Years ago when my little heart was all aflutter, and not in the good way, I had to wear a heart monitor to school. I did my best to cover up all the receptors stickied to my chest, but the wires hanging down from the monitor were harder to keep tucked away. I didn’t want to alarm my little students, so I went about the day teaching while my heart ticked away on the monitor. A couple of kids noticed the wires and asked what they were. I pacified them with simple answers like “wires” or “oh, nothing” and kept on teaching. These dismissive answers did not satisfy Ethan.
Ethan was a stick of a boy with a heart of gold. He was quiet and thought carefully before he spoke. In a small voice he questioned what the inside of a chrysalis looked like when a caterpillar is becoming a butterfly. Another day he asked me how much gravity weighed. He was the kind of kid who lost a tooth and then looked at it through a magnifying glass to see what teeth were made of. So, when he saw wires sticking out from under my shirt, our conversation went something like this:
Mrs. McCauley, what are those?
Wires to what?
Ethan, it’s really nothing.
Wires don’t usually go to nothing. What do they connect to?
Can we talk about this later, Ethan?
I’d hoped he’d forget all about it, but, no, not Ethan. Later that day, as I crouched down, helping another student, Ethan sidled up next to me, fingering the wires. He gave them a gentle tug and was shocked to discover they were attached to me. I didn’t say a word, smiling because I could see his wheels turning.
The next morning as I prepared for the day in the quiet of the classroom Ethan arrived insistent on knowing what these wires were for.
“Mrs. McCauley, what are those wires? Where do they go?”
Here’s where I got creative and cemented this kid’s future need for therapy.
“Well, Ethan, I’m a robot and my wires are coming loose. I have to go in to get repaired.”
“You’re not a robot…are you?”
Leaning down so we were face to face, in my most staccato robot voice, I replied
“I am robot 413 in need of repair. Do you have any tools?”
Ethan stared at me wide-eyed, jaw agape. Other students filed in, ending our conversation. As the day went on, I answered all of Ethan’s questions in a quiet robotic tone.
As the last kid hurried out the door, I dialed Ethan’s mom. I explained the real reason for the monitor and then told her about the joke I’d played on Ethan. Her sense of humor was as twisted as mine and, to my delight, she played along! The rest of my conversations with Ethan that year were peppered with robot talk and more than once I saw Ethan checking for loose wires.
Today I sat in the cardiologist’s office, dismayed to be on this road again. Dismayed to add another EKG to the stack. Dismayed at the idea of going on heart medication again. Dismayed at the fact that I have to wear a heart monitor for a couple of days. Terry, always trying to make me feel better, halted my grumblings by pointing out one bright spot.
“Well, at least you might get to convince another kid you’re a robot.”