The Teacher’s Eyebrows

Yesterday I went for my monthly eyebrow appointment.

After years of eyebrow shame, followed by years of exuberant plucking, my eyebrows are reluctant to grow properly.

My eyebrow guru, Rosalyn from Korea, scolds me roundly every time we meet.  “You leave eyebrow alone?”  She frowns deeply into my face, not believing me when I promise I’ve done nothing to them.  I mean, seriously, I teach.  I barely have time to clip my toenails!

“This one grow,” she says, pointing to my right eyebrow.  “This one do nothing,” pointing to my left.

“Maybe that’s my ‘special’ eyebrow,” I say, and laugh, immediately receiving a sharp look that silences me.

“Don’t. Touch. Eyebrow,” she says, jabbing her finger in my face.

I swallow.  Rosalyn scares me.  After my first appointment with her, I diligently tried to avoid her, always scheduling with any other available esthetician.  As all the other estheticians quit, Rosalyn became the only option.

So, in order to have a somewhat pleasant experience, I’ve reframed her as the mother and sister I don’t have, the one who tells me forthrightly all the ways in which I’m ugly and require her assistance.  I’ve missed that.  That’s what I tell myself.

Yesterday she began fixing my roguish brows while bitterly complaining about her boys who insist on reading only comic books and sports books.  “I tell them, those not real books. You have to read chapter books. Oh those boys make me so mad.” She ripped away the hot wax perhaps more zealously than necessary, and I flinched.  “I tell them, comic books and sports books just for fun.  Real reading isn’t fun.”

I flinched a second time, and this time, not because of the hot wax.  I flinched because every day as a Reading teacher I work with kids who hate reading in part because of this way of thinking.  It was my turn to scold Rosalyn, albeit gently.  I told her that if they’re reading words, even comic books or graphic novels, that’s real reading.  Reading about sports, music, sloths, Justin Bieber and Arnold Schwarzenegger is real reading.  Reading about whatever you like no matter how strange or ridiculous or pointless to everyone else is real reading!

Rosalyn arched her beautifully behaved brows.  “You sure?”

Yes, I’m sure.  I told her about one of my students – let’s call him Silly Sweetheart because he’s a class clown with a huge heart – who wouldn’t read a thing most of the year until he finally confessed, muttering and looking to the side, that he wanted to read about Mike Tyson.  Now he’s a quarter way through a giant autobiography and he admits this is the first book he’s read since the 5th grade.  “I like reading about Mike Tyson,” he told me one day, “because his father let him down, too.”

My voice faltered suddenly, and with her tweezers poised, Rosalyn asked, “What?  Why you sad?”

I was sad because this week I was talking to the counselor in her office when our conversation was interrupted by huge, heaving, gut-wrenching sobs outside the door.  A 9th grader in distress.  I was scurrying away but happened to look over my shoulder and see that the crying boy was Silly Sweetheart, holding his head in his hands and shaking all over.  He was in trouble.

“But why?” Rosalyn asked.  “He reading book.  He sound like good boy.”

I told her a little about Silly Sweetheart’s background – abandoned by his parents, no clue where his siblings are, mother a drug addict, father in and out of jail, he lives with his grandparents and his worst fear is losing them.  Especially his grandfather.  He adores and worships his grandfather.  But lately, Silly Sweetheart has been getting into trouble at school, and now his beloved grandfather is threatening to make him go live with his father.  That’s why Silly Sweetheart was outside the counselor’s office, crying big, gut-wrenching sobs.  I sat down next to him, put my arms around him, and got completely shattered by his anguish.  His anguish pulled out some of my own, long boxed away in the attic of my heart…

“Honestly,” I said, “I don’t care what they read.  I just want them to find hope, in whatever they read.  Maybe, just maybe, their spirits will be rescued by books…the way mine was.”

Rosalyn was silent.

I sat up and looked at her.  She turned away quickly, busying herself with preparing my bill.  “Next time,” she said, her voice huskier than usual, “eyebrow wax on the house.  You take extra money and go get books for kids.”  She met my eyes.  “Whatever they want to read.  Go get it.”