Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Marvin's Book Chapter 1: Potty Soldiers with Tails

  Potty Soldiers with Tails
When I imagine the house of a history professor, I see amber walls, brown sofas and lots of bookcases. There would probably be a cat lounging on a pillow next to a stained glass window.

On the dining room table, there would be stacks of papers to grade, thesis chapters and book reviews.

I don’t imagine a history professor’s life to look like mine, exiled in an early 2000s housing bubble development, surrounded by children, grading essay exams with a very, very sharp crayon.

My children and husband have grown used to tiptoeing around me while I grade, avoiding my martyrly speech I give when interrupted, which goes something like “LOOK at ALL this grading I HAVE to DO. And I HAVE to read these CAREFULLY and COMMENT on them. But I KNOW we need to go to the grocery….”

If I give the speech just right, they’ll do anything to shut me up.

On one particular night—the night by which I told students I would have their papers graded—I was behind schedule because of a Project Runway marathon. I begged my husband to go to the grocery store for three items, one of which I needed immediately. As a bonus, he took our son. Peace.

When the boys came back I was flipping through the near-empty tests that always land on the bottom of the pile, the tests that come from the students who were the first to give up.

My son Zack tried to hand me a box from the Publix bag, but I didn’t want to get up or look up.

“Honey, do you know where those go?” I said, not looking up because I was reading and rereading an exam in which the student rewrote the exact same essay answer for all four questions.

“Yes. They go in the potty.” He marched away.

I turned to the next exam, written in that textbook-perfect handwriting nuns forced upon my father in his New Orleans parochial school, revealing an author who probably was my age—or older.

The first two essays were complete, and perfect. She didn’t answer the second two essays.

 I wrote “10/20—the part you completed was beautiful.”

Then I picked up the last essay on the stack.

Instead of sentences, the student has listed terms. Brown v. Board of Education. De Facto Segregation. Montgomery Bus Boycott. I decided to give her 1 point (out of a possible 5) and wrote in the margin—“Please connect and tell me the story.”

I flipped through the rest of the exams, making sure they were all empty, that I was really done.

Zack interrupted, “Mommy, the soldiers’ jackets come off!”

I didn’t look up and instead started alphabetizing the exams.

Our house is full of naked Barbies, naked dolls, naked Builda-Bears.

A naked soldier would be a welcome addition to the mix.

Maybe save Santa a few bucks.

“Mommy? Why do the soldiers have tails?”


“Yes. The Potty Soldiers have tails.”

“The potty soldiers?”

“From the box. From Publix.”

That got my attention, and I looked up, because the box from Publix didn’t have soldiers.

And on the coffee table, neatly lined up in straight lines were a bunch of tampon soldiers who had originally been intended to fight a different war. On a different front.

I put the exams down and went to the store by myself, mentally preparing for the next day’s lecture.