Substitute the Lettuce, Please

Substitute the Lettuce, Please

In the world of grandmas, there are mimi's and cha-cha's, and gi-gi's and nana's. There are other pet names that we use to identify our relationships with the children of our sons and daughters. There there's me. Just plain ol' grandma. Or sometimes Grandma Nancy, to distinguish between another Grandma, Grandma Putt. That is, until the birth of my great-grandson. Yeah, I know, I have a hard time using the words great-grandma in relation to myself, but there it is. Sweet little Oliver. Little Oliver, only 7 months younger than my youngest grandchild, two years between him and the next youngest grandchild, then 17 years to his youngest uncle. It's tangled.

To Oliver, I have a whole different Grandma name, and I doubt there are any other in the world.

It started when we were visiting the new mommy at the hospital after he was born. The new Grandmas, the great-grandmas, Grandpa, Daddy, were all taking turns to see him, since there was a little difficulty, and he spent a couple of days in the NICU.

Different topics were discussed among us, stories were told, and we came around to the subject of schools, which led to me telling a story from my substitute teacher days. (A whole other subset of stories there).

I was called to substitute for a kindergarten class. I had been substituting at a couple of area schools quite regularly, so this day was no different when the phone rang and they needed someone to come in. Sure, I'd be there. It would be the first time subbing for kindergarten, actually only my one other time in elementary at all. Mostly I had done high school and middle school. I'd been surprisingly comfortable with it, staring them down with a scowling eye as they entered the room, my body language projecting an image of the SS Sturmtrupplers and tapping my imaginary spit-shined, knee-high boots with a figurative riding crop, while repeating to myself, "Never let them see your fear". It usually worked, too. No, I'm kidding. Not about the 'never let them see your fear' part but I definitely did not project much air of authority. I tried to keep it pretty low key. When the said they weren't going to do the (busy) work the teachers had left them, I just shrugged. Said, "No worries, you'll still be here tomorrow when your teacher comes back and I won't." I made a pact with them that all they had to do was be nominally quiet and not disruptive, and we could like each other for 50 minutes, and then we never had to see each other again. I thought it was a good bargain, and the kids seemed to find it workable, too, so I managed to babysit them without too much trouble.

So imagine (if you will….) a room full of sweet little kindergartners, young, innocent, free of the spark of rebellious attitude that pervaded the halls of the ferocious, pitiless, middle-schoolers. Sure that a scene reminiscent of Mr. Roger's tranquil neighborhood awaited me, I smiled sweetly as each little munchkin arrived, stowing their bags and backpacks in their little cubbies. I had gone over the lesson plan left by the teacher, and soon I stood in front of the class, wondering how to quiet the cacophony of what seemed to be dozens of shrill little voices, all disturbed by the sight of a strange face in their familiar little world.

Seizing the opportunity during a slight break in the furor, I pleasantly asked/suggested that they take their seats, and I introduced myself as Mrs. Ellis. I then proceeded to (try to) follow the proposed order of the day from the absent teacher, whom I would soon be envisioning as a mad, cackling, wild thing, laughing maniacally at having escaped the torment that hid behind the unprepossessing door marked, Mrs. Robertson's Kindergarten.

I honestly don't remember much after that. I was snatched into the white-water current of high C voices saying, "But we don't doooo it that way"; and; "But Mrs. Robertson does it like thisssss", rising to a panicked shriek at the end. All of them. Some wanted to show me how they did things. Others were indignant that they had the audacity to do so. THEY would be the ones to show me how. The competitive spirit to be helpful rose to tournament level. Far from being kind, innocent little poppets, they swarmed and swirled around me, darting and nipping, none inflicting a single fatal bite but collectively delivering a mortal wound. The more blood in the water, the more frenzied they became. Like a fever dream, I can only recall bits and pieces, there are snippets of popsicle sticks not being placed in the proper slots, of papers not being handed out in the correct order, of the terror of trying to release and capture for bathroom breaks, and recess has been completely erased from my memory banks. It was standing room only at the pencil sharpener. Occsionally, another teacher, hearing the battle roar coming from the room, would open the door. Immediate silence would ensue, to be replaced at even greater volume once their stern face had disappeared. But the one recurring memory is that of being asked, "What was your name again?" "Mrs. Ellis," I would reply, grateful that this was one thing I could be sure of doing to the standards demanded by the little demons.

"Mrs. Ellis," one deceptively adorable, pink-glitter-adorned little sadist repeated. "That's too harrrrrd", she shrilled (remember to hear the inflection rising). "Can we call you Mrs. Lettuce, insteeeead?"

Mrs. Lettuce. Why not? I was just ecstatic that they even recognized that I was in the room. At this point, I would probably answer to anything and nothing. So I said, "Of course you can call me Mrs. Lettuce. Surprisingly, relinquishing my identity appeared to satiate their bloodlust for human sacrifice, and I saw the last of them through the door before staggering to my car, driving home with the blank, unfocused, Lithium-induced stare of the mentally deranged, and collapsing on my couch, to sleep away the battle fatigue that tormented my mind. Pint-sized piranhas in human form capered throughout my dreams, tiny trolls in dinosaur shirts and flashing tennis shoes plagued me still.

Mrs. Lettuce. Mrs. Lettuce, indeed. Mrs. Lettuce was now in the Witness Protection Program, and would never again be available for the sacrificial role in 'Children of the Corn, Kindergarten Episode'. Middle-schoolers and high school only. By then, adults have become faceless non-entities, and the post-childhood/pre-adult denizens of the halls-of-peer-massacre instinct to destroy has been turned upon each other. I only have to stay out of their way to avoid being collateral damage.

It's a funny story but I still recoil remembering my one-day career as a kindergarten teacher. For the princely sum of $65.

"Mrs. Lettuce," my daughter-in-law repeated, laughing until tears rolled from her eyes. "That's what we'll call you. Not Mrs. Lettuce, you're Grandma Lettuce now."

Grandma, Grandma Nancy, or Grandma Lettuce, as a rose by any other name, it is all sweet to me.My sweet little darlings can call me whatever they want. To the sweet little darlings of Kindergarten Hell, if any of them were to remember it, I will always remain forever yours, Mrs. Lettuce.