You don’t know me. I am invisible. We will never cross paths. I will never see your children. Oh, I’ll hear about your children, but never their names, always with “You remember that kid who …” because my husband is nothing but circumspect when it comes to your child’s privacy. My husband will love your kids passionately, deeply, and without reservation. He will give himself to them completely; he will spend hours upon hours trying desperately to help them in small ways you can’t imagine: assuring they have pens, doling out apples, fixing their laptops, letting them go to the bathroom whenever they need (and you’d be shocked, shocked, at how rare this basic human decency is), calling your kid by correct name and gender pronouns, giving up his solo lunch to let your kid eat in his classroom, where they chatter to him endlessly. I know all this. I hear about it. I am the teacher’s wife.
My husband comes home at four o’clock drained, bone-tired, exhausted from what he gives. He spends more time with your kids than with ours. His feet hurt from the cement floors in the school — did you know the floors are cement, and that he spends all day on his feet? He makes his step count, seven miles walked in his classroom every goddamn day. In one room. The teacher’s wife, I rub his feet. The teacher’s wife, I fuss over his insoles, his shoes — I help him pick out new sneakers that look semi-professional. I wash and hang his dress shirts so he looks professional; I approve his outfits when he walks out the door and tell him he looks good, really. He needs the boost.
I remember to make sure he eats breakfast. He gets cranky when he doesn’t eat breakfast, and when he gets cranky, he can’t give your kids his best, and he comes home with even less to give our children.
Often, he arrives home and crashes for an hour. When he is too tired, I take the kids to sports practice. We eat out. The dishes pile up, and the laundry piles up, and he feels guilty, guilty, guilty. I tell him it’s okay, baby. You can only give so much and all the kids — our kids, your kids — are so much more important.
I patiently listen to his day. He tells me about your kids, careful to maintain their privacy. He carries them home. He always carries them with him, especially the hurt ones.
We usually spend some time alone for half an hour. The teacher’s wife, I patiently listen to his day. He tells me about your kids, careful to maintain their privacy. He carries them home. He always carries them with him, especially the hurt ones. “Do you know how many kids they’ve lost in their graduating class?” he asked me the other day. This is not a large class of seniors. “Six. They’ve lost six.” I have to carry this knowledge with him: he has no one else to tell, and as the teacher’s wife, I have to help him bear this burden. “To suicide?” I asked. “No,” he said. “To all kinds of things.”
He tells me about the simple kindness: letting a girl use the bathroom, giving out pens to kids who aren’t his, having hair ties on hand, making his smallest class tea, keeping fuzzy blankets for the kids who always seem to be cold, and their stunned gratitude that anyone would show them these smallest of human decencies. I bear this knowledge, I carry the sadness of these children who can’t eat in class, who are run-roughshod by teachers who don’t care about them, first and foremost, as human beings. I am privy to the shock at how school treats them and I am forced to live with that shock.
I am also forced to confront the love my husband has for your kids.
I am proud, deeply proud, of the work my husband does for your kids. As a woman, as the teacher’s wife, I wouldn’t have it any other way. He loves your kids so much. You don’t know that. You don’t know how hard he tries to learn the bits of Spanish to talk to ESL students and their parents. You don’t know how he worries. You don’t know how he keeps PB&Js for the hungry kids.
I worry about school shootings — of course, I worry about school shootings; every teacher’s wife lives in terror of school shootings. But I worry especially, because my husband is the one who would throw himself in front of the bullets for your children. He loves them that much. I do not know their names. But I know he would die for them. It frightens me. He would pick them over our own children, because your children are there and our children are not. It’s simple mathematics, not a measure of love: love can’t be measured anyway.
If he saw the bullets coming and he could save your kid, he’d push them and take the goddamn risk. I’m the teacher’s wife and I know my husband and I know the way he thinks. I know he wouldn’t think.
My husband is the one who would throw himself in front of bullets for your children. He loves them that much. I do not know their names. But I know he would die for them.
Being a teacher’s wife, a good teacher’s wife, is a gift. It’s a sense of pride and joy. I tell everyone I know, “My husband teaches English at so-and-so.” He was supposed to get a Ph.D and teach at an R-1 research institution. I am far prouder of him now than I would be for that job. I celebrate on graduation day. I mourn the loss of his children — and god knows he’s lost a few over the years, and I’ve had to hold him through it. It’s part of being the teacher’s wife.
You will never know me.
I will never know your children’s names.
But I love them, too.
Parents don’t know that behind every great married teacher stands the teacher’s spouse. I am the teacher’s wife, and this is what it’s like.
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