “The Fridays aren’t permanent—probably just another month or two.” The last few words tasted acidic in my mouth.
Pushing back a lock of dark, shiny hair, Sofia’s mother looked me in the eye and spoke softly: “When Sofi told me you were teaching remotely from your mom’s, I said to her, ‘If I’m ever that sick, that’s exactly how I’d want you to take care of me.’”
As she turned to leave, I saw the next mother coming my way. My face still felt warm as I motioned toward the open chair.
Carolyn Alessio teaches high school on Chicago’s Southwest Side. Her work appears in The Pushcart Prize anthology, the Chicago Tribune, Sweet, Cleaver and elsewhere.