On Monday, I wrote a silly tweet:
I then started to think about how that tradition would have started and immediately began typing out a story. Initially, I thought I would share it privately with the early elementary teachers in my cohort and then I thought, “Nah, I might just send this out to the world.” So, here is. The story of how Miss B saved Christmas. You can read it below or listen to the audio version.
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Miss B Saves Christmas
Belinda Bojorquez-Brukowski was famous in the neighborhood. At every aisle of the grocery store, she’d hear “What’s buzzing, Miss B?” from former students aged eight to forty-one. No matter how many errands she needed to run, she would turn to her student and give her legendary buzzing bee fist bump that she’d perfected over decades of teaching.
But after five such first bumps, Miss B was now running late for an appointment on a blustery November morning. However, she was about to be even later than ever because of a bright red flier flittering around on the sidewalk. She knew she could leave it alone and someone might throw it away but she didn’t want to leave that to chance, so she strolled over to the stray paper to snag it. It simply flew forward. She lunged at it again but it flew away. She hopped forward but the scrap of paper tumbled away. Miss B chased it down the block, around the corner, and into the parking lot where she eventually snatched it up.
“Gotcha!” she exclaimed as the customers at Danny’s Deli stared out at her.“I’m telling you, Miss B really cares about tidying up,” Danny said as he handed a customer a grilled peanut butter and cheese sandwich.
To Miss B’s surprise, the flier wasn’t a mere advertisement, but an envelope covered in glitter.
“Glitter!” she exclaimed in delight. It should be known that all first-grade teachers fit into two glitter camps. The first group is the anti-glitterites whose main goal is to rid the world of those shiny little flecks that get all over your clothes. The second group is the glitterati. They love all things glitter and wish to spread the flecks of fabulous all over the world. Miss B was the Queen of the Glitterati. She loved glitter almost as much as she loved bees.
Miss B flipped over the envelope. It read, “To the Marvelous Miss B.” She carefully opened the envelope and pulled out the old weathered parchment. Parchment is a really old word for paper and this paper looked really, really old. Like older than flip phones level old.
We invite you to become a seasonal specialist at Santa’s Workshop. Meet us at the library on Spruce Street at 7:32 a.m. tomorrow morning.
K.B. Elfington III
Miss B smiled widely. It must be one of Miss Nancy’s famous fall scavenger hunts.
The next morning, Miss B put on her favorite Christmas sweater and her necklace that looked like tiny Christmas lights. It was full two weeks before Thanksgiving but to Miss B, it was always Christmastime. She loved Christmas even more than bees and glitter and even more than bee-related crafts made with glitter.
As she approached the library doors, a man with a pointy hat ushered her inside.
“I love your costume,” she said with a smile.
He furrowed his eyebrows and said, “Ahem, it’s a uniform, not a costume.”
She followed him past the rows of bookshelves, stopping twice take note of new mysteries she wanted to read and then a third time when she saw a picture book she planned to bring to the children’s hospital.
The pointed hat man shook his head and muttered, “This must be a mistake.”
Finally, they reached a study room with a hand-painted sign that read “Santa’s Workshop.”
“You’ll need these,” the man said, handing her top-of-the-line zero degree earmuffs and a scarf with a tag that claimed they were handcrafted by gnomes.
As she stepped inside, a flurry of snow swirled around her. She wiped her glasses with her scarf. Then she saw it. An entire village made from gingerbread, complete with twinkling lights and a giant fir tree with ornaments.
“This is the real Santa’s Workshop?” she asked.The elf nodded.
“But we were just in the library,” she pointed out.
“Yes, well magical things tend to happen when one visits the library,” the elf said. She followed him down the gumdrop path and into the workshop headquarters.
“Your favorite items have already been delivered to your cubicle,” he said, walking her down the rows of desks and over to an empty icy space.
“Excuse me, what’s my job?” she asked.
“Good luck. You’ll need it,” he growled.
An elf next to her peered over the ice cubicle and said, “You’re not given a job at Santa’s Workshop. It’s something you have to discover on your own.”
“Oh,” Miss B said.
“I’m Cautiously Optimistic,” the elf said, stretching out her hand for a handshake.
“I’m pretty optimistic, too,” Miss B answered.
“No, that’s my name. All elves have adjectives for names. In my case, I get both an adjective and an adverb which I think is pretty swell.”
“It’s a beautiful name,” Miss B replied.
“I must warn you that for all the talk of Christmas cheer, the elves around here can be pretty hard at first. My hope is that they’ll become more kind over time but I wouldn’t guarantee it. My advice is to focus on your job and you’ll be good . . . or not. No guarantees, right?” she laughed nervously.
Miss B set about to discover her new job. She visited the repair shop but soon realized that she didn’t have the necessary skills. Oh, she was really good at fixing the copy machine but they weren’t facing any urgent paper jams in the North Pole. They were still using parchment and quills.
Next, she moved to the woodworking department. Though she was a master woodworker, she wasn’t familiar with their magical tools. Besides, the space felt far too crowded. When she knocked over a tub of pixie dust, they sent her to the clothing department.
When Miss B arrived at the clothing design and fabrication center, she met an elf named Sassy who wore a perfectly tailored green suit.
“Hi there, what’s buzzing?” Miss B asked.
“You’re early,” Sassy answered.
“For what?” Miss B asked.
“The ugly Christmas sweater party isn’t until December 12th.”
“No, this is my favorite Christmas sweater. A former student knitted it for me six years ago and I remember her every time I put it on.”
“Well, it’s ugly,” Sassy said. “Maybe you should leave. We have lots of work to do.”
Miss B walked to the stables to see if maybe she could work as a reindeer trainer but they informed her that she would need a flying license which would take at least seven years to earn.
That night, she walked down the gum drop trail and through the library feeling defeated. None of the jobs seemed to fit her at all.
The next day, the pointy hat elf greeted her again in astonishment.
“You’re back?” he asked.
“Of course,” she answered.
“Oh,” is all he could manage as he walked her back to the Santa’s Workshop sign, through the door, and across the gumdrop trail to her ice cubicle.
Miss B spent the rest of the morning trying new jobs. She spent a few hours at the wrapping center but she was far too slow at tying bows. Then she tried the rapping center and her rhymes were far too slow. She headed to the mechanic’s station to work on the sled but she accidentally dropped a wrench on an elf’s foot and she was sent packing yet again.
I would love to say that the elves treated her with kindness but that wasn’t exactly the case. Three of them stole her coffee mugs and played keep away when she attempted to retrieve them. They couldn’t understand why she would care so much about those dollars store mugs that she cherished so much because they had been given to her by former students.
Other elves mocked her for failing to know the difference between the seventeen different types of snow. Still others called her “giant” and “ogre” behind her back.
Miss B returned to her cubicle exhausted.
She turned to Cautiously Optimistic and said, “I’ve visited every place and I can’t figure out where I’m supposed to be.”
“Yet,” Cautiously Optimistic said.
“What’s that?” Miss B asked.
“Yet. That was your special word, right? Learning is hard, you bet, you bet. So always remember the power of yet. If something seems impossible now, keep on trying. You’ll discover how,” Cautiously Optimistic said.
“How’d you know my class song?” Miss B asked.
“It was in your Naughty or Nice file. Or in your case, almost entirely Nice file. You used to sing that in your class all the time,” the elf said. “I think you should follow your own advice. Or maybe not. I think it will work but I can’t make any promises,” Cautiously Optimistic said.
Miss B went back to each location but this time as a student. She observed each station carefully and took detailed notes.
At lunchtime, when the elves gathered around to eat heaps of smashed candy bars and tubs of marshmallow cream, she sat alone with a sad little salad and a protein bar.
Cautiously Optimistic pulled up a chair next to her and slurped on her hot caramel.
“Are you okay?”
“I think it was an accident,” Miss B said. “What if that invitation was meant for a different Miss B?”
“Nonsense,” Cautiously Optimistic answered.
“But I can’t figure anything out,” Miss B said.
“Find something that inspires you,” the elf answered.
After lunch, Miss B stopped by her cubicle and opened up her backpack of items. Inside, she saw her favorite poster from her classroom. It was a cartoon bee with the words, “You can be anything. Bee kind.”
When she tried tape the poster onto the cubicle, it simply slipped off the smooth icy surface. She grabbed a stapler but the staples fell off. So, she went to the hardware section of the workshop and borrowed a hammer and nails.
She lined up the poster perfectly center and placed a nail at the top left-hand corner and swung the hammer as hard as she could until it pierced the ice. She repeated it again with all four corners.
She stepped back and let out a sigh.
“Perfect,” she mumbled to herself.
Cautiously Optimistic was right. The poster was a little boost of inspiration. The elves might be grumpy and maybe even a little rude but she could be kind. That much was clear.
Right then, she heard a crackle. Then a crack. Then another crackle. All at once, the icy cubicle began to shatter. Then, like dominoes, each cubicle began cracking and crumbling and falling on the next one until the whole office space looked like an ice tray.
Miss B grabbed her backpack and headed off on the gumdrop trail in search for the library door. But try as she might, she couldn’t find it. She wandered the path again and again but nothing worked. Eventually, she opened up her backpack with her most cherished items and saw what she called her “memory binder” with notes and drawings from her former students.
It’s a little-known secret that even the best teachers sometimes doubt themselves. They make mistakes and get frustrated. Sometimes they raise their voice at a class, which is a nice way of saying they get angry like the rest of us. Sometimes, they get their feelings hurt. They second-guess themselves. Sometimes they wonder if their students even like them.
On hard days, teachers sometimes take out of a file folder or a box or a binder and read thank you notes from former students.
Though she was shivering in the cold, Miss B felt warmer as she read each letter and remembered her students. There was Darnelle the doctor who was the first in his family to go college. And there was Leticia the electrician who could work wonders. Oh, and Miguel, who was now a kindergarten teacher. There was Kyle, who started a new business and Olivia, who was just now applying for college.
“What are you doing?” a voice asked.
Miss B jumped up, startled. She wiped her eyes and looked up to see Cautiously Optimistic standing there smiling.
“Don’t worry. I’m leaving this place. I just needed a breather.”
“You are not leaving this place,” the elf replied.
“But I broke the cubicles.”
“So? That’s what they get for making furniture out of ice. Dasher escaped last week and destroyed an entire apartment complex made of gingerbread. Elves are madly talented but sometimes we make boneheaded design choices.”
“I just . . . I needed to read these letters to remind me that . . .”
“Wait, you’re telling me that you can actually read those?” Cautiously Optimistic asked.
“Well, of course I can. I taught first grade for thirty-three years.”
The elf grabbed Miss B by the hand and pulled her up.
“Do you know what this means?” Cautiously Optimistic asked.
But Miss B had no idea what it meant. How could she?
“Where are we going?” Miss B asked. However, the young elf didn’t answer. Instead, she raced through the workshop, across the town square, around the reindeer stables and over to the brand-new communications building.
Miss B awkwardly waved at the gawking eyes of the elves who knew the damage she had just done that day. Meanwhile Cautiously Optimistic whispered to a guard who then waved them forward up the candy cane staircase to the main offices.
“Would you happen to know how to decipher this letter? What is this hde?” Clever asked.
Miss B snapped her finger. “Easy. The d is backwards. So it spells hbe. It’s a child trying to sound out the word happy. You see?”
The elf nodded.
“I knew teachers were amazing,” Clever muttered, “but this type of deciphering skill simply cannot be taught.”
“Oh but it can,” Miss B protested.
“On the contrary, you have found your unique gift,” Clever the elf answered.
Miss B spent the next two days deciphering various letters that had been sent to Santa’s Workshop. They even made an official name tag for her that read, “Phonetic Code Breaking Genius.” She immediately covered it in glitter for an extra dose of fabulous because, well, that’s what Miss B does.
Each evening, Miss B would walk down the gumdrop trail and leave the library with a sense of pride. She’d arrive the next day with a new Christmas sweater and a spark of joy. She would spend her entire day reading various letters to Santa while a crowd of elves came by to marvel at her magic.
At the end of the week, Miss B posted an invitation on the staff room bulletin board with a class called “How to read first and second grade writing.”
Only one student showed up but together she and Cautiously Optimistic spent ninety minutes that night working on deciphering children’s handwriting and spelling.
The next evening, two elves showed up. One of them was Sassy, the slightly snobby elf from the fashion department who shook her head in disapproval of both the Christmas sweater and the glittery name tag but who remained in the class for the entire evening.
A full week went by before a third and a fourth elf showed up.
When Miss B took attendance on day and said, “Cautiously Optimistic,” the elf answered, “You know what? I think I might just go by my new nickname now, if that’s okay. Call me Optimistic instead of Cautiously Optimistic.”
While the class was small, something big began to happen. A few elves actually sat next to her at lunch and even gave salad a chance. Don’t get me wrong. They didn’t eat their veggies. Miracles do have their limits. But they tried it, nonetheless.
It all happened so subtly that Miss B didn’t even realize it but the elves had begun treating each other with a little more kindness and respect.
A week later, her class grew to 15 students. In that time, she had her first invitation to an elfish scavenger hunt. She received another invitation to the official elves-only Christmas play, where they gave her an Honorary Elf pass and her very own hand-crafted pointy hat.
When she organized a white elephant gift exchange, the elves didn’t know what to do. “Why would we give each other gifts if we can make for ourselves anything we could ever need?”
But to her surprise, the room was packed with elves trading presents as they sipped their hot cocoa and hot caramel.
Miss B continued to decipher letters and teach the classes. Each day, she would return to her apartment and feed her goldfish Gilgamesh and then return the next morning to the library with a set of lesson plans for that evening.
On December 23rd, just one day shy of Christmas Eve, she held her final class. Sassy handed her a beautifully wrapped golden box. Miss B opened it up to see the biggest, puffiest, ugliest ugly sweater she had ever seen.
“It’s beautiful,” she said, with tears in her eyes.
“Oh no, it’s hideous. But it’s so you,” Sassy said.
That night, as she headed out on the gumdrop trail, a tall man in a red suit waved her over.
“Santa?” she asked.
He nodded with a twinkle in his eye. “Tomorrow will be your last day here.”
“Did I do something wrong?” she asked.
“On the contrary, you did something quite right. This is seasonal work and your season here is nearly over.”
“I don’t understand,” she answered.
“You can’t teach them forever. They will eventually need to move on. But you taught them everything they needed to learn from you.”
“How to read sloppy handwriting?” Miss B asked.
“Nope.” He shook his head.
“How to decipher phonetic spelling?” she asked.
“Not exactly,” he answered.
“Then what?” she asked.
“While it’s true that you taught them to read sloppy handwriting and decode phonetic spelling, you taught them so much more. You taught them how to listen and how to give gifts and, more than anything else, you taught them how to love. That’s something we’ve been missing at the workshop. And it took someone very special to teach it to us. It took a teacher.”