One Hour a Week

William waits for me in front of Room 210, hands holding something behind his back, head tilted away as I approach. “I don’t feel like reading today,” he announces, avoiding eye contact. He is almost ten, handsome and polite, with dark brown eyes as big as pennies. And he’s on to me. As the year moves along, he’s figured out that I’m a pushover.

“How about one book?” I suggest, “in our favorite spot? Then we can play your game.” Negotiations complete, he pulls the board game front and center, and we walk down five steps to a white window seat to begin reading Frog and Toad Together. Suddenly, he stops.

“Too many pages,” he says. “I can’t read that many pages.”

“How about if you read one, then I read one. I’ll start.”

“No,” Williams says. “I’ll start.”

And so it goes. Once a week for one hour, going on three years, William and I meet with the assigned task of improving his literacy. Mostly we goof around. On his high-energy days, we whip through

Easy Readers. I celebrate every new word he masters with cheerleader-like frenzy. “Wonderful! Great! You are a reader, William!” He fires back with enthusiasm of his own: “How many books can we read today? Ten? Twelve? Let’s read eighteen!”

Sometimes we just play games – Trouble or Mancala. He plays to win, and does. Sometimes, we sneak into the school cafeteria, scouring it for a Popsicle or bag of salty chips. Other days are a chore. He’s distracted, annoyed even, watching his buddies swat each other’s heads at they march down the hall to the Media Center while he’s stuck with me. “William,” I tease, “where are you?” On those days, I feel defeated. But I’m never sorry I come.

Once William arrived at school with a family crisis embedded in his face. As we sat together on the white bench, he shed his bravado and tucked wet eyes into my shoulder and I would have held him there forever. But he is, after all, nine years old. The storm passed quickly. He sat up, wiped his eyes and asked, “Can we play Trouble?”

A teacher I know stopped me in the hall one day to ask if I’d be returning in the fall. Of course, I told her. “Well, good,” she said. “William needs you.” I wanted to correct her. Actually, I need William.

I am forty-three years old, with a full-time newspaper job I like and three neat kids who, so far, still like me. But sometimes I catch myself letting work problems distract me from them at home, when I open the mail instead of focusing on a detail of their day, or rush through their bedtime rituals so I can crawl into bed with a book.

Sixteen years into marriage, I’m a decent spouse. But the most romantic getaway we have these days is to the wholesale club to buy in bulk. At work, where I manage nine creative people, most days go well. But last week I missed a deadline and screwed up an administrative detail and got some facts wrong in a meeting and wondered why they ever hired me.

I have friends I adore who complete my world. But we can never seem to find time for lunch anymore; one is battling depression and my words, meant to comfort, come out trite and patronizing. “Hang in there,” I tell her. “It will get better.” Dear God.

My world is safe and solid and good—except when the wheels come off unexpectedly and I find myself drowning in self-doubt. Or when I say something stupid, or feel envy, or bark at my kids because I’m tired, or forget to call my mother, or got to work with graham crackers ground into my shoulder and my sweater buttoned wrong.

But I have one hour.

One hour a week when I have no self-doubt. When I walk down a noisy elementary school hallway covered with children’s art and my respite awaits me.

“When will you come back?” William asks.

“Next Thursday, silly. I always come on Thursday.”

“I wish you could come on Mondays instead,” he says. “Then I wouldn’t have to wait so long for you.”

One hour a week I am granted the greatest reward possible. The comfort of knowing that I am absolutely in the right place, doing the right thing. My life will catch up with me soon enough. But for the moment, it will just have to wait.