My eight-year-old daughter, Zoe, visits the school nurse at least once a day. Sometimes more. Does she go because she is legitimately ill? No. Does she have allergies or asthma or eczema or some other autoimmune ailment, like her lovely mother, who suffers from all three, and who used to go to the school nurse to relieve her symptoms? No.
She just likes visiting the nurse. A lot.
“How was school today, Zoe?” My husband, Brett, or I may inquire over dinner.
“Fine,” she’ll shrug between bites of food. “Except that I had to go to the nurse.”
Brett and I will exchange a look. Raised eyebrows from me, dimpled grimace from him. Then one of us will prod. “What happened, Zo?”
[Insert huge sigh here.] “I got a headache from all the math we did and I needed to go lie down.”
“Zoe, what’s five times four?”
“Ugh! You’re giving me a headache, Mom!” [Insert indulgent but slightly cynical laughter from parents here.]
Brett and I aren’t the only ones who notice this pattern. [Cue the older brother.] “I saw Zoe in the nurse’s office today,” our eleven-year-old son, Andrew, has reported over dinner.
“I had to!” Zoe will cry in indignation. “I felt dizzy on the bus, so as soon as I got to school, I went to the nurse.”
All three of us will give her looks. Raised eyebrows, dimpled grimace, and now Andrew’s crossed arms.
“What?” Zoe will ask. But then a sly smile will spread across her face and into her eyes.
“You know what,” I’ll say.
“You don’t think I need to go?”
“No, we don’t.”
“Well, I do.”
Let us move now to a portentous day last April. I had just arrived at my children’s school at 2 pm to teach art appreciation to Andrew’s 5th grade class. As I walked towards the building, I realized I had left my cell phone at home. What can happen between now and 3:00? I reasoned. Plus, I can’t be any closer to my children right now; if tragedy strikes, I’m in their school. This is the modern mind of a Suburban mom.
After signing in, I noticed that a girl in Andrew’s class was seated outside the nurse’s office, so I went over to say hi. “Lisa, are you okay? You’re going to miss Learning to Look if you stay here.” I said.
“I don’t feel well, so I’m going home,” she replied. “Thanks for checking on me, though, Mrs. Gerstenblatt.”
I began to walk away.
“Mrs. Gerstenblatt!” A woman’s voice called from inside the nurse’s office. “Is that you?”
I stopped in my tracks and turned back. “Yes!” I said. “It’s me!”
“Oh, good!” The school nurse appeared in the doorway. “I have been trying to call you! I tried your cell and home numbers.”
“Zoe’s in here!”
“Oh, really? What a surprise!” I said.
She smiled and nodded. We have this little understanding, the Gerstenblatts and the school nurse, about Zoe. The nurse knows that Zoe sometimes needs a mental/physical/spiritual break from the demands of a Scarsdale education, and we, her parents, know that she deserves this right because of the imposition of Singapore math on her childhood. “But this time, she’s hurt – for real!”
“Wow – for real?”
“Well, she cut her finger with some safety scissors.”
That sounded real-er than anything else she’d gone in for, but still quite luckily benign.
I stepped into the nurse’s office to find Zoe with a bandage around her pointer finger. She had been whimpering softly, but as soon as she saw me, she started wailing. “Mommy!”
“I think the gash is quite deep. She may need that special glue. You should have a doctor take a look just in case.” The nurse was explaining loudly, over Zoe’s screams. I took Zoe onto my lap and kissed away her tears.
“Okay, let me call the doctor.” I said.
While on the phone, I realized that my friend and co-teacher for Andrew’s class was probably waiting for me in the art closet downstairs, wondering where I was. I had no cell phone to call her with and a bag filled with supplies that she would need.
“We’ll take that for you,” the nurse said.
I also needed to let Andrew and his teacher know what was going on. “We’ll tell them.” She said.
I spoke to the receptionist at the pediatrician’s office. “We don’t do that here,” she said.
“Okay, I’m going to take her to White Plains hospital,” I explained to the nurse. Which, of course, made Zoe hysterical.
As I put Zoe in the car, I realized that I needed to tell the soccer carpool that Zoe would not be attending the practice. I also had to let my mother and my husband know what was going on and arrange for someone to pick up Andrew at 3:00.
What I needed was the goshdarned cell phone.
“Keep that finger raised, hand above the heart!” I told Zoe as I headed towards home, in the opposite direction of the hospital.
Once I had my cell phone, I alerted the family of the situation as I headed down Post Road. My mom, who was at the hospital visiting my grandmother at the time, came around to the emergency room to sit with us.
We were admitted. Zoe was given a wristband. Her vitals were checked. She was weighed. “Now, let’s see this cut,” the nurse said, unwinding the gauze ceremoniously.
Zoe cringed. I squinted my eyes. My mom looked on nervously, perched on the edge of her chair.
The nurse examined the finger, turning it one way and then the other. “Seriously?” she said.
“What?” I asked.
“You came in for this?”
It was a minor cut. “That’s it?” Zoe asked, examining her own finger with joyful relief.
In the end, Zoe was given the royal treatment of the amazing glue and a very expensive band-aid. She skipped soccer practice, even though no hands are needed for the sport.
“Zoe, what’s five hundred times four?” My husband, Brett, asked the other day.
“I don’t know!” She said. “You’re giving me a headache.”
“Well, this time, I have a headache too,” Brett said. He was holding up several bills from White Plains hospital. “Because that’s the ultimate cost of the last visit you made to the nurse’s office.”
I like to think that if school didn’t teach math or let the kids use safe scissors, my daughter would have no need to go to the nurse. But then Zoe returned from her first day of summer camp.
“How was camp?” I asked over dinner.
“Fine,” Zoe shrugged. “Except that I had to go to the nurse.”
“What could have possibly made you need the nurse on the first day of camp?” Brett asked.
“Did tennis give you a headache?” I wondered.
“Did the rough pool surface cut the bottom of your delicate feet?” Brett asked.
“Were you dehydrated? Malnurished? Sunburned?” I added.
“Did you need to have your eyesight checked?” Brett laughed.
“No!” Zoe called out, stopping our tirade with her triumphant smile. “I didn’t go for me. Jamie needed a tissue and she asked me to go with her!”
“Ahh!” Brett and I said in unison. “Good job, Zo.” I added.
“But,” Zoe said, popping some pasta into her mouth and chewing thoughtfully, “now I know where the nurse’s office is, in case I need to go for something tomorrow.”