An Ex for Christmas

By: Lauren Layne

December 15, Early Friday Afternoon

Remember back when you were a kid, and there was no better feeling than the last day of school before Christmas break?

And then you got older, and thought, “Man, those were the days. I wish I could have that moment of pure joy as an adult.”

Pro tip: Become an elementary school teacher. The euphoria isn’t quite the same as when you were a kid, but it’s darn close.

Ten more minutes. Just ten more minutes, and then it’s nothing but eggnog and Bing Crosby for daaaaaaaays.

“Bye, Ms. Byrne, Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas, Alex.” I ruffle the third-grader’s blond curls. Or at least try to. He’s out the door in a flash of holiday-break ecstasy.

“Happy Hanukkah, Ms. Byrne. And Merry Christmas. And Happy Kwanzaa. And—”

“Thank you so much, Danielle. Enjoy your break, sweetie.”

The brunette bounces out the door after Alex, and the rest of my third-grade class follows suit. Some manage a hyper “Merry Christmas!” or “Happy Hanukkah!” but at least half are too excited about the impending two weeks without school. That combined with the sugar rush from Olivia M’s birthday cupcakes causes most of them to just explode out the door in a blur of bright backpacks and muted uniforms as they dash to waiting nannies and private drivers.

And now you’re thinking, Wait, wait, wait—it’s one of those schools?

Yup. It totally is. I’m the third-grade teacher at Emory Academy, a private prep school located in the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan. Most of my students have semi-famous parents. The other half are just plain old-fashioned rich.

But don’t you dare go all reverse snob on me, because kids with silver spoons need good teachers, too. Plus, I like to flatter myself into thinking that my small-town-girl-living-in-the-big-city vibe will make them more worldly.

For example, the other day I explained how I used to get to and from school on this yellow beast called a school bus, and it blew their adorable little minds.

“Ms. Byrne?”

The last kid out my door is Madison Meyers, a sweet if slightly precious girl with gorgeous shiny brown hair that I can’t help but notice is impressively impervious to frizz. She doesn’t appreciate it yet, but just wait until high school. She, unlike yours truly, will realize that she hit the hair lottery.

I resist the urge to touch my own messy blond hair and see just how out of control the curls have gotten, courtesy of today’s persistent drizzle.

“Hey, Madison, what’s up?”

She reaches around and pulls off her faux leather (or maybe not so faux; it’s hard to know in this school) backpack.

Shoving her red sparkly headband farther back into her perfect hair, she bends down and rummages around in her bag until she comes up with what seems to be a wad of shredded paper covered in glitter.

“I made this for you,” she announces, thrusting it at me. “Well, me and Sarah.”

Sarah is Madison’s nanny. Or at least she was—I have to wonder if this particular art project didn’t get her fired. I’ve met Madison’s mother, and Mrs. Meyers doesn’t strike me as the type that would allow glitter in her home.

“Thank you,” I say, carefully lifting the gift. I move slowly, stalling for time until I can see what I’m dealing with.

I give it the tiniest shake and the wad unfurls, along with a shower of silver glitter.

Ohhhhh. “A snowflake! It’s beautiful, Madison.”

“I know.” She shoves again at her headband. “I wasn’t satisfied with the snowflake I made in class on Wednesday, so I wanted to double down on my efforts until I produced something I could be truly proud of.”

I carefully hide my smile. “Well, your hard work paid off. This is going straight on my refrigerator.”

She beams and claps her hands in a matter-of-fact gesture I’ve seen her mother do at parent-teacher conferences. “I’m so pleased. Happy holidays, Ms. Byrne.”

“Happy holidays, Madison.”

One of the perks of working in a private school is we don’t have to tread as carefully around the issue of avoiding religious versus secular holidays. The teachers are encouraged to teach their students about all the December holidays, and to take direction from each individual student in their preferred salutation.

Madison scampers out of the room, and Jackie Reyes sticks her head in. “That the last one?”

“Last one.”

Jackie, a friendly fortysomething coordinator who’s responsible for making sure all the kids go home with the right adult, checks something off her clipboard, then moves to follow Madison out to the pickup area. She backtracks and sticks her head in the door, a wide smile on her face. “Almost there.”

She disappears again, and I glance down at my glitter snowflake with a smile.

It’s not that I don’t love my job. I do. I’ve wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember, and I can’t ask for a better teaching environment than Emory. If I were to rate my professional life on a scale of 1 to 10, I’m easily in the 9 range, and could be a 10 if Principal Mercedes would just increase my tech budget the tiniest bit.