Daria and I like to go to Marie Callender's Restaurant and Pastry Shop. We are not interested in the restaurant part; our focus is on the pastry. On a Saturday, like many others, we are seated here, having our favorite pies, along with our steaming cups of coffee. My favorite is the lemon meringue pie; and Daria is loyal to Cheesecake.
For me, meringue pie, and pastry in general, represented in my childhood a reward, a small celebration, as my mother took me out for pastry and hot chocolate when she reviewed my report card, and was happy with my good grades. As an adult, meringue pie became a comfort food, a way to combat stress. For Daria, cheesecake is an indulgence, and a well deserved reward for another satisfying week at work.
Daria and I are different in many ways. Daria has the body of an athlete, and she ran track in high school. I was a sickly child, with a strong case of asthma, which caused me to start my formal, institutional, education in the third grade. Daria, a Kindergarten teacher, believes that those missed early years, K-2 , those missed interactions with other children are, at least, part of the reason that I am touchy, sensitive in my interactions with other adults.
Daria keeps in shape by jogging on a regular basis, and I like to walk around a nearby park. I take very long walks; an hour or more. It relaxes me, and it helps me put my thoughts in order. Daria goes to the same park to run; so you can say she can run circles around me.
What we have in common is our interest in languages and in the field of education. She is a firm believer in early childhood education, and she is multilingual. I am a French teacher at the high school level.
Daria cuts a tiny piece of her slice of cheesecake, savors it, and immediately enters into a beatifical state. I have a more generous piece of meringue pie. We are both quiet, no talking. We are busy with our treats, and we both need to take a few sips of coffee. Finally, Daria, who knows my moods very well, breaks the silence.
"OK, Mario, what bothering you?"
"Well, I have a new doctor. When I went for a routine visit, he asked me the usual questions. He knew from the personal information in my medical file that I was a teacher. Casually, like making small talk, he asked me, 'what do you teach?' I told him I taught French. He said, 'Oh, I didn't picture you as a French teacher.' I didn't respond to that remark, but I was left wondering about it for the rest of the week."
"Well, my love, I think the good doctor was not trying to offend you or anything. He was getting to know you. People do use stock sentences to start conversations. Sentences like 'Where are you from?' and 'What brought you to this city?' I get asked this type of questions too, but I don't spend time thinking about it. I want to occupy my mind with more important matters."
"So, what else people ask you?"
"'Daria, is that an Italian or a Russian name?' and the unfailing question about my origins."
"And what are your responses?"
"The first question I answer by saying I don't have a clue. It is simply the name my parents gave me. To the second question I say San Pedro. If the person asking does not know there is a San Pedro in California, I would have to clarify that it is not a city in Mexico. For me, these are superficial questions. I just answer them and move on. Why are you so bothered by what your doctor sai isd?"
"Well, I kept wondering about what is a French teacher supposed to look like. I mean there must be hundreds of thousands of French teachers around the world; teachers of many nationalities, and of all races, and of many ethnic groups. And to this doctor, I don't fit his image of a French teacher?"
"Okay, I see, I can understand your feeling bothered by this. With one sentence you were excluded from an extremely large group of professional educators. It is the mere idea of exclusion that really bothers you. I don't like exclusion either, and I don't really think anybody does, And I admit that the questions that I am asked as conversation starters, are sometimes more than that. They are attempts to deny me of my American citizenship. This is a much greater exclusion than the one you are taking about. But for the most part, I think people are just going by appearances, to what is obvious to them. Now, let's go back to your doctor. Your name is Mario and you are Latino. This may be incongruous to him; in his eyes and in his mind, you are an inconsistency to his vision of a French teacher."
"So what you are telling me is to let go of superficial stuff, from people who do not really know me, and concentrate in more important things. This is what you do."
"That's it. And obviously what is important to you is to be a French teacher. Darling, I never told you this, but one of the things I like about you, is than you followed your academic interests; you did not compromise,as many others do, by studying something more 'practical.' Both of us are very fortunate. We get up in the morning, and we look forward to go to work. Imagine all the people who get up in the morning, who drag themselves out of bed, and have to get ready to go to a job they hate. That's not us."
"Wow. This is the best meringue pie I ever had. You are fantastic, Daria. You have turned my comfort food into a reward again, like it was when I was a child."
"Nice to hear. Remember that I am a Kindergarten teacher." She smiled and added, "I am the Kindergarten teacher you never had."
We ordered more pie and cake to go, and we went home.