From Chicken Soup for the Working Mom's Soul


It was Friday afternoon, and the longer than usual work week at my school had taken its toll. As I watched my daughters play in the neighbor’s front yard, I was trying to stay awake until their bedtime. Betsy, my neighbor’s daughter who was home for a weekend visit from college, kept me company while waiting for her girlfriends to pick her up for a night on the town. Soon our conversation drifted to one of the few things we had in common—an interest in teaching. Betsy was still unsure of her major, but leaning toward education.

“Balancing children and a career is really easy these days,” said my young, unmarried, childless, unemployed friend. “It’s especially true in the field of education with its child-oriented work schedule—not like going to an office or anything. It must be perfect for a single mom like you.”

I had a vague memory of similar, naïve statements coming from my own mouth before marriage, children, or employment, so I tried to bite my tongue. “I can see how you might think that, having never experienced it firsthand,” I said, knowing that she was right, up to a point. “It works smoothly as long as everything else in your life is running smoothly, which just doesn’t happen all that often, at least not for me.”

Her brow wrinkled with incomprehension.

“A sick child, a dead battery, or a visiting relative can wreck the best laid schedules quicker than the dog can eat a homework assignment,” I explained. Not to mention the inevitable students like Rusty with behavior problems, the likes of which they never tell you about in college, I thought to myself. They are the ones who keep you awake at night and take the time and energy of four of their peers.

Betsy looked at me strangely.

“Really,” she murmured, examining her fresh manicure, obviously losing interest. She made a move to leave, but I pinned her verbally to the lawn chair. I needed to vent, and before she decided on a major, she needed to hear the story of the underwear disaster.

“This week started out pretty well,” I began. “A rescheduled ball game, a last minute birthday invitation, and an emergency run to the vet; the usual. Monday’s afternoon faculty meeting lasted longer than usual, and I stayed late on Tuesday for a particularly unsatisfying conference with Rusty’s parents. Wednesday night I was back at school for the PTA meeting.”

Betsy squirmed and looked down the street for her friends. I figured I’d better get on with my story.

On Thursday the washing machine I’d bought at a garage sale during my own distant college years finally expired. I was behind on the laundry, but on Friday morning, I’d scrounged enough clean clothes together to get the children through the day. I then found a nice pair of navy slacks I hadn’t worn in a while that happened to look great with my new green sweater. Things were clicking along until I opened my underwear drawer. There was not a pair of underpants to be seen! The idea of stuffing myself into my daughter’s child-size undies was actually crossing my mind when a flash of color caught my eye. It was the pair of panties my daughters had given me for Valentine’s Day. They were lime green with large hot-pink hearts, white daisies, and orange bears scattered all over.

I encased myself in hearts, flowers, and bears, grateful but astonished that anyone would make such ridiculous underwear for an adult. I hurried to the car, where my girls were patiently waiting. I slid behind the wheel and heard the unmistakable rip of a plastic zipper.

I looked down to a sea of hearts and bears and flowers. Racing back into the house, I found a pair of white slacks that also looked perfect with my sweater. It was a little early in the year for white, but what the heck. That’s the nice thing about second graders—they love you for who you are, not what you wear, right?

I got the carpool delivered on time and was just a few minutes late to my own classroom. When I arrived, all the students except Rusty were seated in their desks. He was seated at my desk, thumbing through my grade book, pretending to read everyone’s name and giving them all Fs in every subject. One little girl already had tears in her eyes.

As the bell rang, I escorted Rusty to his seat and gently reprimanded him, using a week’s worth of patience in the first five minutes of the day.

I was almost back to my desk when I heard a snort— unmistakably Rusty’s.”

“I can see the teacher’s underpants!” he yelled.

The other children gasped, then craned their little necks to get a better view. They started to giggle. Soon the room was filled with uncontrollable laughter. I looked down, and sure enough, my wild panties were plainly visible through my white slacks.

The day went downhill from there as word spread like wildfire, and students from other classes made excuses to sneak a peek at the offending undies. It was so disruptive that when my break finally came, the principal sent me home to change. Of course, there was nothing to change into at home, so I headed to the mall where, in the space of thirty minutes, I bought a package of very respectable beige, no-pantyline briefs and a new washing machine— free delivery on Saturday.

My naïve, young neighbor was laughing as a car full of girls pulled up out front. My day-in-the-life-of-a-working-mom story had gotten her attention, but alas, not her empathy.

“I’ve decided to major in education,” she cried, hurrying to meet her friends. “It sounds like such fun!”

I shook my tired head at the folly of youth, but you know what? She’s right.

Margaret P. Cunningham

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