By Chana Shapiro / cshapiro@atljewishtimes.com

Chana Shapiro

Chana Shapiro

My husband, Zvi, and I were having dinner, discussing (as usual) the tribulations of the Jewish people, so I decided to lighten the mood. It seemed the perfect time to broach the subject of my evolving lifestyle.

I announced that I’m ready for the next Big Thing. I am a former high school teacher, with 12 years’ experience in classrooms of young adults; however, to do something new, significant and extremely challenging, I am about to help out in a local elementary school. Let me repeat: elementary school.

My husband usually supports my decisions. I once bought a fuzzy orange rug that did nothing but clash and shed. I prepaid a worker to paint our kitchen. He left town, supposedly to help his grandmother move into a trailer, and never came back.

Of those and countless other errors of judgment, Zvi was wonderfully understanding, but my desire to work with schoolchildren met with disapproval.

“Chana, you know how unpleasant you are when you get sick,” he stated. “Do you want to put yourself in the breeding ground of contamination? You’ll be sick all the time.”

I decided to disregard his use of the word “unpleasant” and stay focused. It’s true that, thanks to our children and grandchildren, I have suffered and kvetched through strep throat, the flu, conjunctivitis and head lice, all presumably contracted by them at school. The first was so unpleasant that, to this day, a grandchild’s momentary hoarseness causes my own throat to sizzle. The last was so unbearable that I still check my hair thrice daily. (It’s harder than you think. If you had my hair, you’d understand. See the photo above.)

In the past, men and women my age were considered fortunate, no longer obsessing about office rivalries or rising at dawn to rinse out one’s only intact pair of pantyhose.

There was a time when retirees took up bonsai, watched “The Doctors” or slept late. Retirees took long, leisurely walks in the middle of the week and stopped without guilt for ice cream and doughnuts. Retirees went to an 11 a.m. movie and caught a second film that same afternoon.

That’s how it used to be, but not anymore. Now it’s not only unhealthy to sit in a chair, reading thrillers while drinking bucketfuls of coffee, but it’s absolutely shameful. The right kind of people over 65 are the ones who “do something.”

The latest issue of the AARP magazine featured golden-agers who rope broncos and climb mountains. I just heard about a 92-year-old who wrestles with his grandson’s team. This fellow’s wife cross-trains with him. The modern senior citizen can’t stand downtime.

Deep in my heart, I knew that only working at an elementary school would put me in the category of meaningfully engaged old person. It will take every ounce of energy, creativity, patience and moxie I possess, and, moreover, I will have to amp up my immunizations.

Fortunately, I like children, and I’m willing to engage the assistance of experts when I need them. With a bit of prodding, I received the following advice from a sampling of fourth- and fifth-graders:

Watch out for kids who are sneaky or mean (how will I know until it’s too late?). Find out where all the bathrooms are. Don’t joke around because either kids won’t get it or they’ll think you’re a loser who’s trying too hard. Wear “normal” clothes; however, crazy socks are OK. If a kid speaks Spanish, don’t embarrass yourself by speaking Spanish back. If a kid does something stupid, leave him alone, pretend you didn’t see it, and don’t try to make him feel better. If a good kid asks to borrow money, you can lend it, but only once and not more than a dollar.

Now I’m good to go! It’s back to school time, and I wish for all of us, students, teachers and parents, a year of great learning and, of course, no pink eye or nits!