I think I'll be a clown

"I think I'll be a clown when I get grown," said Dill. "Yes, sir, a clown.... There ain't one thing in this world I can do about folks except laugh, so I'm gonna join the circus and laugh my head off." 

"You got it backwards, Dill," said Jem. "Clowns are sad, it's folks that laugh at them."

  "Well, I'm gonna be a new kind of clown. I'm gonna stand in the middle of the ring and laugh at the folks." ~Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird,

Oh, internet.

People frequently ask me how I'm feeling, which is nice and very social-normish. I always feel like I'm disappointing them though, because I'm five months pregnant, and have nary a horror story. I feel fine. I threw up a few times, (once while driving to work, which required some orchestration since I didn't want to teach covered in barf.) and my pants don't fit.

People run through the checklist of possible symptoms, almost hopeful I'll say yes. Heartburn? No. Cramps? No. Just wait, it's coming! Okay. I'll wait. *

I feel like I'm disappointing them, frankly.

But if they spent less time asking me about my body, and more time asking about my head, I'd have a textbook worth of symptoms.

Where is the chapter in What To Expect When You are Expecting that explains what happens when a student at your school dies, and you spend the week with heartbroken students, and then you watch them struggle through a long and painful funeral. And then you go back to school the next week, feeling like you teach in a mausoleum.

I don't know about the books would say, but I say I get angry. I get mental heartburn, because I don't understand the senselessness of the whole thing. My heart cramps up with rage because I don't get to feel grief like a parent or friend. My role is to watch everyone struggle,and hope that if the situation arises, I say and do the right thing.

I get mad because I can't protect my goofy, funny, lovable students from tragedy. All I get to do is teach them about themes, foils, and character archetypes, and it doesn't feel like enough.

Remember, students, in To Kill a Mockingbird when Jem finds out that Nathan Radley filled up the hole in the tree with cement, so that Boo couldn't leave Jem and Scout gifts anymore, and Jem cries, but doesn't know why.

We never learn why Nathan Radley is so unnecessarily cruel, bent on taking away any source of happiness for Boo. We never learn why sad things happen, and it makes me mad.

I feel impatient, with little social manipulations and power struggles, with the day to day human interactions where no one says what they really mean, or what they really think, and we all just dance around each other.

I don't feel like myself, these days.

Oh. (That isn't what people want to hear.)

Do  you get cramps?


On Monday, during a fairly dry (by nature of the subject) discussion of The Federalist Papers one of my students started giggling uncontrollably. He couldn't stop. Like a hilarious virus, it spread, until everyone was shaking with quiet laughter and looking at me apologetically through happy tears.

I pretended to be very put-out. But secretly, I was happy not to be angry anymore. Happy to know that there is something (even if none of us knew what) to be laughing about. I hope I remember that, when this first little daughter of mine comes home hurt, or angry, or shattered because she doesn't feel quite like herself these days, and her friends think she's lost it.

There is still something to laugh about, I just don't know what, right now.

*Murphy's law says I will experience all of the above mentioned pregnancy ailments. Probably starting now.


Emily said...

I have been there. When I was in High School a close friend died suddenly and it took everyone at school quite some time to get back to normal. I am excited for you to be a mommy soon!

Fig said...

Squee, a girl baby!

And I'm so sorry. Good luck, that is a really hard thing. Thank goodness for the laughers.

Rachel Angela Clark said...

I feel inspired.(Is that backwards? You're confusion and frustration cause me to feel the same. It's causing me to look for hope somehow... Breaking Dawn anyone?)
Really though, this may be my favorite post you've ever written...

Brooke said...

I had a giggle moment like this last week. It just sort of started out small and then erupted into uncontrollable and body wrenching laughter. It felt so good. And then when it stopped it made me realize how long it had been since I had laughed before that and I was sort of sad. But relieved that laughter was still there. I'm so sorry about the loss you community has experienced. They are lucky to have a teacher like you. said...

The older I get, the more I realize that Harper Lee was a genius. My go-to book in a bad situation that I have no control over is "Winter's Tale" by Shakespeare. I don't know why it helps me, but it does. Maybe channeling the outrage of a wrongfully accused queen helps me deal with my own anger. Or maybe I've just watched too much Dr. Phil.

Jessica @ One Shiny Star said...

Pregnancy should be re-named "the time in your life where strangers give you unsolicited attention but you just want them to back the f' off."... or something. It's a work in progress. The only symptom I had my ENTIRE pregnancy was heartburn. No morning sickness, no bad sleep, no back pain, no swelling. Every pregnancy is different, so just enjoy yours and pitty the girls who have a tough pregnancy.

Also, get yourself a new book if you're actually reading "what to expect." That book will cause you more problems than it will solve. I got "Your Pregnancy and Childbirth Month to Month" for free at my first OB visit, but it was definitely the most (accurately) informative book, even though I had originally planned a natural birth.

Stephanie said...


I published your comment, then I got your other one, and I tried publishing that one, and deleting the prvious, but blogger hates me and would not allow it. Let me know if you want me to change things.

@ Jessica

I hate "What to Expect" but figured most people were sort of familiar with it, unlike all my hippie birthing books...I agree way more problems than solutions.

Jason said...

True on so many levels :')

Risa said...

A few thoughts:

A classmate of mine that I had gone to school with since kindergarten was killed in a tragic accident right before my senior year. And the grief of it all definitely colored our senior year. I saw teachers break down over it and I think that's okay. It made me think they were actually humans. I think humanity in your work can only be a good thing. You don't always have to be strong and professionally distant to be professional. If that makes sense.

Second, I hated people asking me how I was when I pregnant. Did they want to hear about my ambivalence? Did they want to hear about my fears? No, they just want to hear about how you've never been so excited! So yeah, it's easier to talk about the physical symptoms. My 3rd one was conceived right before my mother died and blissfully no one kept asking me how I was or how I was feeling because it was pretty dang obvious I was grieving hard core while also being excited about a new child.

Pregnancy, death, et al. are all complex issues. I think that's why it just easier to talk about the superficial.

ChristyLove said...

I remember forming a walk-out in high school because a favorite teacher died and the district wouldn't excuse abscences for students who wanted to go to the funeral (threatened suspension, etc). Looking back on it I think really, while the district was out of line, our little hearts needed something to be angry about and distracted with.

I'm jealous of your no puking. I'm barfy all over the place.

Shan said...

We had a rash of suicides at my high school, all in all I think I went to five funerals in two months, but it's a bit of a blur. The teachers were amazing but they knew that things like PSAT's were important and they had a job to do. I always felt more sorry for them than us students, because they had to do their job and we got to grieve. You're so selfless and I'm sure down the road those students will be grateful for you.

Also, pregnancy is social dumbery. It's a word, I made it.

ChristyLove said...

Is it me or does the title for this blog entry keep changing?

Or am I not paying enough attention and just keep getting startled by your desire to be a clown?

Stephanie said...

@Christylove: Same title, but blogger is nuts. All of my comments show up in my inbox as from "Mary." I don't claim to understand.

Colt said...

I recently lost one of my best friends in Afghanistan.

I don't cry easy, and I don't get upset easy. I have that 1950s sense of manliness where I think a man should die like John Wayne, with three pounds of rotting meat in his ass, and nary a tear shed.

However, I still can't listen to the news about the war, watch The Hurt Locker or dive past a Chick-Fillet with out getting a little angry and sad. The only thing to know is that part of growing up is realizing not everyone gets that chance and to reminded to make the best of the time we have.

Do you crave pickles or pellet ice?

Mary said...

I thought I would leave a comment since all your inbox messages say they're from me anyway...good post though.

Ash said...

Hi. I'm pregnant, too. With two. I haven't felt bad, really, which I guess is abnormal? I just feel angry a lot. I'm not normally an angry person, so this has been weird. But I can relate. It's strange. I hope all the time that Murphy's law doesn't apply, because I don't want all those awful symptoms.

Stephanie said...

@Colt: I'm really sorry about your friend. That is terrible and sad.

I just crave water, but maybe I'll throw in some honorary Chick Filet for your friend.

Stephanie said...


Thank you for validating me! (The main reason I blog.)

The angry thing was surprising. I've always been a grump, but the irrational anger. Wow. Whole new levels.

Katrina said...

one of my favorite posts of yours i think. :-)

Jean said...

I was going to comment on this when I first read it, but I didn't. Just want to throw in my towel with the "mad at the world" during pregnancy camp. I get seriously angry at otherwise small things. Like people asking me how I'm feeling, or when my due date is, or if we've picked a name.

Enough about me, let's talk about you!

Hilary said...

I REALLY annoyed people with my first pregnancy -- I felt great, my iron went up, my fingers SHRUNK (I lost my wedding ring at 8 months pregnant 'cause it just fell off one day, and my feet went DOWN a whole size. I barely felt pregnant other than feeling the baby move and I loved it.

It made them all feel a lot better when my second pregnancy I got to be the size of a house, had sciatic nerve and round ligament pain, and I waddled from 7 months on. :-)

Of course, then I went and pissed 'em all off again by having a painless natural Hypnobabies birth. :-) You think it bugs people when you have a painless pregnancy, just see what happens if you dare admit you had a pain-free delivery! :-)

Anna said...

I'm sorry to hear about your students grief, it's nice to know that laughter made it's way back. That's definitely a good thing.
It's a girl, congratulations!! And, nobody feels like themselves when pregnant. It's ok to tell us you don't. I hope Murphy isn't kicking your butt now.