Checking My Ego at the Door


(© Photo courtesy of Kenn W. Kiser)

Some days I feel pretty good about what I do – I have a thriving writing business, three kids who aren’t giving me grief at the moment, and well, sometimes it’s easy to think I’ve finally “arrived” – whatever that means. I get a little full of myself and start thinking I actually know what’s going on, that I’m more important than I am, and that somebody out there just might be impressed with my accomplishments.

The rest of the time I wander around wondering what I’ve done with my life, but that’s for another blog.

Not too long ago, I was having one of those “isn’t-Lisa-special” days. The kids made it out the door to school on time with their homework done, I was busy interviewing several “Very Important People”, and the writing was flowing better than traffic on Sunday. Little thoughts of just how great I was started creeping in, and it felt good to momentarily entertain those delicious tidbits of ego. I could picture my friends and neighbors saying things like, “Wow, that Lisa – she’s just a great mom. Her kids get to school on time with their homework done. And did you notice those packed lunches? However does she do it?” I envisioned my fellow writers watching me in envy as I sat in a local coffee shop picking the brain of yet another CEO. It didn’t matter that if I saw this same CEO in the parking lot, he’d most likely not recognize me. At the moment, I was quite important.

Oh, yeah.

I breezed into my son’s elementary school ready to share an hour or two of my wonderful self with my son’s teacher. Yes, indeed – I was going to make her day better just by gracing her with my presence.

“Good morning, Mrs. Abeyta,” she says. “Have a seat until I finish this activity.”

I look around the room and spy a chair by the window.

A very little chair.

Made for eight-year-olds, not forty-something moms.

A little deflated but still feeling perky, I carefully settle myself into my tiny perch, tucking my skirt around my knees and balancing my purse on my knees, no small feat since my knees are now just about equal with my chin.

After a few minutes, she gives the kids time to work quietly and comes back to greet me. I try to stand up and discover that forty-something knees creak and pop. The kids nearby giggle.

She hands me a stack of papers, writes a code on a sticky note, smacks it on the top, and with authority that only comes naturally to a teacher, instructs me on my list of chores. It sounds easy enough – make copies, 112 on one side, then batches of 28 on the second side so that they are pre-counted for the other teachers. Math on blue, reading on another color, letters on white. The rest? I can pick the color, just not white.

I carry my head high as I pass through the halls on my way to the work room.

The inner Lisa is still quite full of herself. “You’re such a wonderful person,” she says. “Just look at you making your son’s teacher’s life better. She’s going to think you’re the best mom in the class.”

I’m so busy patting myself on the back that I trip on a step, miss the turn to the workroom and just about drop my load of papers.

I shush that inner voice and get started on my tasks.

I push the buttons on the Xerox machine to make a master copy, but nothing happens. I hit clear and try again. Nothing. I open the lid. Close the lid. Open the side door. Close the side door. Nothing.

A little-less puffed up Lisa creeps into the teacher’s lounge looking for a friendly face.

Ever asked a teacher to give up some precious lunch time to tutor you on a Xerox? Not easy, I can assure you. Finally one staffer has mercy on me. With a few swift clicks, the machine is whirring to life. I’m back in business.

I take my fresh master copy to the Gestetner machine, an archaic technology which basically mass-produces copies using the old blue copy pages we used to shove between our papers. Once again the machine decides that my sequence of button-pushing doesn’t contain the right magic to grant me my wish. Just as I admit defeat and head back to the teacher’s lounge, my son’s teacher breezes into the room.

“Thought I’d get you started,” she smiles, all business. “Here, use this master on this machine. Use this one over here.” She continues talking as she presses buttons, shoves stacks of colored paper in the correct slots and creates stacks for the completed projects. In a matter of moments, she has accomplished what would take me a good half hour to figure out.

By now, the puffed-up-Lisa has packed her bags and temporarily moved out. She’s left behind a severely office-machine challenged nitwit who can’t find her way around the workroom with a GPS-enabled map. I watch and listen to the teacher carefully, hoping that just enough of the instructions sink in so that I don’t completely botch the project and make more work for the woman who spends her day with my son.

I finish up the copying and sorting with a few more glitches like paper jams, empy ink cartridges and the like. I return the stacks of colored paper to the correct slots and meekly deliver the goods to the classroom. I receive a quick smile of thanks as I retrieve my things and head for the parking lot.

Volunteering in an elementary school is truly good for the soul. It may not help the teachers very much, but it does wonders to keep a destructive ego at bay.

The words still flowed that afternoon, but the ego was definitely in check. I reminded myself that those conversations with big-wigs didn’t make me one. My kids are great because I am blessed and lucky – not because I’m so special.

Everything in life is a blessing.

The next time I forget that valuable lesson, I’ll know just where to go to get everything back into perspective.

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7 thoughts on “Checking My Ego at the Door

  1. I’m laughing…I’m smiling… I spent last week in the classroom too feeling a bit ah…inadequate. Not the usual inadequacies at work but a dfferent fish out of water. You captured it beautifully. Love this. Thanks!

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  2. Thanks, you all!I’m convinced by office skills will be great fodder for humor writing for quite some time… I am seriously challenged when it comes to running a copy machine, much less collate or get colors correct!

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  3. Lisa, this post is so funny and anyone who has volunteered at a school can definitely relate to it. I’ve run into a few cranky xerox machines myself.

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  4. Yes indeedy. Those copy machines held me in their thrall (thralls?) all the time I was Miss High and Mighty of a huge systemic program in the 6th largest school district in the nation. I always cringed when I had to ask the clerk for help. I can perform high order statistical procedures, but I can’t manage a double-sided copy for my life!

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  5. Lisa, you were asked to do something that was new. Give yourself credit for your motivation, self-initiative, generous spirit. Give yourself a break on the learning curve. I have seen grown men with PhDs crying in front of copy machines. They are the great equalizer.Next time will be easier, and the next next time will be even better and in a month or so–YOU will be the consultant on the copy machine the rookies go to.Fun story, but your ego is intact with me. Mary

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  6. Great post: Natural human behavior ya know. We strive to be accepted by society and we all want to be “special.”The best we can try to do is the right thing. This is for our own satisfaction in the knowledge of doing the right thing, because we are already someone special. After all other people can only “act” like you, as you are the only one special enough to be you.Now if I could just remember this for myself, I’d have it made!

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