Before first period, one of my kids walked in with a big smile. "Hi," I said to her, "how are ya?"
"Great!" she said. "How about you?"
"Not bad," I said.
She looked at me and asked, "OK, what's wrong?"
I smiled. "I'm fine."
She sat down next to me. "Want to tell me about it?"
"Well," I said. "My cat's sick. I think I might have to put her down."
"I'm sorry!" she said. "Anything I can do?"
"No, thanks," I said, amazed to be comforted by a 16 year old. "I mean, it's not that big a deal. She's getting old. And, really, it's just a cat."
Kids love to hear about teachers' personal lives. They especially latch onto stories about pets and family and the like. "The most important thing you can do," our principal likes to say, "is make a significant personal connection with your students." I think the thinking is to comfort them in their time of need, not the other way around. Anyway, I try not to waste class time on my personal problems, so when the bell rang, I had a good class. In fact, the kids did some amazing work. I was proud of them. I was happy.
Class ended, and second period students started coming in. The first girl in the room looked at me and said, "What's wrong? You look sad."
"I'm not sad," I joked. "I'm mad about the Bears!"
Wow, I thought, amazing how observant and compassionate kids can be. My colleagues, on the other hand, didn't notice anything amiss. When I told one fellow teacher that I was leaving early to take care of my cat, he laughed and said, "Do you even have a cat?"
I left work, but when I got home, Chisai seemed fine. She even jumped into my lap for an extended purring session. Maybe she was saying goodbye. (Chisai, by the way, is Japanese for small. I got her back when I returned from Japan in 1999, back when I still knew a word or two in Japanese.) I went out for a late lunch. When I returned from that, there was vomit everywhere. Chisai was standing hunched over, moaning in pain. Usually, she's tough, even nasty when she senses danger, but she didn't resist too much when I crammed her into a carrier.
She's spending the night at the hospital. And for the first time in the past eight years, I'm sitting at my computer without her in my lap, without her demanding attention, making me scratch her head with one hand as I try to type with the other. In a way, it's nice. But it's not the same.
Morning UPDATE in comments ...