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deflated

Enrollment at the preschool has been down over the past year and this summer it's pretty dismal. In the past we've had 4 full classes; this summer we have 2 full classes. Most of the kids go home at 1:00 but 11 or so stay, slowly leaving the group between 2:00 and 6:00. By 4:00 we usually have but 5 children or less; by 5:00 we're usually down to one kid. School policy stipulates that a teacher is never alone on campus with children (or a child, as the case may be). That's a difficult ratio to work with: two teachers to one child. So I spent Tuesday afternoon in raking the playground, sweeping the patios, straightening the clutter. I did this by choice. I could have sat on my butt drawing pictures or reading a book with the one kid left, but my coteacher was doing that.

I left work Tuesday feeling good about the way I'd spent my time. The playground looked better than it had in months.

I came to work Wednesday to a note from my boss that read, "Please turn off the hoses and empty the water tables at the end of the day."

Well, I know I emptied two water tables, rinsed them clean of sand and debris, and flipped them over so they'd be fresh and clear of fallen leaves and dead bugs in the morning. But I didn't do the same for one other table. And I'm pretty sure I turned the hose off after I'd rinsed out the tables. All that other work I'd done---all that above and beyond---completely invalidated by the comments in that note.

This kind of communication is off-putting. Sometimes I think I'm too sensitive, and my ingrained pleasing patterns and approval-seeking patterns are getting the best of me. But when I listen to my colleagues talk, I hear them voicing some of the same feelings I have. Our boss is not a good communicator.

I avoid conflict. I nurse hurt feelings. I hold grudges. When my boss (MB) approached me and asked, "Did you see my note?" instead of saying, "Yes. I'm sorry," I attempted to open a dialogue.

"Did you see my note?"

"Yes. I know I emptied and flipped those two tables there." (pointing)

"But this one had yucky water and dead bugs in it." (pointing to the neglected table which had, ironically, been destroyed by a child dropping heavy rocks into it just 20 minutes before I came to work)

"OK. Sorry about that."

"And you've got to turn the water off. That hose over there was on when I came in this morning and water was pooled under the picnic table."

She indicated the area I'd raked out the day before, an area I've noted never dries out. I think the irrigation has lost its emitter over there, because the ground under the picnic table is wet and pocked with little divots, as if the water geysers from the irrigation tubing and drips off the metal mesh of the picnic table into neat little evenly-spaced holes in the sand. It stinks over there. Tuesday I raked all that wet sand out from under the table in an effort to dry it. "No," I said. "I'm pretty sure I turned that off after I rinsed the table out."

"The hose was left on," MB said, her tone of voice escalating into exasperation. "When I lifted the hose out I could see the hole the water made in the ground."

"I don't think I left it on," I said. I don't remember how I said this. "I think there's a problem with the irrigation over there. I raked out under the picnic table to try to dry the sand out."

"Well then you'll see where the water from the hose was."

I wanted to crumple in defeat. "OK. There's the evidence. I guess I left the hose on."

"OK."

"I felt good about the work I did on the playground yesterday afternoon," I said. I don't remember how I phrased my next observation. I wanted to let her know that an acknowledgment of my efforts would have been nice. I said something about coming in to a "negative" note...

"It's not even negative!" she said, throwing up her hands. "It's just a statement of fact!"

"OK," I said, fumbling for what I wanted to say next. I was obviously not done speaking. I did not apologize, and for that I'm proud. I stuttered a bit, trying to formulate my next thought.

She threw up her hands again and walked away from me.

In the grand scheme of things I know this is a small confrontation. I desperately try to avoid confrontation and smooth over dissent. This exchange did not end well, in my opinion. MB walked off feeling obviously rankled; I was left feeling unheard.

As I contemplated the exchange over the course of the afternoon I came to realize that no matter how I voice my feelings (I just want my efforts to be appreciated!) MB is not going to hear where I'm coming from. I could go to her and try again, or I could drop it.

It is not in my nature to drop it. I'm like a pit bull whose jaws must be prised apart to loosen her grip. I acknowledged my feelings of hurt; I acknowledged that it didn't much matter if I was right or wrong about leaving the hose on. I acknowledged that MB is entitled to her own defensive posturings.

I let it go. Later in the day I conversed easily with her. I was able to look her in the eye and smile. And it came from a genuine place, not a false front.

That was some big work for me.

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