I was a teacher, too.
I remember what it’s like to be in charge of 25 little personalities. They’re all so needy, so precious, so different. You never get a single second to yourself to eat or pee. You’re expected to create miracles out of budget cuts and your own free time, and mostly you do. You reassure parents, bandage boo-boos, teach spelling, and command attention, all by the lunchtime you’ll spend opening yogurts and wiping sticky hands. You’re tired and your feet hurt, but every fall you don your flats and canvas bag and feel excited to start again. I can almost smell the Expo markers as we speak.
Today I’m on the other side of things, writing as a parent.
This side of the desk offers such a different perspective, a reminder that every parent’s baby is cherished, loved, fretted over. A million words could not do justice to the three most precious things in my life. This year, you’ll get to meet my first one yourself.
Ah, the firstborn, the one who made me a mother. He’s the one in your class with the disarming dimples and rumpled hair that make you think of a Dick and Jane reader. He’ll drop a random “bro” in conversation like some kind of miniature frat boy and you’ll forget that he just shoved someone off the playset. He has a profound sense of justice and brilliant ideas that are brilliant because he thinks so—not because they’re the least bit convenient to anyone else. He’s aggressive and impulsive, so much so that he worries me most days, but he does it in a candy-coated wrapping. Darn those dimples.
Try to tame his personality if you must, but know that it is enormous. It will romp around your room like an elephant if you let it but like the jovial, Dumbo kind. You can embrace it, let it exude its joy and join him, or you can subdue it. Neither is wrong. He will simply exist in one case but thrive in the other. So will you, teacher. You’ll have to choose.
I can tell you all about my choices if you’d like. My knee jerk parenting style is all about controlling and white-knuckling my boy to death. It works sometimes, but mostly like a pressure cooker. The steam that gets released when trying to reduce a wild child into something more palatable looks a lot like crying to a therapist and considering medication for both of us. It looks like lecturing, and yelling, and four thousand sticker charts that would work if only he would just try harder.
There are enough acronyms tossed around about strong-willed, impulsive, fiercely smart kids to leave me in the fetal position. But they don’t capture the whole story.
My son thinks he will actually be his daddy when he grows up—as in, he’ll grow a beard and we’ll call him Kyle. He wants to be equal parts filmmaker, astronaut, engineer of houses with waterslides, and champion of the poor. He’s like trying to describe a parade looking through a pinhole. Where’s the diagnosis in that?
My prayer is that at least sometimes, you’ll see him as I do. Even faced with 20 other kids and unmeetable deadlines, insurmountable odds and limited resources, I pray you’ll find yourself smiling over the tallies you keep on a sticky note on your desk titled, “How Many Times Eli Gets Out of His Seat”. You’ll feel exasperated as he stutters out something so important about the planet Mars in the middle of a fire drill that you forget to count your students and leave little Timmy in the bathroom. You’ll see his classroom job (caboose) and assigned seat (beside the teacher) and you’ll smile, because you secretly wanted him there anyway, especially on the days when the principal observed your classroom and he nailed every lesson you’d ever taught with gusto. I suspect your husband will know all about him too, how you chuckle when you talk about this boy Eli, even as you recount having to yell, “Your cheese stick is not a sword!” across the cafeteria. Every day.
I pray you’ll never miss his vibrancy for his difficulty, his heart for his attitude.
I pray you’ll teach him to be kind, and fair, and honest. If he never reads a single word, teach him to read the faces of his friends. I pray that you’ll be firm (you know what they say about inches and miles), but let him laugh. And I hope you love him even a fraction as much as I do. I’m unsure how you couldn’t.
Good luck and have a great year. I’ll be waiting with wine at the finish.
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