Posted in Writing

The Other House

“The Other House” was first published in 2016 in Under the Bed, Volume 4, #6. Since the digital magazine is no longer available, I’d like to share the story here.

The idea for this tale came from my friend’s three-year-old daughter who used to talk about the “other house” she had. She was quite convincing about this alternate home, and it got my imagination going. I like this story because it’s not meant to scare kids… it’s meant to scare parents. Enjoy!

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The Other House

by Carie Juettner

Dee’s parents laughed when she first mentioned her “other house.” After all, she was only two and had never lived anywhere else. They encouraged her creativity, asking questions, but Dee was pretty vague on the specifics.

“I go there sometimes,” she said, while staring out the window from her car seat.

“What do you do there?”

“Play.”

When Dee turned three, her vocabulary grew, and with it the descriptions of her other house. She talked of a bedroom with blue walls and white carpet. She described a bed with curtains at the top.

Dee’s parents thought their daughter’s imagination was cute. They thought it showed intelligence to be making up stories at such a young age.

“She comes up with the funniest things,” Dee’s mom told a coworker. “Pictures she describes, little bits of songs we’ve never heard before.” She shrugged. “I mean, I guess she could be picking this stuff up at daycare, but it’s so detailed.”

There was something to Dee’s stories that gave them a sense of accuracy—something in the way she held her little hands to demonstrate the size of the blue stool she swore she stood on to brush her teeth, something in the way she enunciated her imaginary friend’s name. GEN-E-VIEVE. There were definitely no Genevieves at daycare. It was not surprising that Dee had imaginary playmates, but that she’d created such a vivid setting for them to exist in. When asked where these friends were, Dee looked people straight in the eye and said, “my other house.”

Dee’s parents smiled at each other and marveled at their remarkable child.

*            *            *

“It’s just a phase,” Ms. Zenia told Dee’s mom. “Many kids have rich imaginations at this age. It’s nothing to worry about.”

“But, it’s just… she’s four now, and she’s been talking about this house and these people since she was two.” Dee’s mom blushed, knowing how insubstantial her argument sounded. She tried a different tack. “Dee’s just so obsessed with this place. The other day, she wanted her purple giraffe. Well, she doesn’t have a purple giraffe, never has. But Dee had a fit. She started saying, ‘It’s in the other house! I left it in my other house!’ It was the biggest tantrum we’ve ever seen. I tried to calm her down with the yellow monkey she loves, but she wasn’t having it. It took everything in my parent arsenal to get through that one. You don’t think, I mean, she doesn’t have… psychological problems? Does she?”

The Pre-K teacher smiled. “No, you don’t need to worry about that. She interacts with others, she makes eye contact, she’s an excellent conversationalist. I honestly don’t see anything to be concerned about here at school. Is she sleeping okay?”

“Oh yes, fine. Dee’s a great sleeper. That’s one way we lucked out as parents. She’s been sleeping through the night since, well, since before she was even a year old. I used to think about waking her up to check on her, but I never did. My friends told me enough horror stories about how hard it is to get kids back to sleep, so I’d just watch her breathe to make sure she was okay.” Dee’s mom wrung her hands. “I guess I’m a worrier.”

“All parents are worriers,” Ms. Zenia said. “Dee’s fine. She’s very creative and maybe just a little bit stubborn too.”

Dee’s mom laughed. “Well, you’re right about that.”

*            *            *

Dee’s dad felt the engine of his work truck shudder. Come on, he thought, get me home and then you can die on me. Right then his cell phone chirped to let him know it was running on empty as well. Damn it. He’d forgotten the charger. He picked up the phone and called his wife.

“Everything okay?” she asked.

“Probably. But this last run took longer than I thought and now the truck’s acting funny. Phone’s dying too. I think I can make it home, but if I’m late, don’t worry. It just means I’m walking to a gas station or waiting for a tow truck.”

“Walking to a gas station? Where are you?”

“About forty miles from home, I think. I’ll be fine.” He knew she would worry, but he didn’t want her to.

“It’s almost eleven o’clock, and it’s supposed to rain. I don’t want you walking on the side of the highway. It’s not safe. You could be—“

“How’s Dee? She asleep yet?”

“Of course. She’s been out like a light since seven. She’s sleeping so soundly. I felt her forehead and it seemed kind of hot, but I don’t know. She was asking for her frog pajamas again earlier.”

“She doesn’t have any frog pajamas.”

“I know, that’s what I told her. But of course she swears she has them at her ‘other house.’ I’m beginning to really hate that place. I think she likes the people there more than us.”

“She’ll be fine.” He could practically hear his wife wringing her hands. His phone beeped again. “I will too, but I’ve got to go.”

“Okay,” she said. “Be careful.”

Dee’s dad turned the phone off and chewed on his thumbnail. It had started to rain. He’d told his wife he had to make this run tonight, but that wasn’t true. He’d volunteered for it. The extra money was nice, but what he really needed was a break from the bedtime routine. He loved his daughter. God how he loved her. But it bothered him the way she interrupted his bedtime stories with tales of her own. They were nothing particularly special, but the glee with which she shared them made them seem magical. Whenever he asked where the stories came from, her answer was always the same. “My other house.”

It was ridiculous, he knew, to be jealous of an imaginary place, to feel left out of his little girl’s bedtime stories. But he did.

The engine shuddered again. He looked out the window at the dark stretch of highway and decided his wife might be right. Maybe walking wasn’t such a good idea. He took the next exit and turned into a quaint little neighborhood. His truck made it half a block before dying completely. The phone quickly followed suit.

He got out of the truck. Thankfully, the rain had stopped. In fact, the sky had lightened considerably. He decided the moon must be extra full behind the bank of clouds. He walked up the sidewalk, looking for a house with lights on. He didn’t want to scare anybody, just needed to use their phone and ask them where he was. The neighborhood didn’t seem to have street signs and the numbers on the curbs were too faded to read.

At the end of the street he came to a one story brick house with the porch light on and warm light spilling out from two of the front windows. There was a small bicycle in the front yard, making him wish he were home with his daughter. Dee had been begging for a bike. He suddenly regretted not getting her one for her fifth birthday.

A woman answered the door when he knocked. She wore jeans, a faded red sweatshirt, and a smile. She was wiping her hands on a dish towel. Dee’s dad stood far back from the door as he explained his situation and said he’d be more than happy to wait on the porch if she would just bring him a phone, but she said, “Nonsense,” and invited him in. “Don’t mind the mess,” she said. “You know how kids are. I’ll go grab the phone.”

He was surprised at her hospitality, considering the late hour and the fact that he didn’t exactly look respectable in his dirty work shirt and stubble. But he thanked her and stepped inside. The house felt warm and comfortable, despite the clutter. A dark hallway stretched off to his right, and he could hear a TV on low in a room somewhere to the left. There was a clock on the wall whose battery must have died. It said 5:25. Toys were strewn about everywhere, and without meaning to, he stepped on one. He reached down and picked it up. It was a purple giraffe. He laughed. He’d have to ask the woman where she got it.

She came back then, saying, “Here, I’ll trade you.” She took the stuffed giraffe from his hand and replaced it with a cell phone. Then, seeing that his eyes had traveled to the table of empty plates and glasses half full of iced tea, she said, “Oh don’t worry. You didn’t interrupt anything. We just finished an early dinner.” Dee’s dad resisted the urge to look at his watch, to reassure himself that it was close to midnight. Instead, he just nodded. “I’ll give you some privacy,” she said. “If you need anything, my name is Ginny.”

He stared at her as she disappeared around the corner toward the TV sounds. She must have turned the volume up because suddenly the words became clear. “That’s it for sports. Thanks for joining us. We’ll update you about those rain chances at ten.” He looked back at the clock on the wall. The battery wasn’t dead after all. The minute hand had moved. He looked down at the cell phone. The screen said 5:30. He glanced behind him at the front door. That was more than just porch light coming through the window.

Dee’s dad shook his head and leaned against the wall, suddenly needing support, and tried to catch his breath. From this angle, he could see an open door about halfway down the dark hallway. It led to a small bathroom, where a bright blue stool was tucked neatly beneath a sink. Across the hall, another door stood ajar. Voices, one deep and one childlike, emanated from the room beyond.

Unconsciously, he dialed a number on the phone. His wife picked up immediately. “Hello? Who’s this?”

“Me,” he said as he inched toward the open door.

“Oh thank goodness. It’s pouring here. Are you alright?”

“Yeah. Truck broke down. Calling from a house.” He tiptoed on the white carpet, past a child’s Crayon drawing framed on the wall.

“Is a tow truck coming? How are you getting home?”

“I don’t know.” He reached the room and slowly poked his head around the doorframe. The walls were painted blue, and there was a small bed with a pink canopy. It was empty. He leaned farther. “Is Dee still asleep?”

“Like the dead. Why? Do you think I should wake her up?”

“No.”

Beside the bed, a man sat in a rocking chair reading a picture book. In his lap, smiling and laughing and wearing frog pajamas, was a little girl. His little girl. Dee.

He pressed his back against the hallway wall, heart pounding. “No. Don’t wake her up.”

From inside the room, he heard the man’s voice say, “Honey, I’ve told you. We don’t have a yellow monkey.”

 

© Carie Juettner, 2016.

Posted in Life, Lists, Teaching

10 Things I Learned From Working In An Elementary School Library

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Last September, I got a part-time job as library clerk at an elementary school near my house. I’d been out of the classroom for two years at that point and all my teaching experience had been in middle school and high school. I’d never worked in an elementary, and I’d never worked in a library, but I decided to give it a try. I mean, books + kids = fun, right?

Right! Kids are cute. Books for kids are cute. Libraries full of books for kids are cute. It turns out that spending ten hours a week checking out books, checking in books, shelving books, helping kids find books, and reading books to kids was just what I needed to fill the unproductive hours in my day and earn some extra income. And I even survived the filing, stapling, bulletin board decorating, and (shudder) cutting out laminating that also came with the job. (Someday I’m going to invent static-free laminating plastic and become the hero of all teachers and librarians.)

Much of what I experienced during my first year as library clerk was expected. However, there were a few surprises. Now that the school year has ended, it’s time to reflect on…

10 Things I Learned From Working In An Elementary School Library:

1. When working with kids, this is your best friend:

Sanitizer

2. You know those squirrels that dash into the middle of the street, freeze, consider turning back, and then end up running in circles instead? First graders are like that. All the time.

3. Unlike the hordes of middle schoolers I taught who all seemed to have the same closet, elementary school kids dress wonderfully, adorably, outrageously weird, and I love them for it.

Some of my favorite outfits this year included:
– The Kindergartner in the orange Ninja Turtles t-shirt and bolo tie
– The third grader in jeans, a tucked in white t-shirt, and red white & blue suspenders (on picture day)
– The fourth grader in the neon yellow t-shirt and yellow plaid skirt, with matching gloves and hair bow

4. Bookmarks come in all shapes and sizes.

Bookmarks

5. Talking to children is sometimes like putting a quarter into a conversation bubble gum machine and waiting to see what flavor will come out.

* Bubble Gum Conversation #1:
Me – “Thank you for paying for your lost book.”
Kindergarten Girl – “You’re welcome.”
Me – “Wait here while I get you a receipt.”
Kindergarten Girl – “I can run as fast as a cheetah on fire.”
Me – “That’s great, but now is the time for standing still.”

* Bubble Gum Conversation #2:
[Shouted to me by a lone third grader at the other end of an empty hallway]: “I’m going to meet my friends in the cafeteria! I don’t need any help! I’m fine!”
(For the record, I did not offer help, nor suggest that he was not fine, nor engage him at all.)

* Bubble Gum Conversation #3:
Me, handing books to second grade girl – “Here you go. Enjoy them!”
Second grade girl – [Big sigh] “I have a LOT of talents.”
Me – “That’s nice.”

6. I also have a lot of talents I didn’t know I had, such as:

– Putting together this cart all by myself.

(It rolls and everything. I'm so proud.)
(It rolls and everything. I’m so proud.)

– Stapling 300 book fair flyers in a single day.
– Memorizing the Dewey Decimal System. (Go ahead, try me.)

7. Kids love books about:

– Cars (Call Number 629.222)
– Dogs (Call Number 636.7)
– Scary Stuff (Call Number 398.2) – I don’t think the many volumes of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark will ever go out of style.
– Sharks (Call Number 597.3) – Every single week, I re-shelved every book in this section.
– The Military (Call Numbers 355-359) – This one was a surprise to me.

8. Kids also love it when people come to visit them. Being a part of the library means getting the behind-the-scenes experience of some fun school events.

This year we hosted two amazing authors – Bethany Hegedus, author of Grandfather Gandhi, and K. A. Holt, author of Rhyme Schemer – and also got a visit from Typewriter Rodeo. The kids had a blast.

LibraryEvents

9. Typing up a list of books in the Dear America series can really depress a person.

Titles include:
* Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
* When Will This Cruel War Be Over? 
* One Eye Laughing, The Other Weeping
* My Heart is on the Ground

10. You find weird things during inventory. Such as…

* Notes from substitutes regarding questionable content in videos.

Notes

* An episode of Reading Rainbow that I definitely did not see in school.

ReadingRainbow

* And THIS:

LibraryCreepy

I had a great time learning to be a library clerk, and I’m looking forward to doing it all again next year. But FIRST, I’m looking forward to my break. 🙂 Happy summer vacation, everyone!

Library3My First Year Stats:

# Hours I worked = 319
# Fire drills I survived = 3
# Surprise unexpected ambush hugs from kids = 4
# Times I had to say, “Please don’t lick the book” = 1
# Times I got sick, possibly from ambush hugs or licked books = 2 (not bad, considering)
# Library Books Shelved = 50,000 (ish)
# Times I reorganized the graphic novel section (Call Number 741.5) = infinity

Posted in Teaching

Your Parents Don’t Want Me to Know That

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Amazing Artwork by Carie Juettner

 

Your Right To Privacy Has Been Revoked

These days, we are constantly cautioned against revealing too much of our personal information online. Be careful what you share on Twitter. Don’t post your home address on your Facebook page. Never give your social security number to a stranger. Blah, blah, blah.

The way I see it, anyone who has a child has already given up their right to privacy anyway, so what does it really matter? Seriously, if you are considering having kids and currently have a nifty little “Pros and Cons of Procreation” t-chart on the fridge, go ahead and jot this down in the cons column: Kids tell people everything. I know, because I was their teacher.

And don’t fool yourself into thinking that it’s just the little ones that blurt out embarrassing snippets from home. Nope. I taught seventh graders. That’s right—your offspring are just as likely to reveal your dirty little secrets at age twelve as they are at two, and what’s worse is they’re more articulate. (Well, most of them.)

OMG!  TMI!  LOL!

Over the course of my middle school teaching years, I developed a line that became useful in handling awkward conversations with students. Whenever a girl or boy shared something about home that was shocking, embarrassing, or disturbing (while not being illegal, abusive, or counselor-worthy), I simply responded with, “Honey, your mom/dad probably doesn’t want me to know that.” This would cause a brief look of wonder or enlightenment to cross the child’s face before they either blushed and hurried away or shrugged their shoulders and continued to prattle on about their family’s strange ways.  (Parents out there, consider this right now: Which type of child do YOU have?)

Comments which warranted my cautionary mantra included, but are not limited to, the following:

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Super Grover
  • Boy – “My mom gets so mad in the car. She’s always flipping people off and cussing them out. The thing is though, SHE’S the bad driver.”
  • Girl (pointing to the Grover stuffed animal on my shelf) – “Hey! My mom sleeps with one of those.”
  • Boy – “My parents got divorced because my dad was my mom’s boss and she didn’t like him telling her what to do all day.”
  • Girl (upon receiving a note that she’s leaving school for a dentist appointment) -“Oh, I’m not really going to the dentist. My mom’s taking me to get my nails done for the Taylor Swift concert tonight.”
  • Boy – “My mom can’t pick me up today. She’s getting a new tattoo on her butt.”
  • Girl – “Whenever my dad gets a bad sunburn, he peels off all the dead skin and eats it.”

(Ok, yes, if you are keeping track, there are a lot more embarrassing details shared about moms than about dads. However, the dad one is by far the most disgusting.)

Dear Carie, How Can I Prevent My Child From Embarrassing Me At School?

The good news is, there are ways to keep your kids from airing all your dirty laundry in public. Simply never swear, never lie, never fall down, never speed, and, for goodness sake, never peel off your skin and eat it in front of your children. Just lead a perfect life and you have nothing to worry about.

 

[To read more stories from my teaching career, check out my Teaching Stories page.]