Saturday, May 2, 2009

122/365 Nobody is immune (Don't worry, this has nothing to do with Pigs or Viruses)

She's grown up so much, so fast. Watching little ones toddle on the beach today reminded me of times not long ago when she dared not let go, all five of her pudgy baby fingers wrapped so tightly around one of mine, fearing she'd be swept away by the waves. She was too frightened be near the water alone, yet she roared with laughter when her daddy carried into the crashing waves. Our trips to the beach were fun but so much work, with every step a danger as we watched over this precious, young gift we were given. Today she walked and waded with a friend and tossed a football with some teen boys they met. She had her own day at the beach. When she was little and everything was such hard work I'd imagined this day. I pictured myself snoozing contentedly, lulled to sleep by the delicious rhythm created by the dance between the moon and the earth's water. It wasn't to be, though. Instead I spent my time on the beach today thinking of two encounters yesterday, both hearkening back to a fourth grade class I had so many years ago.
One student was quiet, humble, strawberry blond and all girl, who seemed to struggle with nearly everything I gave her. Except her writing. She wrote with complete abandon, and at ten years old she scratched out descriptive prose that I tasted, heard and smelled when I read it. Struggles with spelling, grammar, and other particulars didn't interrupt her expression. Each assignment was a tribute to her trust in me to use a gentle hand and to wield the red pen with discretion. She's grown now. Working a punch-a-time-card job, and living with a boyfriend because one parent abused drugs and the other kicked her out. This quiet, humble, strawberry blond girl hasn't quite been able to make college work as she scratches out a living, she told me. Sitting outside her job, she surprised me with a Popsicle and she caught me up. I found myself wishing that someone had perfected the damned time machine. But then what could I have done, nearly a decade ago, to have helped her to avoid the hardships she's already faced?
Another student, a brilliant, witty, clever kid with wonderful and supportive parents, but who never seemed to get it together as a fourth grader. This child would take a Spelling Quiz and then lose the paper as it traveled from his hand to mine. I was challenged to challenge him, with his incredible brain and his incredibly indifferent attitude toward all things school-related. I'd imagined that this would be the kid to grow up and find the cure for cancer, or design bridges, or possibly negotiate a lasting peace in the Middle East. He's that brilliant. I saw his mother yesterday, and she told me about his struggles. College hasn't inspired him, dropping out of one, and barely scraping by at another. He's still a brilliant, witty, and clever kid, but nothing has inspired him. He has moved out and then back home, and his wonderful and supportive parents are worried.
So today at the beach, looking at the little girl who held me so tightly, I wondered what story her teachers will hear during a chance encounter in another half a decade. Will hers be another story of struggle and pain in a young life? Nowadays I'm the one who wants to hold on tight, but the time is coming, much too soon, when I will have to start letting go.


MJ said...

It's not enough to say I have chills when I read this.

There are so many connections: a little girl on the beach and then two student encounters--you know those always throw me into a pit of a pit of student-teacher nostalgia. Sometimes it's better when we only imagine the dreams we held for them. These days I'm reminded more and more (maybe because I'm finally a parent) that each child is on his or her own journey. I get ten months with them (until my own daughter came along). I can already understand the wondering and the worry that you express so well. I appreciate this bonus post and the inspiration you always give me to be a better teacher, and now, a better parent, too.