She’s behind her big counter, which is really her desk, and you say hello.
Pleasant and polite she is, despite the hectic craziness and the hustle and bustle of a morning inside a school office. Children asking questions, dropping off notes. Someone forgot his lunch, another, her homework. One is crying, and another one has a stomachache, but the nurse isn’t in yet. Two teachers are looking for recess coverage. The Principal drops a large stack of papers down in front of her. The phone and the door bell ring simultaneously and she effortlessly handles both.
And amid this chaos, you are “just letting her know” that your Dylan needs a bus pass. He’s riding a different bus home today, to Michael’s house after school. She nods, making eye contact, while scribbling down the information. Her note pad is already filled with little messages, decipherable only by her. Then you leave and go about your day, completely unaware of how her day might unfold from that point on.
And that’s fine because that’s what she is there for. It’s her job and she likes her job. She likes and loves the children coming and going, growing up before her very eyes. She has a name, of course, and most of you know it, but she is usually just referred to as “the Lady in the school office.”
The Lady. She is someone your child relies on, and you better believe she takes her role seriously. You have no idea what she sees, or what she does. How her heart fills up and pours out, day after day.
The Lady is a protector. She guards that entrance door like a secret service agent. And while school shootings have run rampant for many years, there was one particular heart-breaking tragedy that happened just a few years ago in a small town less than 8 miles from her school. One that permanently shattered the collective trust of all people who work in schools.
Therefore, sometimes the Lady isn’t so friendly at the door. She’s all business when she doesn’t know you, and even when she does, she still requires your ID and the purpose of your visit. She makes it difficult for you to enter your own child’s school, but make no mistake, she’s the first person in line for a bullet. The fact that she’s willing to assume this role is a small miracle. She understands that she is the one who must remain calm and cool. She is the one who must read other people’s intentions and rely on her instincts. When she squints her eyes at you to get a better read, just let it slide.
The Lady is a benefactor. She sits with your first grader when he tearfully enters the office upset over his forgotten lunch. Lunch time is pretty important to children, and she knows that not having a lunch causes more anxiety than any adult could ever possibly imagine. The Lady has been known to pull a $5 out of her purse and slip it to your child when you can’t be reached. She does this to ease his distress. Is it his fault that he forgot his lunch in your car? Probably. But she knows that even if you are annoyed, he will still be worried and hungry.
The Lady is a counselor. She listens to the teachers complain, and she quietly absorbs all the parent concerns about everything under the sun. Patiently, she nods without judgement, without really agreeing or disagreeing. She cushions everyone’s emotions like a punching bag. They vent their various, numerous frustrations and she somehow remains neutral. And when your daughter forgets her homework, and comes to the office cracking her knuckles and twirling her hair, the Lady reassures. She smiles and tells your little girl that absolutely everything will be fine. She tells her that she might lose some points, but maybe this feeling, the one she’s experiencing right now, will help her remember next time. And then the Lady offers some suggestions to help your child remember. She can’t fix it, but your daughter leaves the office feeling a little bit better.
The Lady is a nurse. Now, obviously she’s not the nurse, but she has tended more cuts and bruises on your child than most. She has sat next to him, your wide-eyed first grader, holding an ice pack on his head. She has calmed her, your screaming kindergartner, through a bleeding, skinned knee. She has quietly endured their pain alongside them, sopping up tears, holding hands and rubbing backs. This happens while the real nurse is pulling the chart and talking to you on the phone. Tear sopping and hand holding are just another part of the Lady’s day.
The Lady is a custodian. You don’t know this about her, but she has unplugged a toilet or two, and she has washed dirty words off of bathroom walls. She is sometimes the one who runs for the absorbent material used to sprinkle on the vomit in the hallway, when your child doesn’t quite make it to a bucket. And the Lady doesn’t even blink. She simply rolls up her sleeves and pitches in because it is not beneath her to help keep her school clean.
The Lady is the police. She raises her voice here and there, but usually it’s for a pretty good reason. Like running in the halls. Or showing disrespect. Or when kids are being mean to one another. Like you, she can set things straight with just one look. Her look involves thin lips and a furrowed brow. The Lady is kind, but the children know that when she is enforcing the rules, she isn’t fooling around.
Mainly, though, the Lady in the school office is human. She makes mistakes. She has had some tough days. And whether you realize it or not, the Lady (that one doing a million things behind the big desk) is your friend. The friend behind the scenes who is actively helping you raise your child.
And helping you raise your child is not in her job description. But that doesn’t matter. Raising children is everyone’s job. For her it means guarding him with her own life, keeping him on track, and wiping his nose. It means cleaning up his messes, reassuring him, and sopping up his tears. It means listening when he’s anxious, and it even means buying him lunch once in a while.