Friday, March 04, 2011

How do I love thee?

I was walking hurriedly down the Sugar Hill side street to get to work. Patches of black ice were glazing the sidewalk, keeping my gaze low. As I looked up, a large man looking like the late Biggie Smalls was approaching me, slowly walking his cuddly dog. It was Riley's father. Riley was a a three year old in my class who was in constant motion, defying any direction that she herself did not initiate. On my second day of work as a substitute teacher at this school, I found her moodily sulking on the floor with her arms crossed across her chest. She turned to me and said, 'I don't love you no more, Ms. Tamar.' It was one of the cutest things anyone had ever said to me. At least coming from her, it was. I wasn't even aware that she knew my name. Seeing her father on the street seemed like a good opportunity to find out more information about his complex little girl. I shared my story with him, and he confided that Riley often says the same thing about him to her brother. 'Jared, I don't love daddy no more.' He shared some more stories about the trials of getting her to sleep before midnight, and how he spends hours reading to her. I didn't have any solutions, but thought it was a good step to building some rapport with a parent. Later that day at work, my assistant teacher asked me to find some Valentine's poem to include with the heart-shaped pictures she had been working on with the kids to send home to their families. I thought gathering some insights from the kids directly and compiling a list of quotes would be a more personal gift for them to bring home. I started an inquiry into the reasons behind their love for their families. Having a mathematical background (yes, completing an undergraduate minor in math qualifies), I couldn't start with the assumption that love existed. The interview consisted of two questions- do you love your family, and if so, why? Kid #1: 'Yes, because they make me rice and chicken.' I liked that logic. Kid #2: 'Yes, because they buy me candy.' OK, a little pedestrian, but if someone were to buy me some Sour Patch kids, I may be inclined to have warm feelings towards them as well. I asked Riley: 'Do you love your family?' She didn't miss a beat: 'Mommy's good and daddy's bad.' Had she been rehearsing? I paused for a second, and thought maybe a second round would illicit something more generous to her poor sleep-deprived father. I repeated the question, and she repeated the answer. Twice. I said OK, and wrote down her words. You can't edit kids' feelings. I thought it was original, heartfelt, funny, and mostly, I thought her father would get a big kick out of seeing it. I compiled all of the quotes into one page of classroom voices, ran it by my assistant teacher who agreed to keep the unedited version, and off the cards went to the homes. That was a Friday. The following Monday, my supervisor came into the classroom and sighed, 'I wish you would have showed me the card you sent home before sending it out. One of the parents was very upset.' I had a feeling that this might happen, but felt confident in the good intentions behind the decision to send the children's quotes home. Apparently, one of the moms thought that Riley's statement was given by HER daughter, and that brought up issues with the estranged father. The issue escalated to a point where the mother lost control and came into my classroom to voice her anger. Unfortunately, I was sick that day, and her wrath was taken out on teachers from another classroom that had no idea what she was talking about. This scenario ran over in my mind many days and nights, and though I am positive that I had the best of intentions by sharing Riley's quote, I have now learned to reign in a bit of my off-center humor. Somberly waiting for the 1 train on my last day of work, Melissa, the mom of another girl in my class came up to me with her daughter. 'Tamar! We're so lucky we get to see you on your last day!' Our train came, and we all boarded together. I asked her if she had heard of the drama that had been going on in my class. She said she had, and after I explained how the children's collective quotes were mistaken by one mom for quotes of her own daughter, Melissa looked sheepishly at me. 'I thought they were Alyssa's quotes too.' I asked her if the quote about mommy and daddy was upsetting to her. She told me that she is not on the best terms with Alyssa's dad, and when she read the quote, she said to herself, 'Yes! She finally sees him for what he really is!' and she has happily displayed the card on their fridge ever since.
I don't know, but for some reason I couldn't get the Pebbles Flintstone song out of my head that week either.

Note: if you want to hear this video, first scroll down to my playlist at the bottom of this page and click the two vertical lines buttom in the middle of the three button volume control to turn off the automatic music