It’s a House . . . It’s a Cow . . . It’s Ms. Burk!

It’s a House . . . It’s a Cow . . . It’s Ms. Burk!

From A 5th Portion of Chicken Soup for the Soul

It’s a House . . . It’s a Cow . . .
It’s Ms. Burk!

When the midwife confirmed my pregnancy, I was working as a teacher’s aide in a fourth-grade classroom. To avoid the inevitable barrage of questions, I tried to keep my news from the students as long as possible. But I hadn’t counted on Natalye to root out the truth like a pig in search of truffles.

Natalye had recently become a big sister and considered herself the expert on pregnancy. Since her mother was no longer pregnant, Natalye figured it was someone else’s turn, and no woman was above suspicion. She took a sideways glance at her slender teacher and announced, “Ms. Daily’s pregnant. I can tell.” Word spread rapidly, until Ms. Daily flatly denied the rumor. Next, Natalye turned her appraising eye on Mrs. Scofield, who was enthusiastically congratulated by mobs of nine-year-olds until that rumor, too, was squelched. Finally, it was my turn. I had been waiting for Natalye to turn her investigative nose my way, and I was prepared with a few creative answers because I didn’t want to flat-out lie.

She approached me with her entourage of three other girls and asked me (or rather told me), “Ms. Burk, when’s your baby due? ’Cause I know you’re expecting.” I responded with humor, “Oh Natalye, you always think somebody’s pregnant.” But she wouldn’t let it go. Every morning she grinned her most appealing grin and said, “You can tell me, Ms. Burk. You fixin’ to have a baby, ain’t you?” I answered with a grammar lesson: “Aren’t you. Not ain’t you.”

She persisted, improving her language so I couldn’t hide behind it. I tried distracting her with “Why do you ask, am I gaining weight?” But eventually she wore me down, and I admitted that, yes, my baby was due in June. Six long months away for me. Natalye was thrilled, reigning goddess of spotting “p.g. women.” Never mind that she’d been wrong at least a half-dozen times before me; she’d struck gold at last.

Morning sickness is tough on anyone, but pregnant teachers should get special martyr points for having to use the same bathroom as nine-year-old boys whose aim is far from accurate. Let it suffice to say that I tried to use the adults-only restroom in the office when I had enough advance warning.

During the ensuing school year I was asked many questions, ranging from “Does your baby like it when you eat pickles?” to “Where does a baby’s fart go?” Milton was appalled that I would be happy with either a boy or a girl. “Oh, Ms. Burk, how could you want a girl? Girls are so disgusting. Well, except you’re not so bad.”

Two of the girls liked to kiss the baby good-bye every day. As a couple of the boys taunted them with, “Hope and Sheneka are in love with Ms. Burk,” the girls haughtily ignored them and bent over to kiss and pat my stomach. Later at home, I’d rub a laundry stain-remover stick over my so-called waistline to remove grape-juice-kiss stains and pizza-grease fingerprints.

Kendell looked up out of his perpetual fog one day and interrupted the math lesson to blurt out, “Ms. Burk, are you pregnant?” I was amazed that this information had escaped him. At eight months, I’d been stretching the seams of my maternity blouses for weeks. My thoughts were succinctly put into words by Freddie, who hollered, “Man, where you been? She’s big as a house!”

Zeke liked to tell me at every possible opportunity, “It’s really gonna hurt bad, Ms. Burk. You’ll probably cry.” His prophecies inspired Yi-Hsuan to draw a picture of me on a bed, stick knees up in the air, and big crocodile tears streaming down my cheeks. A bubble caption over my head held one boldly printed word: OWWWCH!

On the playground during recess, Willa pointed to my stomach and asked, “Where’s the baby going to come out? There, or . . .” she crooked her finger south an inch and looked at me sideways, “um, you know, down there?” Bored with my explanation about natural childbirth and cesarean sections, she was nevertheless clearly pleased to get away with saying something that bordered on dirty talk.

Jon told his P.E. class that I went into the bathroom a lot because the baby was sitting on my bladder sac.

I thought I was immune to blushing, but Moira proved me wrong when she informed the principal that after my baby was born it would milk me, “just like a cow.”

Because my due date wasn’t until summer, the children wanted to make presents for the baby before school was out. So one rainy day, following instructions from a magazine article, I brought in paper plates and non-toxic markers and explained that newborns love to look at pictures of faces. I asked all the students to draw pictures of themselves on the plates so I could show the baby the wonderful children I worked with. Well, the results were a far cry from the article’s depiction of pug noses and toothy smiles. The “artwork” I got was more appropriate for a Stephen King dream than for a nursery crib. Purple saliva dripped from fangs, green slime oozed from nostrils. It was downright scary.

A sweet memory I have is of Crystal, a little girl who was so behind in reading that she refused to read aloud in class or even in a reading group. But she loved to come back to the classroom after lunch and read a beginning book “to the baby.” She’d lean down and whisper very loudly at my stomach, “Okay, this is about a cat who can fly. You listening, baby?”

The baby who was loved so much that school year was born only five days after school let out, a full three weeks early. When fall rolled back around and classes started again, I arranged for “my kids” to have lunch in their old classroom, and I took my daughter, Kayla, in for a visit. The children gathered around her, and she stared somberly at all their faces until the class comedian began an impromptu and loud rendition of “Oh, what a beautiful baby!” The other kids started laughing, and so did Kayla. Then the questions and comments began again.

“Ms. Burk, can I feed her a pretzel?”

“Did it hurt real bad like I told you? Did you cry?”

“What’s her favorite color, because I want to draw her a picture.”

“She’s pretty cute . . . for a girl.”

Soon after the kids said good-bye and returned to their classes, their teacher told me she was expecting and had been walking down to the cafeteria every day to buy milk just as I had the year before. I asked her if the kids knew yet, and she said she wasn’t planning to tell them for a few months. I couldn’t stop smiling as I settled Kayla into her car seat and drove away. Well, watch out for Natalye, I thought.

April Burk

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