I have always had a bit of fear about receptionists and secretaries giving me the Roz lecture for being late or forgetting to turn in my paperwork. Now I have that fear with my children as well. I just want to go unnoticed when I arrive late.
I loved when absence lines for school were invented. No person to speak to when I call to explain why we’re late or why my child won’t be there or how we’re just going to stay home and eat ice cream all day (this really happened).
I just speak into a void and say awkward phrases like, “I’m calling on behalf of my child because they’re too sick to call, well, I mean, they don’t really make phone calls yet as they’re only in first grade–shoot!–I mean second grade. Anyway, this is about Child X, birth date such-and-such, medical record number–wait–who was I calling? Can I delete this? Maybe hit zero and get to a real person. These automated things are so ridiculous…”
Being in a new school district (the entire district is on one campus), I thought it might be small-town feel like my elementary school but with today’s technology. The primary school fit that bill pretty well. Some online stuff, some paper stuff, an absence line, and so forth.
The intermediate school seemed a bit less tidy. The secretary wanted all enrollment forms in the old-fashioned written out format. I can work with that. One fewer passwords to remember.
As I filled out the vaccination form for my then fourth grader, I carried on a dental-exam-and-cleaning-level conversation with the woman I thought would be Roz. “Mm-hmm,” “oh yeah?”, “for sure.” When she said in a somewhat apologetic tone that my daughter would need another immunization, I assured her in a full sentence that I felt strongly about those, so I would just help her get through it.
She said she felt strongly about getting vaccines also, but she understood why some parents were scared. And then like it was as usual as discussing the lunch menu, she just added that even after her son died from an allergic reaction, she still had her next baby vaccinated.
I was jotting down our old doctor’s phone number and scrolling through my phone for the fax number when I rewound the tape in my head.
“Your baby–died? Oh my word! What happened?” It had been decades ago, but suddenly I looked at this secretary–Peggy, did you say?–and saw a fellow mom. Another woman making decisions about what was best for her child(ren) even though it was like choosing between two options in the Would You Rather? game.
I didn’t interact with her a lot last year, so it was only this year that she truly became my hero. When my son with ADHD moved up to the intermediate school, Peggy became my lifeline. I was taking my son to tons of appointments and then, because of insane pharmacy issues, I was bringing medication in every day after lunch for a couple weeks.
I apologized one day that I hadn’t gotten any notes in from his various providers to get his absences excused. “Oh, you don’t need to do that. Your word is good enough for me. If you say it’s a good reason to have him out, that’s all I need to know.”
I gaped and started to offer to provide some sort of paper trail anyway. “No,” she said firmly. “You already have enough going on. You don’t need to prove to me that you value your son’s education.”
I wanted to bawl. Someone who saw right through all my frenetic maneuvering as I tried to keep up with so much more than I felt capable of handling. This calm in the storm behind a desk where she kept water cups and dedicated medicine spoons for the kids she dispenses medications to. She just gets it. No fuss, no frills. She knows her job and she does it well. She isn’t a nurse, but she takes on that role (in a legal way I’m sure–I did have to file that paperwork before she could dispense) and makes an incalculable difference with ripples of goodness in that role alone.
In fact, the other day I was hurrying to get kids ready and decide who was too ill to go and who was well enough to take cold meds and head out the door when Peggy called.
“Peggy? I was just going to call you!” She had noticed my son would be on a field trip and wondered if a later dosing time would be OK. “Yes, I was just going to tell his teacher to tell you. You’re amazing!” And then I told her my daughter was sick and wouldn’t be in. She wished her well by name and didn’t ask for symptoms.
It has been a tender mercy to have someone like her (and everyone who works with my son and focuses on the positives) to support me any my son. It’s easy to think that our value is tied to our title or professional accomplishments. Those who don’t need her may think she’s just a secretary. But if you need her, you too may find a hero who goes unnoticed.
[In writing this, I fully acknowledge that my beloved front office lady might not be required to do the same things as your front office lady (sorry if yours is a man–I have yet to see one) and that everyone has a bad day or even a bad year. We are all on this check-the-box and sign-on-the-dotted line journey together.]