You and I walk parallel to our students as they go through our lives and move on into the world. On the left, you hold their hands, matching your pace to their small footprints, giving advice, guidance, and love. On the right, I walk a little faster with them, struggling sometimes to keep up with them as they surge towards graduation, excited that freedom beckons with an alluring, seductive gleam. Their footprints are a bit bigger; their hands don’t always grab onto mine. Sometimes, my advice, guidance, and love is seen as over-bearing, unneeded. That’s okay. I do the best that I can.
Our jigsaw pieces match; we are two pieces juxtaposed against the wonky edges and sometimes cutting edges of young adults who don’t realize that they cut as harshly as they do. However, we have plenty of Band-Aids that will cover and conceal and we’ll keep on walking, side by side with our “kids.”
Next year, you will receive one of the most important people in my life. I would give up everything for him, would literally lay down my life if it meant he could live. The Boy will step out of my car and away from my side and will start walking his path next to you. And he and I have agreed that, during contract hours, I am not his mother. I am not the woman who laid on the floor outside the bathroom and sobbed and begged God not to let my baby die because I was bleeding in my twentieth week of pregnancy.
I will be a teacher and he will be a student and our paths will not align until it is time to leave the building and go to the car when he will be my son again.
I grew up in beautiful, respected shadows. I was always my parents’ daughter or my brother’s little sister. And I love my brother and my parents. However, I needed to learn how to cast my own shadow which I have done. I know the lines and texture of the person I am and am comfortable with the silhouette that touches the tips of my toes and extends along the walls, mimicking my movements.
The Boy has his shadow too, but I am afraid that when he comes to this school that his shadow will be thrust into mine and he will not see himself for who he is. My beloved son is sensitive, compassionate, and caring. He wears his pulsating, vibrant, vulnerable emotions on the outer most surface of his skin and he bruises and cuts oh so easily. I worry, Emily. I worry about the brutality that exists within adolescence and I know that I can not shelter him without detrimental consequences to him.
But I want the Boy to be happy and to leave high school with the same levels of sensitivity towards the emotions of others, compassion for the plight of other people, and the depth of love and care that he has for all people, regardless of definition. I know that someone is going to kick at those precious emotions. His heart is going to be broken multiple times. The Boy is going to experience rejection, which will make him grow as he deals with the agony of “Why am I not good enough?”
And knowing that your classroom, which will be roughly underneath mine, will hold him and you will be there, walking next to his small-big feet until the day when he walks next to another person as his feet grow and his shadow elongates and his hands stop clutching yours and he reaches for the beckoning light of freedom….
Knowing you will be there to guide him, gives me peace. I am content and happy that he will sit within the four peaceful walls of your classroom and will learn and will see that his opinions matter and that his laughter is welcome and loved and that his smile will be beautiful despite the three yellowed teeth that are permanent reminders that, no matter how fast I stretched out my arms, I couldn’t catch him when he fell off the front porch steps.
You have a legacy of love, Emily. You are the Wendy to our children’s Peter Pan. You take their shadows that keep flying away and keep them in a locked drawer where they will be safe. And when the Peter Pans come back, looking for their missing shadows, for their missing senses of self, you will gently sew it on to to the tips of their toes, telling them stories the entire time.
And when they’re ready to fly, you’ll open the window and remind them to think happy thoughts.