Friday, December 18, 2009

I'll call her Mary...

...that's not her name, but it suits her. It suits this season.

Mary is my secret favorite. That is, if I were to have favorites. She's a special needs kid, with a learning disability. Her handwriting resembles a 1st grader's and her ability to fit into social situations is just slightly skewed.

I see Mary first thing every morning, she's a fashion disaster and wears some one's old rejects. I have never seen the child in anything new or trendy, but this kid shines anyway. The last time I saw her she was wearing high heeled Mary Jane's that clicked when she walked. They had several scuff marks that had been fixed with magic marker. She wore a blue, linen skirt adorned with pink and yellow flowers, that hit mid shin. The seam on the back of the skirt near the bottom was coming out so that the back of her skirt was about an inch longer than the front. She had no tights. It was cold out side so her normal attire of basic cotton t-shirt was covered with a sagging and stretched out green cardigan with large, shiny metal buttons that reflected the light across the ceiling.

Her hair sits just below her ears in a haphazard haircut that she probably did herself. It's brown and plain, she wears no make-up and her freckles remind me of an old raggedy Ann doll. When she smiles, its because she is truly happy about something, and when she smiles it makes my heart hurt.

She is a bright, charming and friendly little girl. She's kind, minds her manners and is openly warm. She asks permission before doing anything, she tries hard, volunteers to read, offers answers to questions and participates freely in class.

Mary exudes kindness. She never, ever makes fun of any one's weaknesses or faults. She even will sometimes chastise others for mocking someone. Mary has no friends. I see Mary at breakfast in the morning sitting alone in the cafeteria. She always offers me a cheery "hello" as she sits there doing her homework, studying vocabulary or reading a text book.

Mary has not been in school in over a week and a half.

Prior to this she hasn't missed a single day. So, I was worried and went to inquire what was going on with her counselor. This girl's story has made me cry all day long....I will spare you all the details.

She's been in the hospital with emotional distress. Her mother hasn't gone to visit her because her "feet hurt". Mom also doesn't work, doesn't pay the bills, and offers no emotional support. They didn't celebrate Thanksgiving. There will probably be no Christmas. Mary confided to me in a writing assignment once that she doesn't remember if she has ever been hugged. (**and I'm crying again)

I had my students respond to a writing prompt before Thanksgiving: What are your Thanksgiving traditions? If you don't have any, what things will you do when you have your own home and family?
Mary wrote: "When I am an adult I will have very huge and big holiday get-together. I want all of my friends and family and loved ones and friends to sit around a table, eat together the good food and enjoy the company. I want to have everyone say how thankful they are to be together. There will be laughing and someone will say grace out loud for everyone to hear. Everyone will be happy especially me. I want it to be like you see it happen on TV. Do people have holidays like this?"

I keep filtering through emotions about this kid. Like how do we get her out of this situation? And how sad sad sad this makes me. How can a mother never hug her daughter? I'm sad, then I'm pissed, then I'm sad. Then I realize that even this story isn't as bad as it gets, there are kids out there in way worse situations. And then I cry all over again.

Can I do this job? How long do I have to be a teacher before these things don't get to me like this? How does everyone else handle this stuff? How many kids am I going to cry over in my career? How do I separate my real self from my professional self? Will that separation make me a crummy teacher? I pray for my students every day, but they still have to go home to their lives. How do I tell them that Shakespeare and grammar is important when they then go home to face alcoholism and drugs and being hit by their parents and teen pregnancy and life?

...Mary has the highest GPA out of my 97 students. She works her butt off because she tells me she doesn't want to be like her mother.

...When I see Mary again I'm going to hug her. Even though every class I ever took on teaching tells you not to touch your students......I'm going to tell her I care about her and that I'm proud of her..... because she is worthy of being proud of.

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