If only it could have been as easy as exiting the tunnel, but the situation only got worse as we entered a landscape covered in flames and dense, nightmarish smoke. I reached behind me and as I hoped, the precious little hand of Dylan grabbed mine, along with the hands of Rose, Mateo, and Alex. They were still safe with me, for now.
"Stay strong Little Ones," I declared, "We can get through this."
"Are you about to slay the dragon?" a voice rang out through the tunnel.
"Sully? Sully, are you near?" I called out.
My heart sang with relief as the ground shook with the footsteps of my loyal friend, Sully, the kindest, fiercest dragon I have ever known.
A rumble came from the firewall as a fireball burst into the sky and crashed down ten feet away.
"That was too close," I tried to keep the panic at bay, "Sully, we need some protection."
Sully billowed his wings in front of us, creating a shield from the fire.
"Have you slain the dragon yet?" the voice rang out again.
I looked to my tiny students, "Hold tight to each other and remember our lessons on what we can accomplish when we work together. We can escape these flames as long as we help each other!"
A large, masculine hand rested on my forearm, "Is the dragon dead?"
Sully and my students dissolved from my view as Jitters Coffeehouse came into focus. Greg was sitting next to me, being the doting husband, with his hand on my arm, holding my favorite cinnamon latte, and smiling at me being lost in my fantasies.
I sternly told him, "By now, you should know that I only want to befriend dragons and I would never rob the world of the existence of one. Therefore, I will never slay a dragon."
"Are you still there, or are you mostly with me, here and now?" he asked.
"I'm only speaking as if I am there, the rest of me is here with you," I confirmed.
"Was Mateo about to save the day?" he indulged.
"Ah, Mateo is always the daredevil and comic relief," I corrected, "Alex is most likely to save the day because she is the problem solver and a natural leader."
"Ah, just like you," Greg pointed out.
"I do enjoy how eager she is to learn in my classroom. I guess she's a bit like me," I admitted.
“Did you have a tough day? You seem to daydream more when something’s on your mind,” Greg observed, totally calling me out.
“Another chat with my dad where he reminds me that I had so much potential, and he feels like I’m wasting it. I can’t seem to convince him that I love teaching and it is important work. I think I make a difference. Do I make a difference?” I asked, wondering if he could see my confidence crumbling.
"I’m shocked you would have to ask. You see those children grow every day. That matters,” he told me, “I was thinking though, you always make your students the heroes in your daydreams. Why not make yourself the hero of your stories?"
I thought about my daydreams and what usually happens, "I actually feel like I am the hero of my stories. I love to teach and if I could teach my students to do something great and be the heroes, then, maybe I'm the hero too."
He smiled that smile that I love. The one that makes me feel like I'm beautiful, like I shine. “That’s lovely,” he admitted.
I smelled my coffee, enjoying the warmth and rich cinnamon, and thought about my daydreams. Greg is always supportive and sweet and just enjoys hearing about them. Sometimes, I get embarrassed at how lost I get in them. I continued to confess, "I feel like I do a great job at teaching. We are working on the science of water right now and there is so much to it, between the greenhouse effect, to energy from steam, to how it helps life grow. We do these projects and even though my students are only four to six years old, they get it. They're excited and they want to learn more, and they want to help each other learn and I feel like I'm a superhero sometimes, growing these precious minds and helping them become kind people."
"I would say you're a superhero," he agreed.
I lamented, "I know what I am, and I know that no one gets excited about teachers like they do superheroes.”
A couple of nights later, I dressed up in my finest, okay my only cocktail dress and did my best to look stunning instead of nurturing. Greg had a work event involving the entire building and he wanted to show me off to his colleagues. At least, that's the way he phrased it when he saw my eyes darting around trying to find an escape from this storm of people that I undoubtedly would have nothing in common with.
He promised that he would try to make it fun and to his credit, he did include me in many conversations, which would be great if I was trying to find a cure for insomnia.
How do people believe that children are difficult to be around?
I was actually fine, standing around as a trophy wife, even though I would rank my trophy standing as 3rd place or maybe honorable mention category. The night took a tragic turn though, when a slightly intoxicated, stumbly businessman named Jim asked me what I do for a living and would not accept the answer, "You know, Greg has some stunning facts about his job that you might enjoy."
So, I stated it proudly, "I'm an Early Childhood Educator. I work with children ages four to six years old."
The man laughed and corrected me, "You mean you're a preschool teacher? Oh my, that's cute. So, basically you're a glorified babysitter."
"Actually, there is nothing glorified about my job. I teach my students. In fact, most organizations require us to have a bachelor's degree or some sort of certification," I pushed back.
He laughed even harder, "A bachelor's degree for what? Playing with children? And taking care of disgusting brats that drool and slime you with snot and scream at the top of their lungs when they don't get their way. What a racquet."
I took a deep breath and attempted to leave. This was Greg's function, and I wasn't going to make a scene. Greg tried to speak up, but I told him to just let it go. I was confident that we could move on and talk to someone else.
Unfortunately, the man had other ideas. He had the nerve to grab my arm and pull me towards a group of people he knew. "Hey guys, check this out. This lady actually gets paid for playing with children all day. Can you imagine a cushier job than that?"
"Let go of my wife, now," Greg roared while trying to protect my arm from Jim's aggressive grip.
I could tell that Greg wanted to punch him, but his face changed when he looked at me. There are so many times when I’ve wanted to find a passive solution and spare everyone's feelings. At that moment though, all I felt was rage and I wanted to tear into Jim. Greg smiled. He knew what I was thinking and reassured me, "I've got your back," as he gave a slight gesture telling me that the floor was mine.
I stared down Jim and my anger must have been obvious because he put up his hands in a mocking "I surrender" gesture.
"Do you have kids, Jim?" I sternly asked.
He scoffed, "Ick, no."
"Ah, well, then you have no idea what goes into taking care of them now, do you?" I demanded an answer.
"No," he cautiously admitted.
"If you did, Jim," I punctuated, "you would know that there are a lot of different personalities in a class of twelve children between being shy and scared to being outgoing and sometimes risk takers. I have to make sure that they learn how to treat each other kindly and respectfully. In addition to that, I need to know how to take care to make sure they are safe and notice when they are getting sick so I can inform their parents, parents who need to work to survive I might add so they can't be there 24/7 for them. That's why I am there, to help. Does that make sense to you, Jim?" I paused and he gave me a sheepish nod.
"On top of that, I am trained to make sure that they learn everything they need to know before they start kindergarten or first grade which includes numbers and letters and that might not seem like a big deal to you, Jim, because I'm guessing, I'm hoping that you have already accomplished those skills at your age, but when you are between the ages of four and six, it could be really tricky, so I am there to help them succeed. Does that sound like a cushy job to you, Jim?" I insisted.
"You know, you don't have to be such a..."
I cut him off immediately, "Such a what? Choose your words carefully Jim because what you are about to say might make you seem like even more of a bully than you were before. I am simply pointing out that the career I have chosen, that you seem to think is a joke, is actually extremely important to me. So, Jim, do you understand why I am reacting this way?"
My heart was racing. I had never had a moment where I was so sure of myself in my life.
Jim became solemn and actually looked like he had sobered up a bit, "Yes. I'm sorry. Please accept my apology."
I took a deep breath. It was time to calm down and walk away with my head held high. "Thank you."
I looked to Greg, "Can we go now?"
"Absolutely," he uttered, and I could tell Greg was silently cheering for me.
As we were exiting the building, Greg whispered in my ear, "Superhero."
"Not a rabid dog?" I asked, now second guessing my response.
"Not a chance. You stood up for yourself and you fought for the people you care about. That is why you are perfect for your students. That's why you're the superhero they need," Greg praised.
I kissed him and held him, wanting to make this moment, this feeling last. I asked, "Can we put that on a t-shirt for me?"
"Done," he emphasized.
"And maybe a cape. I think I might need a cape," I suggested.
"Capes are dangerous. No capes."