On the day I was to start kindergarten, I woke up with the mumps. On the day I was to start kindergarten, my father woke up with them, too. I was sick, to be sure. But he was REALLY sick, and my mother called the doctor, who arrived in a flurry of concern and whispers. I was somewhat puzzled that my dad’s condition seemed to be causing so much more excitement than mine, but I felt too miserable to put up much of a protest. By evening, both my father and I were sharing a sick room, and my mother was camping out with the baby in the only other bedroom in the tiny little house where we lived in Arkansas.
From where I lay in bed, I could see across the yards and gardens into the back yard of the kindergarten. I could just make out the shapes of boys and girls climbing up the ladder of the slide, and I could watch about half of each descent before the windowsill obscured my view. My dad opened one eye and stared across at me from behind several days of beard growth. He said, “So how are you doing?”
I said, “I don’t get to go to school. I’ve got the mumps.”
“So I heard,” he replied.
I was actually very relieved. After watching the action on the little playground for a few days, I had decided that the prospect of school wasn’t one that appealed to me personally. I contemplated what I might do during the day instead.
Dad pulled a pillow up behind him, and struggled to sit up. An ice pack fell out from under the blankets, and hit the floor. He looked down at it and said, “Just leave it. I’ll get it later.”
I told him that I wouldn’t be going to school because of the mumps. Dad said, “You don’t mean ever, do you?”
I told him yes. He said, “Kid, the mumps don’t last forever. Although it might seem that way. When you get well, you can go to school.”
This was a bit of news I wasn’t prepared to absorb. I had assumed that the mumps had changed the course of my entire life. It had never occurred to me that they were temporary. My dismay must have shown on my face.
Dad, who was a teacher, said, “Some days school isn’t so bad. Maybe you will be one of the lucky ones who actually likes it.”
Dad was right about many things, including the fact that mumps eventually went away and I returned to sleeping in the youth bed next to the baby’s crib, and my mother regained her position in their bedroom.
But I never liked school, not even a single day of it. Not ever.