Running on empty

I couldn’t find my horoscope in the newspaper this morning, but the songs on the radio have done a pretty good job of summing it up for me.

This evening when I pulled out of the parking lot of the school where I teach after about three hours of grading papers, “Running on Empty” was on the radio. I couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate song myself.

And it’s not just me.

Classes have been in session for two weeks in the district where I teach and my kids attend school. Twice since school started my 6-year-old daughter has fallen asleep on the floor with her thumb in her mouth at 4 p.m., something she didn’t do all summer.

First grade is exhausting. There are a lot of social trends to keep up with as well as academic rigors. When I woke my daughter up at 6:30 a.m. yesterday morning, the first thing she said to me was, “I want hand sanitizer.”

She had her thumb in her mouth, so I didn’t understand at first.

“Come again?” I said.

“I want one of those little bottles of hand sanitizer that clips onto your backpack,” she replied, barely opening her eyes.

I gathered then that all the cool kids in first grade have this coveted accessory. Because I have misgivings about the overuse of antibacterial hand sanitizer, I have been looking for a small bottle of lotion I might clip to her backpack instead.

My daughter and I are not the only ones who are a little overwhelmed by the stimulation of a new school year.

As I made myself a cup of strong coffee this afternoon before starting a grading marathon, I talked to a teacher with nine years of experience who said he planned to use the weekend to “catch up.” He was exhausted.

Before I left school, I had some small talk in the bathroom with a teacher who has more like 25 or 30 years of experience. I asked her what she would do this weekend. She said she planned to catch up on work and was exhausted.

My husband, who is also a teacher, said, “This week has certainly tested my bladder.”

In the lunchroom today, we discussed the fact that we did not plan on voting for that politician who said all teachers should be punched in the face, whoever he is. We are still trying to verify his identity and exactly what he said, but when we do, we will not vote for him.

I never do forget to be grateful for the fact that since I am no longer a news reporter, I don’t have to be knowledgeable about politicians and exactly what they said. I can go to bed at 9 p.m. and not watch the news or CNN. For the second year in a row, I will not be covering Election Day. I will not be going up to strangers at the polls and asking them who they voted for and why. That was hard, people, but I made myself do it.

My mom tells the story of how, when I was 4 years old and watching The Today Show, I asked, “Mom, how much does Jane Pauley make?”

This morning as I drove to work, the song on the radio was Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me,” which was also appropriate, not in the romantic sense, but in that every normal person wants to be liked and loved and appreciated; I don’t care what they say.

I put on my aviator sunglasses from Target and took my creative writing class outside today. I was wearing my blue-and-white tie-dyed skirt, which I loved until the bottom kept getting caught under my chair. I’m never wearing that to school again.

The most annoying people are those wanna-be hipster literary types who pretend they don’t care what people think. Yet there’s so much effort in feigning apathy. I was once introduced to a guy who looked up from his laptop, grunted, and said, “I’m from New York.” This was to explain his lack of interest in others. I thought maybe next time I felt like being a jerk I could just say that I’m from Winchester, Virginia, but it doesn’t have the same connotation of entitlement. Thank God.

When you are from the South, people expect you to smile and wave and serve them pie, which I do, although the pie is most likely from the bakery and my floors are sticky. I noticed this when I came home today. I put on “Touch of Grey” and sat down to write. It’s the most selfish thing I have done all week.

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