When Jim, my husband, comes in the door at night after a day teaching math to middle school students, I want him to relish the fact that he’s about to sit down and crush me in a game of cribbage. Because it is FACT not projection that he is going to crush me.
All day he manages 68 young minds wandering in the world of mathematics with different skills, attention spans and levels of interest. AND HE DOES THIS WHILE WEARING A MASK.
Equally pressing is the complex interpersonal dynamics that he adjudicates on a minute to minute basis. Playground fights about four square, volcanic rudeness at the lunch table or during class, student cell phone mismanagement and endless negotiations about missed classes with students who have been absent because of optional hockey tournaments in Boston, Montreal even Las Vegas. As I listen to the synopsis of his day, always conveyed without names to preserve anonymity, my mind spins with an awareness that I would have no idea what to do in the majority of these situations. Nightly I appreciate the arduous profession we call teaching and his efforts to connect to his charges with humor, common sense, patience and compassion.
After his complex report in answer to my nightly question, ” How was your day?, we sit down at the kitchen table for a game of cribbage before dinner. Every single night Jim can count on me to lose our game of cribbage. After a day in the classroom, he deserves this simple pleasure of a game won fair and square. And he does win fair and square. I am not gaming the system to let him win. I might do this with my four year old grandson during a game of checkers but with Jim, I TRY TO WIN. Yes, I have a competitive streak in there, and I unleash it every night only to go down in a blaze of glory.
There are the Hail Mary moments that never go right and cards which I am sure will bring a Slam Dunk that don’t. But no matter the sports metaphors I employ or my attempt to impersonate Vince Lombardi, I lose. I have last minute stumbles, and I experience out and out skunkings when Jim beats me when I am only half way to the finish. I suck at cribbage.
I wish this brought him a bit of relaxation even gloating. He deserves to gloat. But sadly, there is no gloating. I’m not sure there is even a modicum of pleasure. It appears impossible for Jim to take off the math teacher hat long enough to enjoy his victories. As I fail to beat him on a nightly basis, I see his teacher mind whirring, “What gaps in her math skills do I need to address? How can this woman lose every single night and what do I need to do about it? How is it that a math’s teacher’s work is never done? Will it solve the problem if we find another game? Something all luck versus 2/3 luck? Gosh, let’s never send her to Vegas. If she went to Vegas what would stay in Vegas is all our money.”
A math teacher’s work is never done and I may be his toughest case.