Help Me Out


Written by Frances Peacock

Honorable Mention essay, human interest category, 2008, Erma Bombeck Writing Competition,

Winter brings wonderful things to a child – a new sled, a larger size in skates, and plenty of snow for playing. And teachers know another thing: winter brings coats with crummy zippers.   Ask any teacher and she’ll tell you. The cheap, plastic zippers come to school every year, and they cause a lot of trouble.

When a child is stuck in his coat, he comes straight up to the teacher. He looks at her with pleading eyes. He begs her to fix the zipper, to get it moving up or down, so he can hang up his coat and begin his day. He doesn’t know why his zipper won’t move, he can’t explain how he became trapped in his own coat, and he thinks he has done something terribly wrong. He fears he may have to wear the coat all day, and he wonders how he will ever go to the bathroom in that thing.

Luckily, the teacher knows the remedy – she goes to her purse and takes out a nail file; she prods, she pokes, and she sets the zipper back on track. Even if it takes fifteen minutes, she battles the zipper until she wins, and the teacher always wins – because she is fighting for the dignity of the child. This skill – freeing children form the confines of their own winter coats – isn’t something you can teach. It’s a maneuver you just figure out, and every teacher knows how.

I don’t know who would do this to a child. I don’t know who would sell a coat with a flimsy zipper that travels halfway and then suddenly stops… and splits…and strands the wearer in a drafty no-man’s-land, with no instructions for rescue. It’s hard to feel cute in your new winter coat when you’re at the front of the room and the teacher is trying to open you up like a can of peas, and the whole class watches as you get hotter by the minute.

The makers of the no-good zippers are causing children shame. I’d like, just once, to see one of those zipper-makers get stuck in his coat. I wonder how he’d like to sit in his fancy office and try to tug his way out of his hooded parka. I bet his body would start to sweat. I bet his face would turn red, and I wish the furry collar would tickle his chin.

I wish he had to go to the stockholders’ meeting that way, and I wish his secretary can’t get him out of that coat.

And I wish no one can find a nail file.

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