by Rebecca D. Higgins
It’s the end of the grading period at our school, and like English and history teachers everywhere I still have a stack of papers waiting to be graded. I had decided earlier that I was going to stay late tonight and tomorrow to work in my classroom since I have more room to spread out there.
Students and fellow teachers left, and the cleaning crew arrived. Suddenly, the weakness that comes from eating snacks instead of actual meals set in, and I knew I had to take a break and get something more substantial to eat.
I headed up the street to a local Mexican restaurant. As I was led to a booth, I saw that a young couple with a toddler were seated behind me. Perusing the menu, I found myself squinting through tired eyes made blurry by a long day of reading papers and computer screens.
Suddenly, an ear-piercing shriek erupted directly behind me. My first inward thought was “Oh, dear! I’m too tired to eat my meal with a baby wailing in my ear!” But then I stopped and reminded myself that the toddler’s parents certainly didn’t want to hear it either, and I needed to respond with kindness.
I turned slightly and spoke over my shoulder. “It sounds like someone is tired,” I commented.
“It’s more likely that she’s breaking in a new tooth,” was the father’s reply.
“Oh, that’s even more reason to cry!” I sympathized.
There was a slight lull in the angry cries before they resumed once again at a high decibel almost directly in my ear as the child was held against her father’s shoulder behind me.
“I’m sorry for the loud screams in your ear,” the father apologized.
“That’s okay,” I told him. “Children are children, and they cry when they need to. Don’t worry about it.”
After a few more minutes, the mother got up and took the distressed toddler outside. Dad boxed up their leftovers and in a few moments headed towards the door himself. As he passed my table, he turned and said, “Have a good night.”
“Thank you. You, too!”
I continued the rest of my meal with the quiet murmur of adult voices around me. As I savored the last morsel of my food, the waitress approached to ask if I needed more water. “No, I’m fine. Thank you!”
She lingered. “Also,” she smiled as she said, “the couple who was sitting behind you paid for your meal!”