Part of my job requires me to supervise the activity in the lunchroom at school. It's not as glamorous as it sounds, believe me. It's loud in there, and there's food on the floor and when kids hug me I usually don't notice the big glob of salad dressing on the front of their shirts until it's too late.
Also? Who's with me on a massive lawsuit against the makers of Gogurt? Because I think they make those mother effing tubes impossible to open just because they can.
One thing I do love about it, though, is the opportunity it gives me to chat with the students. As I walk from table to table, I hear snippets of conversation and am often pulled into discussions. From time to time I will see a less-than-happy kid and to be able to sit down next to them and talk is such a good thing. Of course there are shenanigans happening, and I try my hardest to break things up without breaking kid's spirits.
Our school goes from Kindergarten up to 6th grade. Since I've been at the school in one capacity or another for almost a decade, that means I have known the majority of the kids since they were 5 years old. For some that means we just met this year, for others, I've been part of their school days for half their lives. There's a certain level of comfort that comes with this kind of familiarity, and since I am not their teacher, my relationships with them have more of a "mother hen" tilt than anything else. I am a giver of hugs, a dispenser of advice. Sometimes I whip out my disappointed voice but most of the time I aim to be a source of comfort and reliability. Some kids need this more than you could imagine.
One afternoon, not too long ago, I was chatting with a group of 5th grade girls, who were sitting as they always do, at the end of one of the long tables. I've known this particular gaggle of ladies since they were pig-tailed kindergartners. One of them, I'll call her Susie, has always been one of those outspoken kids. The kind who looks at you with eyes that radiate a maturity beyond their actual years. I've always had a soft spot for her, for some reason the kids who have the sparkly personalities are drawn to me and I don't mind it one bit.
I was standing in front of the girls, and Susie leaned towards me a little. In a not-whispered voice she announced, "Jenny, you have a booger in your nose."
Now, the fact that I had something in my nose is not a shocker. For some reason, from about October to March I am plagued with annoying nose stowaways. "Girl Most Likely To Have A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' In Her Nose"? That's me. I have grown accustomed to popping into bathrooms and doing a quick nose check. I blame it on the weather in Minnesota and also the architecture of my nose. It's one of those little noses, the kind that was called "pug" when I was little and now that I'm older has become more "pointy". When I was pregnant it grew to twice its size and took up 3/4 of my face. What I'm saying is that there isn't much room to hide in my proboscis.
So when Susie casually informed me of my snout crusties, I wasn't completely surprised. In fact, I think I said, "Aughh! Which side? Is it big?" as I dug in my pockets for one of my ever-present tissues. Susie, bless her heart, said, "It's not that big. On the right side." I swiped at my nose with the Kleenex and asked if it was gone. She smiled and said, "Yep. You got it."
This is where the life lesson came in. I bent down a little, so I was at the girl's level. And I said to all of them, "You guys, what Susie did may have seemed a little shocking to you, but I want you all to know that I appreciate her telling me." They looked a little surprised. I could tell that a couple of them were embarrassed that Susie had been so personal with an adult, even if it was just me. One of them piped up and asked me, "Don't you think it was rude of Susie to say that to you?".
I smiled, and shook my head. "Nope. Not rude at all. In fact, I'm grateful that she said something." They looked at each other now, probably wondering if I'd finally reached the stage of working in elementary school called "burnout". But I had their rapt attention, so I continued:
"I had been talking to two or three adults just before I came over here to say hi to you girls. Not just adults, but they're my friends! And not one of them told me I was walking around like that." And really, the women I'd been gabbing with just minutes earlier are my friends. We socialize outside of school and are facebook friends and everything! Now, chances are that because of where Susie was sitting she had a better view of my nose (lucky her), and my friends didn't see the offending nostril hitchhikers. But I wanted to tell the girls something that I always made sure to teach my own kids.
"Ladies, if you're with someone and you notice something that you'd want to be told about, whether it's boogers or food on your face or gum on the butt of your pants, the kind thing to do is to tell them." Susie tilted her head a little bit, as if what I had just said was still hanging in the air like dialogue in a comic strip and she was still processing it.
She finally spoke, and when she did, she said this: "That's why I told you. Because I like you and I didn't want you to walk around talking to people with a booger in your nose." I pointed at her, and said to the other girls, "See? That's it exactly. Now there are ways you can say it so you don't embarrass your friends." At this point I crouched down and folded my arms on the table in front of me. "For instance, one of my friends and I have a kind of code for situations like this. When one of us has something in our nose, the other one will say, 'Hey, there's a bat in the cave.' And we know exactly what that means."
I chose to not discuss how this same friend and I have also sworn to tell each other if we have rogue eyebrow/nose/mustache/chin hair, too. Like the time the two of us were standing outside, having just gone on a walk. We were having a little bit of a gab, when I noticed a black whisker poking from her chin. I told her, and then because we're friends, she asked me to try and grab it. Like, with my fingers. I'll admit right here in front of God, my dog and you guys, that I did indeed get a hold of that wiry sucker and yanked it out. Because that's what friends are for, dammit.
But I figured these 10 and 11 year olds weren't quite ready for the facial hair part of this lesson, so I got up. Before I left their table, I once again thanked Susie for her candor. She leaned over, gave me a half-hug, and said, "You're welcome. I'll always tell you from now on." And as I walked away, I thought to myself, "Unfortunately, Susie, I'm afraid you'll have many more opportunities to do just that." I absentmindedly brushed at my nose with another tissue and went on my merry way.
Now you know how I feel about the whole "Should I tell her??" issue. Where do you stand? Do you appreciate being told that you, too, have a bat in the cave? Or is it way too personal, something that is best left for you to discover on your own, in the rearview mirror of your car or as you wash your hands in the bathroom?
I'll be waiting to hear your opinions on this pressing issue. Over here with a pack of Kleenex at the ready.