I was heading for bed last night--actually, I was heading back to bed, having spent the last two days just sick enough to be frustrated about it--and all I could think about were two days of undone tasks, homeschooling and otherwise.
Tests to grade. Workbooks to grade. Math to teach (or, to hear my children tell it, to inflict). Rooms to vacuum, laundry to wash and wash and wash (and dry and fold ad infinitum). A seemingly endless mountain of things to be done, and a rapidly shrinking week in which to do them.
I slept, or thought I slept. The clock didn't strike any particular hour, as it's a clock radio and tends not to do that; I didn't draw the curtains around my bed, as it isn't a four-poster and wouldn't have any curtains if it were. Nonetheless, I woke, or thought I did, to see the small faintly luminous figure of a man carrying an equally luminous trumpet standing beside me.
I started. "Don't be alarmed," he said, resting his chin on the trumpet. "I am the Ghost of Semesters Past, and I have come to remind you of life before these third-quarter blues which..."
"Wait," I frowned. "Isn't there supposed to be someone before you? Someone vaguely like Jacob Marley, maybe some teacher I tormented in life? And then some more ghosts will come later, right?"
The ghost sighed mistily. "That is how it's supposed to go," he admitted. "You can't improve on Dickens. But you know what it's like," he continued, rubbing his spectral nose and shaking his white head. "It's February. Half the staff is out sick. At least the Ghost of Semesters Future can let us know well ahead of time when he's going to be ill; but no matter. I think we can get through this with just me."
"Okay, then," I said. "What do we do?"
"Look," the ghost said, pointing with his trumpet toward the far wall of the bedroom, toward the computer desk.
"Hey," I started defensively, "I've been sick. I know that desk is a clutter magnet, but..." I stared in astonishment. The desk, oddly free from clutter, was illuminated by a stray shaft of Texas summer sunlight piercing its way through the heavy drapes I bought in part to help lower the air conditioning bills. I could see myself, a bit less heavy and wearing summer clothes, seated in front of the computer, searching the Internet with a brisk and happy efficiency that seemed wholly unlike my recent self.
"That's me!" I gasped.
"Yes, that's you," the Ghost of Semesters Past said sonorously. "Last August. Look at you, shopping for textbooks and new curricula! Eager, happy, ready to face all the challenges the new school year would bring. There is no cloud yet on the horizon...or is there?"
I looked closer; then I hung my head. Right in the middle of choosing a new history course for my oldest daughter, I clicked a link to an online store, and started looking at...
"Christmas shopping! In August! How could I?" I exclaimed as the scene faded.
"And that's not all," the ghost said sadly. "Come with me."
"Where...where are we going?" I asked in trepidation.
"The living room," the ghost answered, looking at me oddly. "Why?"
"I thought we were going to have to fly through walls, or something," I answered sheepishly.
We walked quite normally into the living room, which doubles as our homeschooling center. "Well?" I asked when we got there.
Once again, the ghost pointed, this time at the large secretary desk which is supposed to be my workplace. I saw, again faintly, my oldest daughter seated before it, working. "What's wrong here?" I asked, puzzled.
The ghost gestured toward the phone. It rang.
I saw my misty past self cross to the phone and answer it. "Yes, dear, things are going well," my former self said. "Of course, it's only the first month of school, and things are still easy. But it would be a lot easier for me to stay organized if we could get another desk in here. Then there'd be three for the kids and I'd still have my secretary as a place to sit and grade things..."
"Oh no," my current self gasped, looking guiltily at the ghost.
"Oh, yes," the ghost said sternly. "Your husband bought that extra desk. None of your children now needs to use the secretary desk. And how often do you sit there and grade their schoolwork?"
"I still don't have a chair for it..."
"No excuses. The kitchen chairs work just fine," the Ghost of Semesters Past said.
"Please, don't show me any more. I'll be good now," I promised. But the ghost pointed his trumpet once again.
We were still in my living room, on a quiet Sunday evening. My past self finished planning my children's lessons for the upcoming week, and looked up smiling as my husband came into the room. "All done!" I said cheerfully. "It's so nice when I get their lessons planned out at least by the night before the new school week. It makes for a much more pleasant Monday than trying to write the lesson plans and teach and answer questions all at the same time..."
"Enough!" I said to the Ghost of Semesters Past. "I get it! I need to find that enthusiasm for teaching that I had at the beginning of the school year. I need to remember why I'm doing this in the first place, why it's all worth while. Please, please don't show me any more!"
"Couldn't anyway," the ghost shrugged, beginning to fade from view. "My time's up, and Semesters Present and Future are out sick, as I said before. Good thing you caught on so quickly..."
Once again, the clock failed to chime. I was back in my bed.
There was a knock at the door. "Who...who is it?" I called fearfully.
"Me," said my oldest daughter cheerfully. "My sister, the one who got sick the day before you did, wants to know if it's okay for her to have milk on her cereal today since she hasn't thrown up any more since the first day she was sick..."
I pulled my pillow over my head and groaned. In the key of C.