For most of my childhood I sought something so great, so grand, so completely unimaginably wonderful that it took me 22 years to uncover. This morning as I tore into a brand new box of Honey Nut Cheerios and poured a generous portion into my bowl, I yelped with glee as out came…THE PRIZE. The dream of every child as they scour the cereal isles, obviously choosing potential winnings over anything else. This morning resolved my years of disappointment, my years of hateful voiceovers disclaiming, “prize not guaranteed.” I ripped into my toy nearly spilling my milk, biting my tongue in greed. Now, fourteen hours later and I still can’t figure out how to put it together. It is obvious that it is some kind of plastic jet-packing man with a cardboard wing attachment and a sticker page (I have included a picture for your viewing pleasure), but nothing fits together. Therefore, from the moment I won the cereal jackpot, my day has gone down-hill.
The photocopier is out of ink, so I didn’t get to print my money for the school store, hopefully tomorrow (but it is also pictured below). I spilled un-washable paint on my only pair of jeans (Mom and Dad you’re bringing me another pair), and my feet are so riddled with bug bites that I want two new ones (preferably size 8). Basically I enjoyed the sun all day yesterday, sitting barefoot in the field, doing yoga, reading and working, that I didn’t notice I was breakfast, lunch and dinner for the bugs. It hurts. But fun fact: inlue of anything better, diaper rash cream works pretty well as an anti-itch!
All this doesn’t really amount to what made my day rough. The real story is I feel like I failed one of my students. To start at the beginning, a significant portion of the kids here are pulled from awful home situations. They have experienced our worst nightmares, and in many cases they are coping with previous sexual abuse. Unfortunately, this means that they will try to relate to people in a sexual way or when they feel uncomfortable or threatened, they resort to certain behaviors. As a result, we are protective of every child, supervise the bathrooms and other “alone” places. This is difficult however at recess, because the kids just run everywhere.
I hung back in the classroom today, which I have never done before, to finish up some lettering for our play. Each class puts on a play based on a theme word, we have forgiveness , and I was doing the lettering to cover the shields, another story, another day.
But into the classroom comes one of my darling students in hysterics and totally unlike him, sits at his desk. I ask what’s wrong, but clearly can’t grasp the situation. This is where I feel that the language barrier really gets in the way. I can teach, communicate in the baby house, but when something is really wrong, I can barely understand the problem and I certainly can’t work through a solution in Spanish. I bring him to the other teachers and watch them get all serious and deal with it, prompt, strict and intense. What warranted such a response was a claim that in the bathroom, another boy was kissing and touching him inappropriately. He felt cornered and scared. Of course, we take everything into consideration, a lot of teasing, exaggerating and lying occurs, as well, but it made me realize how strong and resilient these kids are.
I sometimes worry about how far behind they are developmentally or in school, and sometimes it’s hard to see their struggle because here they live in wonderful homes, in a family community, with people who love them and provide for them, but they really are coping with so much more than I can imagine. Numbers and letters might be a challenge, but they have learned and overcome things I can barely imagine. The mental and physical energy that that requires must be overwhelming. I can pretty much always hear children playing and while I know so few of them in any personal way, knowing that they come from such heart-wrenching situations and can still play with complete innocence, is comforting.
So there it is the stark contrast. A tragedy in my childhood was a prize-less box of cereal…
PS The title quote is from the "Poisonwood Bible" by Barbara Kingsolover- a favorite of mine!