Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 11 2013

Four Years Missing, Four Years Thriving

I woke up this morning knowing I had slept deep and well all six hours. After tracking my sleep patterns for the first three week of school, I’ve learned that for me, five hours of sleep is just as good as eight. It feels good to not feel guilty for not sleeping enough anymore.

At the dining room table for my standard 5:15 morning, I tapped in a tech request, an email, a facebook status about anticipation being all the glory of life and happiness, and set out for a quick two mile run. After showering, walked to our administration building next door for my weekly coffee date with my principal-turned-central-office friend. It was a calming conversation about her grandkids and our district technology and went much longer than expected.

At school I tried not to get frustrated when one of my students knocked on my door three times in ten minutes about the poison ivy that is literally all over his body, rubbed raw, painful, reminding me of the mishap Meagan and I had at Cane Creek last year– weeks of bagged frozen vegetables pressed to my calves come to my mind, before I took half of Meagan’s steroids.

In class we read chapters two and three of Tom Sawyer, a book my students enjoy as much as I do (which is to say near 85% enjoyment). They giggle at the right times and for the most part behave appropriately (an impressive feat to me, considering it’s the first time I’ve allowed desks to be in a circle in two years).

Lunch was lots of slow, lazy, food-bearing chewing as Britney and I took turns giving each other giggle fits and calling our IT-guy-turned-best-friend “Mr. Cheetoh” with the enthusiasm of a sixth grader (yes, lots of enthusiasm). Britney and I have a wonderful system that I recommend to everyone on earth. It includes us alternating buying lunch groceries each week, then setting out a buffet literally every day. It’s communal and happy and healthy and forces you to sit and socialize. We tend to repeat the same phrases constantly and erupt into laughter like children. It’s nice to have a constant source of light.

In the afternoon I came close to my first recorded discipline offense, but instead made an agreement with said perpetrator that during tomorrow’s read-aloud, he will turn his desk to face the outside of the circle to prevent disruption. He just needs a little extra redirection, that one.

There is no possible way to articulate the love I have for my students.

It is a love that literally brings me to tears. It is a love that completely fills me. It is a love that I am still in disbelief that it is possible. It is a love that makes me want to know them completely, so badly, to support them and push them and most most of all I want them to harness the love I have for them and turn it around, and love themselves more than I do. And push themselves because of that.

When the students left and my desks were rearranged to pods-in-a-circle, Britney and I enjoyed a delicious McDonald’s dinner during which I asked for the 100th time how she turned out like she did when she grew up in a town so much like Dumas. The two of us are so similar, ideologically and otherwise, much more similar than any other Arkansan I have met. It baffles me, and makes me want to meet her parents.

At home I found my new headphones that made me want to immediately run, but I had a meeting and some ATC work that I went through with joy punctuated by exclamations along the lines of “I AM SO PUMPED FOR THIS.” because we are planning very purposeful and very meaningful and very collaboratively-spirited PD that partners with the glorious Arkansas organizations through the Clinton School and Just Communities of Arkansas. I got off the phone glowing with encouragement and excitement to move forward.

Then I ran. Three miles down already-dark streets, the sure sign of fall. My new shoes seem to pull the ground up after me, they grip so well. I listened to shuffle, from Eric Church to Jimmy Eat World, and took time to notice how effortless three miles were. Across the railroad tracks, under stars on a dirt road it was too dark for me to be on, down the long, dark Main St where a man on a bike asked how far I’d run with a smile, I breathed. I paced. I thought of life and love and laughter and knew that today is as any other day: just as perfect, just as flawed.

Near nine my student from last year called me for the fourth time today. I admire her perseverance. She used to call me mom, and still writes her pen-pal from last year. I answered.

She came to my room after school today, she said, the desks are different. Why do I have that Western Michigan University poster? The new teacher’s room looks different. Is class different? Are sixth graders allowed to use phones? Did I throw a paper airplane when a fifth grader came in the other day? Do I think she should have gotten D-Hall for picking up her paper today? And then, finally,

How was Michigan?

She remembers, from instagram or a last conversation or her cousin who is in my homeroom, that for Labor Day I went to Michigan. I took a deep breath, “It was wonderful!”

“What did you do there?”

“Do you want to know?”

“Yes…”

“Even if it’s sad?”

“Yes, tell me.”

“You remember that my mom passed away, right?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know what being cremated means?”

“Yes.”

“Well, my mom was cremated, and we went to Michigan to spread the ashes.”

“Oh! …what did they look like?”

At this I’m laughing. I am so blessed, so lucky, so fortunate, so magically touched by a force so much greater than myself, to have this life. To have this child in my life, calling me, asking me how I am. Asking me what my life is like.

Four years exactly today, I was sitting in one of my senior design classes when my dad called. I remember sitting in the concrete stairwell, listening calmly as he told me to wait to call anybody, that he needed to tell my siblings. I remember walking calmly to a classmate, asking for a cigarette and then walking to Valerie, asking her can we talk in the hall.

I remember going to the same stairwell, walking then running down three flights with a choked sob somewhere between the first and second floor, pulling Valerie by the wrist behind me. Sitting against a brick wall, smoke trailing, blue sky shining, telling her what my dad had told me:

“My mom just died.”

And there is something beautiful in knowing that the student who asked me about the ashes and Valerie who held my hand are pen-pals. And so perfectly fitting, and a testament to my mom’s life and the way I was raised, to know that there was no pomp or sobbing or ceremony to commemorate four years passed; that it was a regular day, full of work, and meaning, and laughter, and love.

 

3 Responses

  1. houstonheart

    This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

    Sometimes, after days of main idea and inference and tone and diction I forget how singularly breathtaking words can be. This was a much-needed reminder.

  2. Andrew Stevens

    Beautiful post.

  3. Sho

    “There is no possible way to articulate the love I have for my students.

    It is a love that literally brings me to tears. It is a love that completely fills me. It is a love that I am still in disbelief that it is possible. It is a love that makes me want to know them completely, so badly, to support them and push them and most most of all I want them to harness the love I have for them and turn it around, and love themselves more than I do. And push themselves because of that.”

    You’re entire post is so artfully and deeply written. This section and the part about your mom stuck out most to me. You inspire me. Keep remembering, keeping running, keep loving.

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