A miracle took place right in front of Neil and he did not see it. Then one morning, when the spring sunlight fell hard upon the playground, he looked around him and all his children were no longer children.
They had come to him looking like babies, but only two or three still did. The rest had shot up, slimmed down, and slowed down. Where they used to come into the classroom and sit squirming for forty-five minutes, they now sat down and went to their work with quiet maturity. They ran now with a loping awkwardness, and they had begun to notice one another in a new way. Puberty was setting in and hormones were flowing through their young bodies like the sap in the trees.
The school year was three-quarter’s gone. Neil could look back with satisfaction on the things he had learned and the progress he had made. His children were doing well. Only seven of the Chicano children were still coming regularly to his after school class in Mrs. Alvarez’s apartment, but the ones who remained were learning rapidly. He only regretted not starting the class sooner.
Kiernan had proved a refuge in which to recover his strength. He had weathered the storm of controversy surrounding his actions in Oregon. If there were any parents who still believed him guilty, they had given up attempting to have him removed. The children had forgotten all about it.
# # #
Neil was in the teachers’ lounge grading papers over a cup of coffee. Fiona had been sitting with Glen Ulrich when Neil came in, having a discussion that verged on being an argument. She got up, crossed to where Neil was sitting, and said, “How would you like to do me a favor?”
“You’re agreeable this morning. I want you to teach sex education with me.”
Fiona laughed at his consternation. She explained, “I teach sex education as part of the regular science class to seventh and eighth graders, but is is school policy to teach it to sixth graders as a separate unit. We give it all to them in one afternoon.”
“There are some parents who object to having sex taught to their children in school. This way we can give them the option of holding their child out of the class.”
After a minute, Neil said, “I don’t like that.”
“Me, either. Sixth grade is the year most girls have their first menstrual period and it can be a terrifying experience, especially with all the old wives tales they hear. And they can get pregnant without ever knowing what is going on.
“What we do is, we send out a letter that says if you don’t want your child to participate, sign here. If we don’t get a letter back, then we assume that its okay. The kids usually read all the notes they carry home, so a lot of them never get there. If anyone does send back a refusal letter, I call them and try to talk them into letting their child take the class.”
Neil smiled and said, “It sounds like you have it all covered. You won’t be needing me.”
“Wrong. I always teach the girls and Glen or Tom always teaches the boys. However, since our sixth grade core teacher is male this year, and since you have established a rapport with them . . .”
“Aren’t you forgetting something?”
“My scandalous past. These parents have gotten off my back and accepted me as a temporary replacement, but I’d lay you odds they don’t want me talking to their boys about sex.” more tomorrow