restricted access Chapter Five. Carolyn and Sarah, Somerville, September 1986
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Chapter Five Carolyn and Sarah Somerville, September 1986 After my neighbor was arrested, my apartment building became quiet as a tomb. No sounds came from the apartment next-door, and the tough kids who used to hang around the stairwell were gone. I didn’t see how this state of affairs could possibly continue, but I was determined to enjoy it while it lasted. The day after Labor Day, I started my new job at the Happy Trails Afterschool Program. Although I didn’t want to admit it, I was pretty nervous about the whole thing. It had been five years since I’d stood in front of a classroom, and I hoped I’d be able to handle the work. As I buckled my daughter into her seat for the forty-mile drive to the suburbs, I fussed and fretted. Before starting my first day on my new job I had to drop Sarah off at her new babysitter’s. “But Mommy why can’t I come with you?” Sarah’s almond-shaped eyes, a gift from a stray Mongolian ancestor on her father’s side of the family, narrowed in frustration.“I went to preschool already this morning. Why do I have to go to the babysitter’s?” “It’s complicated, honey,” I said.“I would bring you if I could, believe me.” It had been my idea for Sarah to spend her mornings going to preschool. The school had an excellent reputation and gave Sarah a chance to meet other children. This new babysitter, however, was another matter. Until my boss changed her mind two weeks ago, I’d thought I was going to be able to bring Sarah with me to work. I’d been in a blind panic to get a babysitter and hoped that the woman I’d finally found was going to be OK. Pushing my daycare concerns aside, I drove onto the expressway heading west. As Sarah stared moodily out the window, I reviewed my lesson plan for the day. First, I’d introduce myself to the students, telling them something endearing and funny so they’d feel comfortable with me. Then, I’d sit down at the piano and play them a song: “Rubber Ducky” from Sesame Street or maybe the theme from Charlie Brown’s Christmas. Once I’d gotten them excited about music, I’d teach them a fun song, maybe the silly round I’d learned as a kid: Yum yum yum yum chewing gum I love my chewing gum 17 18 Chapter Five We pulled up to Mrs. Novak’s house at exactly 1:30. Sarah’s new babysitter was a plump blonde in her forties with a careworn face and a tired smile. As she chattered on in a pseudo-cheerful, singsong voice, Sarah remained silent, sucking her thumb and eyeing the woman warily. If everything went according to plan, there was a small chance I would not be late for my first day at work. But when I stood up to leave, my daughter burst into tears. “Come on, sweetie,” I pleaded. “It’s only for a couple of hours while I go to work. I’ll be back before you know it.” Saying a prayer that Sarah would indeed survive the afternoon without me, I kissed her on the cheek, waved good-bye to Mrs. Novak, and walked away without looking back. The Happy Trails Afterschool was located in the basement of an old elementary school. When I interviewed for the job at the company’s corporate headquarters in Boston, I imagined a bigger and better-equipped classroom. My heart sank as I looked around the cramped quarters where I was to teach for the next three hours. There were no windows. There was no furniture other than a few battered wooden chairs. And, most devastating to my carefully constructed lesson plan, there was no piano. As I was absorbing this blow, my new boss breezed in. Elmira Janeway was a willowy blonde with a breathless, Valley Girl demeanor. She couldn’t have been more than a month out of graduate school. “Where’s the piano?” I asked her. “Piano? There’s no piano at this site. You must have been thinking of our Weston location.” “But how am I going to do music with the kids? Do you have any instruments , drums or shakers or anything they can play?” Elmira looked surprised. “No, of course not. The kids get restless if they sit...


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