i see you, i thank you, i love you

I just came home from a long visit with The Kids. Let me explain. I’m not a mother, but I’m a teacher. So in a way, I’m a part-time mother to many. In this specific case, The Kids are a family of four kids who are currently being taken care of by their grandmother, who they consider their mom. The full storyline is a little muddled and gray, but in general the gist is something like the mom was mentally and emotionally unstable, had four (or maybe five) kids within about six years, and through a series of abandonments and neglect, left them with her own mother to take over full custody and care for them.

I’ve come to know them — and love the shit out of them — through my wife, who was preschool teacher to the youngest two, the boys. Through a long series of conversations and events we saw that one of the boys was gifted, like truly gifted, and he qualified to attend the regional gifted program that’s housed in my school. Besides seeing them at school, we’ve gotten closer to them over the years, taking them out on the weekends and during the summer, attending their teacher conferences and meet the teacher nights, helping with school projects, all that.

And we just came home from a long visit with them. Unfortunately they’re struggling to deal with school and their emotions and how to treat one another and how to listen to their mom — essentially how to process and deal with their unfairly fucked up lives. But none of this stuff is their fault, they didn’t create any of the circumstances or make any of the decisions that have landed them where they are today. And even though they’ve been struggling lately, overall they’ve been amazingly resilient and strong; they’ve gone through more emotional trauma than even most adults and they’re not even four feet tall yet.

Which leads me to thinking about several things. One, the mothers and fathers — parents through blood or love — who, regardless of what life has thrown at them, have pushed themselves to get to work, show up for their kids, do whatever is in their power to protect, nurture, and push their kids to their highest heights — I see you, I thank you, and I love and admire you for the sacrifice, the drive, and the never-ending persistence that you show. Because of parents like you, your child’s success is not a possibility, it’s already a fact. You are doing it, and it’s already happening.

Two, to the children of these circumstances — whether you are still small or already in a grown-up body living in the world — even if it doesn’t seem like you’ve had much in your life that was given to you, like nothing was ever easy, you are making your life — you are the creator of your fortune — and because you have come from such depths you have the capacity to know such heights. You have been burnished by hardship, and smoothed by rough waves, and your success means more to the world — it just does. Your accomplishments, your wins, your awards and prizes, they are a beacon and a victory, a jewel in the crown of creation, because your life demonstrates how a person can create something wonderful from almost nothing. You are a piece of magic on earth.

So to my friends and even unknown readers who are seeing this, I know it can seem like your life is hard and small and heavy. All the little shit builds up to a crushing weight. But take a minute and look back to those moments when you were low, so much lower than you are now. And ask yourself — how have I gotten this far? Most likely the answer is that it’s been through the care of a parent — from blood or love — and through you, your power and your decision to be better. Please keep going — don’t stop — you’re almost there. And I see you, I thank you, I love you.

 

Creative Spaces

This week I spent most of the week driving around Illinois for the solar eclipse, celebrating my wedding anniversary, and also putting my work space together.

Over the last three days I’ve spent about 20 hours setting up my work space, my classroom. Every year in the late summer the room starts as a fairly blank canvas, all the furniture needs to be moved around, books and materials need to unearthed and a place found for them. Lots of thinking and rehearsing and trial and error goes into all of this; it’s not just about how I’d like the space to look and feel, but how 30 kids will like it, how they’ll feel in the space. I think about whether the placement of something is intuitive, too high, too far away, if a walking path is clear and uncluttered, if a rug’s location looks inviting, if I will be able to reach for something easily or I’ll have to hang over the side of a desk or bookshelf to get there, if the afternoon light will be too bright on a desk, if the room will be too gloomy on a cloudy day, if there’s a comfortable place for me to sit when I’m alone working, if there’s an obvious place for me to gather with groups.

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The room in its before state. There’s no after picture just yet.

Is all this necessary? No, not really, and I don’t mind. But I used to mind. Every August I’d start to dread going back to school. It’s not fair, I used to think. I’m not getting paid for all this work, all these free hours. But something this summer shifted. I’ve realized — embraced, really — the fact that even this kind of work — moving books and hauling furniture — is creative. I’m creating a space that will stage all kinds of further manifestations of creativity:  ideas, discussions, projects, posters, friendships, experiments, and more cycles of trial and error. This time of year is my chance to create and curate another part of myself — the physical space that hosts my professional life. So I go back to work knowing that creativity has many faces, that I can let go a little more, and get lost inside my creative process in an old space that, this time around, is feeling brand new.