The Tape Dispenser.

My first grade teacher, Miss Keating, was possibly the kindest teacher I’ve ever had. I had an intense fear of doing the wrong thing and getting in trouble. I wanted my teacher to love me and, for the most part, she did. I was punctual, respectful, and I always did my homework. I was perhaps a bit too chatty, but I always shut up when she gave me The Look.

One afternoon, she warned the class that she would be out the following day and we were to treat the substitute exactly as we’d treat her. Anyone who acted up in her absence would “get it” and since this was back when teachers could say you’d get it, you believed.

As someone with a lifelong history of taking things not necessarily directed at me incredibly personally, I was sure she was talking to me.

The day with the substitute was going fine. As we cleaned up our final art project, I walked the tape dispenser back to Miss Keating’s desk to return it to the exact spot from which I’d borrowed it. As someone with a lifelong history of mishaps, I tripped over a chair, lost my grip on the dispenser and sent it sailing across the floor. We found the tape, and the massive black holder, but that little round do-hickey that holds it in place was gone. I crawled along the entire floor and couldn’t find it anywhere.  The substitute announced it was time to go home. Despite my anguish, I was forced to give up the search.

I was certain the next day I was going to get it.

I cried all afternoon, all evening and then again the next morning. My mother, ever the non-worrier, sent me to school with a note in my backpack that likely said something along the lines of, “My kid is losing her shit over here, please don’t be too hard on her or she may never stop crying.” Miss Keating had a reputation for teasing in a gentle way, but as someone with a lifelong habit of not always being able to take a joke, sometimes people have to tread lightly with me.

The next morning, I immediately raised my hand to tell my teacher I had a note from my mom. I approached the desk, head hanging low, as if headed to my own execution. I stood there while my teacher read, my heart beating wildly in my chest, trying desperately and unsuccessfully not to let tears fall in front of the whole class. When she was done, she looked up with a smile.

“Michelle. Is this the tape you dropped?” she pointed to her dispenser, tape roll secured in place by the do-hickey.

I was in shock, but managed to squeak out that it was indeed the tape in question.

“It’s not broken. Stop crying.”

She said that the do-hickey had been found by the janitor, probably under a bookcase or desk, and was left for her that morning. The substitute had left her a note because I had been so distraught. She went on to explain the difference between innocent accidents and intentional defiance. She told me I was silly to be so scared. She wasn’t angry at me. I felt loved and safe.

And then she hugged me, because this was back when a teacher could hug her students.


Submitting this to yeah write, two days before my son enters first grade.

49 Responses to “The Tape Dispenser.”

  1. Kristin says:

    Can teachers really not hug students anymore? Total bust. I remember my first grade teacher, Mrs. Tanzemore. She used to basically drag this one kid around by his arm to get him to sit where he was supposed to. She was a large woman and when she walked around us sitting on the floor you would occasionally be enveloped by her long denim skirt.

    • I don’t know that they can’t as a rule, but there’s just so much more fear now than there was then. She used to pick kids up, tickle them, etc. She was great. But I guess dragging a kid around isn’t so great, and that’s how any kind of contact becomes frowned upon. It’s a shame really because I think most kids that little need the physical comforting sometimes.

  2. Marcy says:

    As someone with some of the same lifelong habits, I loved all the gentle people in this story. It’s so hard being a kid, isn’t it?

  3. Linda Roy says:

    Excellent last line Michelle. You poor thing. I was always in fear of something at school, but that was because I was dealing with nuns. ‘Nuff said.

  4. Wow, you were lucky to have such a kind teacher. It’s funny, I was the same kind of kid…

  5. Mamarific says:

    I’m with Linda, I was surrounded by nuns and scared for my life. Your teacher sounds wonderful. Isn’t it interesting the things that stick out in our memories from childhood? I hope your son has a wonderful time in 1st grade!

  6. I think we were very similar children… and I suspect my eldest will be like this as well. Your teacher sounds like she was wonderful – and just the right sort of person to be in teaching. I hope my daughter gets one just like her – hugs included, whether they are allowed or not.

    Really enjoyed reading this.

  7. I was that way in school too. No teacher stands out in my memories until high school tho.

  8. Stacie says:

    Wow! You know, I”m sad that teachers can’t (apparently) hug anymore…)

    • Some parents have a lot of fear and I think it’s probably safer or easier to have little contact. Nathan’s teacher held his hand to walk in and I was OK with that. He needed that sort of encouragement.

  9. kp Attman says:

    That kindness from teachers is so important, especially since many kids don’t get it at home. How much we owe teachers like that!

  10. Erica M says:

    What a lovely story. Sniffles…

  11. Joe says:

    Do I sense a little bit of OCD here? Of course, I may be projecting.

  12. hehe I love what you think your mom’s note said. :)

    • My mother could not understand why I was so upset about this. She told me all along everything would be fine, but I didn’t believe her.

    • Knowing your Mom, I also loved your imagining of the note’s contents. I get how she saw things, but I am with you. Sometimes, the seemingly practical people just don’t get what all the fuss is about. They don’t perceive the world the way we do. If you haven’t read it, get a copy of The Highly Sensitive Child. You may have the kind of epiphany I did. The epiphany that goes something like, “my child is a Highly Sensitive Person….and he gets it from ME.”

  13. Such a sweet story. I could picture 1st grade you so well. It is too bad that teachers have to be so distant from their students now. I understand why, but sometimes a hug is called for.

  14. What a great story, and that is one incredible teacher.

  15. Cindy Reed says:

    This is wonderfully written – the repetition of phrases, the bookending of what teachers could do back in the day, and the showing, not telling, of a child’s anxiety. Also: I was you. It sucked to be such an anxiety-riddled rule-abide.

  16. dorothyadele says:

    It sounds like you had a great teacher. Isn’t it sad that a teacher can’t hug their students any more?

  17. Shmoo Radley says:

    Really sweet story, well told.

  18. I had a really similar incident when I accidentally stepped on and broke a plastic razor of my mom’s. :)

  19. Gina says:

    I loved how you imagined the contents of your mom’s note. My daughter’s male track coach several years back, and in front of me, congratulated her on a race well run and said, “Screw it! I’m going to hug her!” She was thrilled. It was appropriate and innocent and reminiscent of how it used to be. Great story telling.

  20. Wow if I had a nickel for every time I laid awake as a kid over this sort of thing. Actually I still do too. Over the years I have found that I never get in trouble for anything that I think I will get in trouble for. It always comes out of the blue. What a great and understanding teacher you had also.

  21. I was just like you. I hated getting in trouble and would agonize for hours over something like this. I love how you wrote it and you always nail your mother’s character. Good to see her back in these posts, even though she triggers the daylights outta me.

    • I’ve been writing more about my mom for the memoir, so she hasn’t been showing up on the blog much. Someday I’ll do an impersonation of her for you because her voice just ties the whole thing together. Think whining yet apathetic smoker.

    • I really want to read your memoir. I knew your Mom as an outsider to the family. I was older than you just enough to see things differently. But again, from the outside. Sometimes, I really miss your Mom, and I think reading your memoir will be like hanging out with Paula again.

    • Diane, I think you’ll probably get an early look at it when it’s done. It will be good to have someone who knew us when read it.

  22. 50Peach says:

    My goodness we are similar creatures. Loved this piece. I send you hugs, too.

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