Tucker’s teacher met me on the sidewalk as the children streamed out of the school. She had her arm around Tucker, and they walked with the unified stride that says, “We’ve got to tell your mom about the day you’ve had.”
He had been agitated. Wiggly and squirmy. Bothersome to his classmates, poking into their personal space. We talked about it. We agreed the three of us would work together to help Tucker with this kind of impulse control.
Then she said, “Hey, Tuck, I see your brother on the playground. How about you run and play with him?” She sent him running on his way, and then her eyes met mine.
She told me more of the story. He had been so impatient for the children to leave so he could talk to her. “Mrs. Herr, my daddy died. He died at Christmas in the bedroom and he breathed his last breath and my mommy held his hand.” She said it all came spilling out of him. She said his tension and agitation were gone as soon as he had been able to say these words out loud.
She said, “I think he was really thinking about his dad today. I think he didn’t know what to do. It was too much for his body to hold today.”
My sweet boy.
He had told her, “Mrs. Herr? I think you would like my dad.”
“Yeah, Tuck? I bet I would. What can you tell me about him?”
“He had a red and brown mustache. And he made me laugh.”
“Do you look like him?”
“Mommy says I do.”
“Then you have the best gift of all, Tuck. You can see him every time you look in the mirror.” What a beautiful way to say this.
Mrs. Herr looked to me. “He was a good dad, wasn’t he?”
“He was a great dad.” Tears spilled underneath my sunglasses.
“I can tell. Tucker remembers that about him.”
“For the record, Mrs. Herr, you would have liked him very much. Everyone did.”
“I have no doubt, dear. No doubt at all.”
When we got home that afternoon, I gave Tuck a picture of him with Robb. It was Tucker’s half-birthday – the day he turned 18 months old. We had bought a little wagon and some sand toys, and we had come to the playground to play – the very playground where the boys play at recess everyday. Robb climbed ladders and tunnels, following our toddler everywhere. I, very much pregnant with Tyler, took pictures.
Tucker took the picture to school the next day. He and Mrs. Herr found a special place in the classroom to keep the picture. She let him visit the picture any time he needed to. He showed a few friends, but he made no grand announcement.
(Some things are too sacred to say out loud.)
Here’s an amazing detail to the story: Mrs. Herr is a substitute. Tucker’s first grade teacher has been on a medical leave, and Mrs. Herr has stepped in to fill the gaps and sew the seams together in the classroom.
She taught for 35 years, she retired because it was time but not because she had had her fill.
I spent a season as a substitute teacher, and I know an investment is a choice: you can punch the clock and check off the lesson plans, or you can engage and teach.
Thank you, Mrs. Herr.