Do You Have the Stomach for This?


The first time I saw a kid toss his cookies was when I was working at camp as an 18-year old the summer before my first year of college. I had worked in some capacity at camps since I was 12, but somehow had always managed to evade the experience of seeing a child lose his lunch. I remember that day vividly. One of my campers was bent over at the hips, still wearing his camp bag on his back, losing it all in the grass right in front of the boys’ bunks. I don’t know whether he sold tickets, but he certainly had quite an audience. And, baby that I was, I recoiled, probably made some remark, and grabbed the first supervisor I could find. That the image remains with me this long after should not be considered insignificant.

Eight years later – yesterday – something similar happened with Samantha, the girl who joined my class on Tuesday. With her first day in her new class being only a half-day, yesterday was to be her first real experience of a full day with me and 11 new children. She seemed to be managing okay, despite coming in late and keeping her voice in mute mode for most of the morning (while trying to understand why I was asking her to dance with a dragon – our play is this week). I sat with her to get a sense of her letter knowledge, which gave her opportunities to speak to me and emboldened her to come up, ever so quietly right before lunch, to inform me, “I’m going to throw up.”

Well, we were getting ready to leave the room, so I flew into camp mode and passed the responsibility onto someone else – my para. I asked her to take Samantha to the bathroom. When we reconvened in the cafeteria, the report came that everything was fine and nothing came up.

When I came back to pick the kids up, though, Ms. Rodriguez informed me that two of the girls had taken Samantha to the nurse, as she felt again she needed to throw up. As we were talking, the girls returned and in their babble of excitement, I managed to catch, somehow, that, indeed Samantha did throw up, that the nurse couldn’t see her, that someone in the office couldn’t get her mom, and about a million other things that may or may not have been important. When I noticed we were the last ones left in the lunch room, I demanded my line leaders get to their spots so we could move ourselves. Of course, as soon as we walked out of the lunchroom, Samantha again announced that she had to…well, you know the drill by now.

Luckily, the coverage teacher for next period was right there, so I asked her to take the class so I could deal with Samantha. I sat waiting for her outside the bathroom. When she emerged, she said she didn’t do it, but she looked clammy. I took her to the nurse, who again refused to see her (they were having a meeting all day and accepting only true emergencies). Plan B? I took her to the office, where I figured I’d try to call her mom. As I was rummaging for her contact information, an uproar came from the bench near the door: Samantha was letting it loose right there in the recycling underneath the time cards. It was just coming right on up. I could tell she hadn’t eaten anything (you surely know how I knew). I made sure to celebrate the fact that she thought to get it in the can. (Oh, had my parents had such fortune with me when I was sick. I had a bad habit of making it to the bathroom when I was a kid, but never to the bowl.)

I could tell the child was in crisis. I took her to the guidance counselor and made no great effort to apologize before I blurted out, “Samantha’s throwing up all over the place! The nurse won’t see her and no one can get her mom! Can you try?!” The guidance counselor clicked off her speaker phone and told Samantha to sit. “Mr Foteah,” she said, “Let’s keep that garbage can close.” She was able to make contact with mother, who, two phone calls and three relatives later, said someone would come for Samantha within the hour. As we sat there talking with Samantha, it became apparent that maybe anxiety in the new class was the stomach bug toying with her insides.

I took Samantha up to the room, and she was pretty talkative the whole way up. Science was in session, and I brought her inside, leaving a garbage can next to her just in case. Within 30 seconds, her head was in it and more was on the way up and out. I packed her bag and removed her from the room to sit with me on my prep (which became a time for me to read to her while she sat in the big chair and I sat in the little one). She was finally picked up and we closed the door on her first full second half-day in my room.

Today I met with Samantha’s mom before lineup, and we clarified some things. She said Samantha liked the new class but was an extremely shy girl (I’d say so). But by the middle of the day, she had caught up on an art project we were doing, sat with Tessa at lunch, and played a ┬ámath game with Petunia and Dolly (the girl with whom she’s bonded most). She seemed to be falling into the routines, and by the time our Patrick’s Day party rolled around last period, she was talking excitedly with Jasmyn. There was no losing of the lunch today, no tossing of the cookies or cupcakes I brought in for our celebration, and no hugging of the garbage can.

Samantha – you’re here to stay. Let’s hope the contents of your stomach are, too.

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2 responses to “Do You Have the Stomach for This?

  1. Ah, the things a teacher encounters! But you stuck with her and gave her the attention she needed to find her place!
    Good for you!

  2. Pingback: Welcome to Your New Class | From the Desk of Mr. Foteah

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