Friday, June 17, 2011

It Is Finished

Baby Isabel's Quilt

 I woke up this morning at 4:30, and told myself, “Go back to sleep!  You’re done!” And, for a few moments I reveled in the peacefulness that always comes when I’ve cleaned up and sorted out the accumulation of paperwork and mess that constitutes a year in the life of a classroom teacher.  My eyes popped back open when I remembered that I forgot to complete the paperwork for my personal leave buyback.  I vaguely recall posting it on the whiteboard, so that I wouldn’t forget, but my sweet husband had come to help me haul home the stuff I couldn’t cram anywhere else, and we sort of rushed the last minute details of getting out of there last night.

Getting out of bed, I rummaged through my bag, and the crates I brought home, checking to see if I took the form with me.  I didn’t.  Ah well, one more short jaunt back to school this morning won’t upset my summer too much . . .

Yesterday was a day of good-byes.  We said “good bye” to a much loved retiring teacher, our principal who is moving to another school, and our ALC teacher (formerly special education) who is moving to another school.  There were tears and hugs, and best wishes all around.

We also celebrated a new baby, born three weeks ago, and she was literally showered with a new wardrobe and board books, as a room full of teachers are wont to do.  I had made a quilt for Tiffany and Isabel, and was a little worried, because it wasn’t pastel and girly, but it had felt so “right” and I went with gut feelings. When it was pulled from the bag, I heard the collective gasp, and Tiffany’s incredulous, “Did you make this?  I LOVE it!” I knew it was just right.

Good byes with my students were bittersweet.  It was a rough year, with more behavioral challenges than I’ve had in one room in ten years. There were days when I wasn’t sure I could hold my sanity together, and exhausting nights when I couldn’t sleep for fearful anticipation of what the next day would bring.

At our school, we “promote” from elementary to middle school with a celebration.  The students sing, play marimba music, give speeches, and receive certificates of promotion.  The gym is packed with parents, grandparents and siblings.  It was telling that my two most challenging students did not have anyone there to share this rite of passage with them. I thought about how tough they both were, calloused and stoic, as though the flurry of flashbulbs and hugs surrounding them were invisible.  My heart aches for kids whose parents are absent, physically and emotionally.  Those are the kids I never forget, etched in my memory until dementia someday brings relief from the sadness of neglect.

The rest of the parents, astutely aware of the positive impact I had on their children, showered me with plants, flowers, gifts and cards of appreciation. All wanted pictures, gave warm hugs (the moms) or handshakes, (the dads) and renewed my faith in my profession. Towards the end, I was asked for a photo with one of my boys.  His sister, who I had three years ago, said, “I want to be in the picture, too!” Sandwiched between them, with my arms around them both, I smiled. I was reminded again of why I teach. After both shots, and one last hug from the mom, she begged me to teach at least three more years, as that is when her last child will be in 5th grade.  I can’t make any promises, but families like that are my reason for teaching.

This school year is finished.  The crazy thing is that I’m already thinking about, and looking forward to the coming year.  I guess it’s the teacher in me that just can’t let it go. But, it is summertime, so I’ll give it a try!  

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


We sat last night, surrounded by an aura of stale smoke, in the midst of multiple tattoos, in too small and uncomfortably thin seats, to watch our granddaughter graduate.  The clientele was much different than the crowds we sat with a few years ago, when our daughter's graduated from high school.  This was a much smaller crowd, all packed into the first few rows of a large high school auditorium.  These kids were the kids who were falling through the cracks, some who were already addicted to drugs and alcohol, who already had babies, and who should have broken my heart.  Instead, I found myself silently cheering the shaky voice of the student speaker, who shared that she was fighting a losing battle with drugs and alcohol, when she joined the GAP program through ESD 112, and turned her life from chaos into success.

As we listened to the stories, told by the dedicated teachers, of the many students who received well-earned rewards, I was moved in ways I haven't been lately.  I remembered the first time I met the little girl who walked across the stage, when she was just three, and my son had fallen in love with her mom.  I remembered watching my son read to her, and listen to her read to him as a kindergardener.  I remembered her hanging on her "daddy" and the pride I felt in being a grandma to three unexpected kids, who loved my son, and loved their step-grandparents.

Tonight I'm letting myself weep for the raw deal this little girl was dealt, when her daddy couldn't face certain demons in his world, and in the throes of drunkenness, successfully ended his life.  That act drove many of the "survivors" to the brink of depression and came close to destroying many more lives as they attempted to live in their grief.  Emily was in middle school, and she wrapped her grief around her, wearing a quilt I had made for her daddy just days before his death as her shield against the world. I watched his three kids crumble, and his wife bent over in pain, and I kept praying for these people I loved, helpless to change their circumstances, as helpless to ease their sadness as I was to ease my own.

As my granddaughter battled her way through the chasm of sorrow, and attempted over and over to continue to attend school with her peers, she fell deeper and deeper into the abyss and farther and farther behind.  My heart broke for her, knowing she was smart, but so wounded.

A few months ago, my daughter in law called to tell me Emily was going to get her GED.  I thought it was a good idea.  I was tickled a few weeks later when Shari called again to tell me Emily had taken all the tests and passed everything in three weeks!  She wanted to "walk" though, and Shari told us she'd let us know when that would be.  

She walked last night.  There were several of us there to cheer her across the stage.  Her grandpa and I were so proud of her, for not giving in, for taking steps to heal her self esteem, and put her on a little better perch than she might have been.  She was meant to graduate this year, and she did it, in her own way and in her own time.  I have every belief that she will continue on her path to successful living.

Emily was the baby, and the last of the three kids to graduate.  Her parents, for reasons of their own, didn't manage to finish high school. I know her daddy would have been as proud of her last night as we were.