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Cause I Ain’t Got a Pencil

A Short Tale of How I Have Begun to Understand the Children

About this time during my first year as a school nurse, I had just finished working 78 days in a row without a day off. I thought being a school nurse would be great! But you know the old saying, “If it’s so great, why isn’t everyone doing it?” For people who aren’t school nurses, that “why” is usually income-related. For me to make ends meet, I worked another full-time job on the weekends as an on-call hospice nurse. I counted down those 78 days to the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, all the while thinking, “This is just not for me.” Those kids drove me crazy…and the teachers…sending some of those kids down for the smallest things. Shame, shame, shame. And so by Thanksgiving, I was planning my job-interviewing strategy for May.

What changed, then? Why am I still a school nurse?

My principal sends out a daily bulletin. No, I don’t read them all (she knows this), but I do try to read the majority. One daily bulletin had an attachment that got my stinkin’ thinkin’ back on the right track. With eyes wide-opened, I started to actually “see” what many of the children come to see me for and why many of the teachers send them.

Cause I Ain’t Got a Pencil

I woke myself up

Because we ain’t got an alarm clock

Dug in the dirty-clothes basket,

Cause ain’t nobody washed my uniform

Brushed my hair and teeth in the dark,

Cause the lights ain’t on

Even got my baby sister ready,

Cause my mama wasn’t home.

Got us both to school on time,

To eat us a good breakfast.

Then when I got to class the teacher fussed

Cause I ain’t got no pencil.

— Joshua T. Dickerson

I love to sleep. Well, if I am tired I love to sleep in my soft, warm bed in my secure, comfortable home. Going to sleep after a long day and in such comfort (compared to many) is a very nice experience, indeed. I’ve been a terrible person who judges the world by a standard that many…just in my own small circle of influence…only dream of. In my life, I feel I still have much to be desired, yet others may only dream of what I have.

A child comes into my office and is dog-tired. The kid looks like he’d just come in from fighting a battle and could barely hold his eyes open. “My teacher said I needed to come down and rest.” So, after a quick assessment, I let him lie down. It wasn’t two seconds before that young-un’ was out…like a light. He slept through a screaming splinter extraction, an “I’ve been to the nurse most this year” argument between two little hypochondriacs, and the whole of the after-lunch-recess traumas coming in for Bandaids, ice packs, and inhalers. This child didn’t wake up at all. After a couple hours, I called his mother.

“Yea, that’s my fault.” She was very calm and polite as she continued, “We were at the emergency room all last night and didn’t get back home until after three.” She reported this in a matter-of-fact manner.

Hearing this caused me to turn my chair and take a second look at the sleeping boy. I hadn’t noticed any injuries; he didn’t have any symptoms of illness.

She continued, “My tongue stud got infected, and we all went to the emergency room; we waited forever! He watched the baby there at the ER.” Was I speechless? Not yet… “Thank you for letting him sleep. Also, could you do me a favor? Could you let him have a jacket; money’s kinda tight right now.” Now I was speechless.

My weekend job took most of the weekend hours away from me. Often I would have an admission on Friday night, calls and scheduled visits and admissions on Saturday, and the same for Sunday. Often, to top off a rough weekend, I’d get a call on Monday morning from those poor souls that just could not wait the next hour or so until their case manager returned to the job.

One summery Saturday morning, I was scheduled for a home health admission in order to start TPN for a young momma who would be getting off work early in the morning and needed the nutrition to run through her sleeping day. I met her driving up to the house, and, though she maintained a bit of a caution about this big old burly nursing guy (despite the scrubs), she welcomed me into her home. Four young girls were rousing from their slumber party (so I thought), all having slept the night on a pull-out sofa bed. The sisters, as it turns out, did not whine or bellyache as they woke. They all just got up with a bit of excitement despite their sleepy-eyed state and worked together to tuck the bed back into the sofa’s bellows…two tucked while one folded the linens and another gathered the sofa pillows. After a bit, and their chore was complete. Then they realized who had come for a visit.

“Nurse Kevin! Nurse Kevin!” And all the little bed-heads gathered around me in a group hug. The mother relaxed with this display of “character witness” from her four children showing she had nothing to fear from the man in the blue scrubs.

The four girls disappeared with tiny thuds from bare feet stepping on worn carpet to slapping little feet on peeling linoleum as they all went into the kitchen. I sat with the mother and offered a bit of an introduction. She repeated my name in more of a question rather than a statement, “Nurse Kevin?”

“That’s me.” I recognized a couple of the girls from school, and the other two either knew me as their school nurse or were just following the lead of the other siblings in some “love for Nurse Kevin.”

The father/husband came from down the hallway buttoning the last two buttons on a smooth canvas shirt with an iron-on name tag over the right pocket. The mother’s day was ending, and the father’s day was just beginning. Turns out, the girls were making breakfast for their passing parents, not out of obligation as if it were a chore, but because they wanted to. Their day would begin with daddy gone and momma sleeping and the four left to their own devices to be quiet as little church mice as momma rests — only to get up and do it all over again just a few hours.

I know that I have not perfected my biases and my judgmental behavior. Some of those little people I tend to at school (or anywhere, for that matter) are just little knuckleheads. They’re all good kids, but a lot of them don’t know that yet. But, even in their darkest, most knuckleheadedest moments, you have to ask, “What is it that I think I see, and what am I completely blind to? What am I missing?”

Poverty is a great transgressor, but education is a great equalizer.

Of the hundreds of children I care for, I know that at least one will make a good health decision in their life that will be either supported or completely decided based on the care and teaching I provided. I know that many of these children I care for, no matter how desperate some may seem, will end up growing up to be impressive wage-earners, having achieved more before they turn 30 than I have my whole life. So, I try not to judge or fuss or assume. Don’t get me wrong; I’ll call it like it is when I know better. But often I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes at home with these children.

Thanksgiving is this week. For me and mine, we are enjoying a nine-day stretch of days off from school. I am working and staying busy on my homestead as well as in my real estate business.(I gave up on-call weekends a while back.) All the while I will wonder if little Miss So-And-So or tough Mr. He-And-Him are as thankful for the time off from school, or are they counting the days until next Monday.

Cause I Ain’t Got a Pencil

By the way, that poem is still hanging on my cork board for me to look at it each day.

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Nurse Kevin
Nurse Kevin is a school nurse who takes care of school children in Southwestern Idaho. Nurse Kevin authors content for many different websites including,,,,,

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