"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Out of the Blue


It's a typical morning in Room 16. The first burst of kids, cold air, and unbounded energy explode into the crowded space; latecomers dash through the door in ones and twos. The noise level is high and happy. Girls with heads together share secrets that make them giggle or look around furtively. Boys mill around, bumping into one another like puppies scrambling for a toy. The work of getting ready for another day is happening in the midst of what looks like chaos. I can see they'll be ready when the bell rings - pencils sharpened, planners and journals put away, homework turned in - so I leave them to their ten-year-old tribal rituals.

I stand in my usual place, by my desk where I have the best vantage of the room. The kids meet me there, one at a time, to hand in homework and say good morning. While I'm greeting them, I take a figurative pulse. Asking questions about work, illness, family. Commenting on new clothes, haircuts, bruises. Exchanging smiles, hugs, jokes. Laughing. Encouraging. Reminding.

Most days the kids manage to take turns with our first contact of the day, but as the year has worn on, I often find myself talking to two or three at a time. On this morning, their energy runs particularly high, and mine is drawn from fumes and little else. I'm not really paying attention when Kaelyn appears at my side, ignoring the half dozen kids lined up to see me. She stands looking at me, much like Toby does when he wants my attention: all beseeching eyes and barely contained silence.

In the break between kids I look over (not down as I have for so much of the year - where did those inches come from?) and ask with forced patience what she wants. She's already been through the line, and has a habit of engaging me to avoid work. And she's cutting, one of the cardinal sins of every elementary school experience.

She places a pin in my hand. A pretty cloisonné bird that makes me think of the ones in Disney's Cinderella. As I pick it up and admire it, for once with genuine delight, she tells me her great grandmother gave it to her before she died. I tell her how lucky she is to have such a lovely heirloom, how much her great grandmother must have loved her.

In that same moment I think about the tiny ceramic flower figurine that was a gift from Grandma Dee, my father's mother whom I knew for only a year. I think about the aquamarine ring Aunt Bea gave me, ornate, battered and treasured, much like she was. I think about the book of Anne Geddes babies, the first gift from a daughter met in her adulthood and now gone. I wonder if, when she's older, Kaelyn will feel the bittersweet longing that comes from holding a piece of a loved-one who has gone on - if she might even feel that now.

The clock and the restless line in front of me tell me it's time to move on. I extend the pin toward Kaelyn, telling her to put it in a safe place and to take it home at the end of the day. But she refuses to take it. "It's for you," she says. "I want you to have it."

"I can't take this," I say. "It's your treasure. It wouldn't be right for me to have it." Her eyes well up. The pin sits in my open hand. Her hands are unreachable.

"But I want you to have it. I brought it for you." Tears threaten to spill.

And so I wrap the pin in my hand, hug her, thank her through welled eyes of my own, tell her I will treasure her gift forever. She bounces back to her desk, a March day gone from bleak to sunny. I show my new bird to the next kids in line, allowing them to admire it before I pin it to my shirt where Kaelyn's eyes will travel for the rest of the day.

That lovely bird perches now on the front of the denim jacket I wear for everything this time of year. It will sit there at least until the last day of school, both for Kaelyn's pleasure and mine. I'll be calling her mom to make sure she knows about the gift. I'll offer to give the pin back so that Mom can hold it for the day her daughter is old enough to understand what an enormous gift she gave her fifth grade teacher - not in the pin, but in the honor of being held in the same esteem as her beloved great grandmother. I hope when she wears it in later years, she'll remember us both with love than is more sweet than bitter.

(Student's name changed - just in case.)

27 comments:

Sandi said...

Perfect! You told the story in your own beautiful way, honoring this child's treasured gift to you. When I admired this pin yesterday, and you told me you were working on this post, I was looking forward to reading the story. I love how you weave the beginning of the day chaos into the gentleness of this sweet exchange. I'm glad you will call her mom, and offer the pin back for safekeeping. What a powerful love statement that is and will be for this little girl.

I know how this child feels, giving her gift to you, because over the years I've known the heart warming joy I feel when I give you a gift! You have a way of accepting gifts that makes the giver so glad to give!

Thanks for the precious gift of laughter and tears yesterday, and the fabulous towel to remember our fabulous day!

I love you!

Barb said...

Oh - the love of a child is so precious. I hope my grandchildren are lucky enough to have a teacher they esteem so much. Her gift is your reward, Deb, even if you give it back. Lovely post that brought tears to my eyes.

patricia said...

If that alone is the reason you went back to Union Ridge, if that is the one reason, it is worth it. You have obviously made such a difference in the life of that girl, and I'm sure so many others, that they would willingly give up their Earthly treasures, to be a part of your world. You are that amazing. Please know it.

Wanda..... said...

A treasure of a story, Deb as well as the gift. The giving by Kaelyn and acceptance by you created touching moments for all to enjoy. Your thoughtfulness of returning the pin will create even more meaningful moments in the young girl's life in later years!

Journaling Woman said...

And she WILL remember you, because she thought of you in the first place.

Heartwarming story.

T

Richard said...

Wow. I don't usually cry, but I'm fighting back the tears. What a story.

DJan said...

What a wonderful uplifting story. You are a very special person, Deb, and I am sure that the little girl wanted you to know that. I can see her trying to decide what you would like and settling on that pin. And your desire to make her as happy as she made you. Thank you for this lovely story.

Stacy Crawford said...

That morning sounds like mine. I love that you kept it for her. She will definately treasure that one day. As we all do the heirlooms of people who once wore the passed down jewelry.

kario said...

I am sitting here with tears absolutely cascading down my face. You are so loved, so cherished, so precious. These children will remember you and your gentle guidance for the rest of their lives. What a treasure you are to them.

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

Deb, this is so lovely. First, I love your description of the way you greet the kids before class. It's so personal and welcoming, and as you note it helps you know what to expect as well. The child's gift and how you handled it...mutual gifts to one another.

Retired English Teacher said...

You are the perfect teacher for this child. She knows that. She honored you. You have honored her. This is truly a wonderful story. I appreciate the wisdom you have in knowing just how to handle it.

yaya said...

I would look at that pin every time I thought I wasn't making a difference in this world. What a great gift that is.

Terri Tiffany said...

Boo hoo! You made me cry on this.. you are the best kind of teacher for these children to ever have:) What a wonderful story.

Pam said...

Bless you both - the teacher and the child - such an important relationship.
You have handled the situation with care, love and grace Deb. I love how you have honoured that little girl's intent and the feelings that come from a place of giving.
I remember a teaching day when a child with a very challenging background, who most of us found very difficult to teach, was leaving for another school (very much part of her experience). The gifts her classmates gave and made for her were from the heart - a treasured pencil case she'd always liked, a favourite eraser, artwork that took time and patience, a heartfelt poem. The children had no purchasing power so their gifts were personal, often treasured, and each one unique, all given with a small speech and often a hug. It warmed my heart. I've never forgotten it and I won't forget what you've written here either.

Linda Myers said...

Lovely story. You are blessed, and so are your children.

Donna said...

That was such a lovely story and heart tugging way that you describe Kaelyn and her gift. I am sure it will be a wonderful treasure to you and always a teaching momento that means the most to you. I have a few nursing ones too so know what you mean, but you have such a wonderful writer's way of describing it all!!

colbymarshall said...

Such a sweet story- I'm sure the pin will be passed around and treasured. What a lovely moment.

Amber said...

Everything about this is so sweet! Her, YOU, all of it.

:)

Mark Lyons said...

What a sweet story...and a sweet girl to give you such a precious gift. Of course, she also has the BEST fifth grade teacher any 10 year old could ask for!!!

I love you
Mark

deborahjbarker said...

I too would be honoured to receive such a gift and, like you, would feel strange accepting it. How lovely to be held in such esteem! As for children growing - I can only wonder as I look up at my youngest son who towers above me at 6 ' 2" or thereabouts. Yesterday, I swear he was to my shoulder. :-)

Laura said...

Oh Deb, what a beautiful story...such love and admiration this child feels for you...says a great deal about not only the kind of teacher you are but the kindness you offer and how the students respond with deep gratitude...I'm imagining the inches grown are not only in height, but in the size of their hearts and yours as well.

Gammary said...

checking in after a break with my own life craziness and find this story patiently waiting for me. Deb, you are a marvel. Talent taller than trees, a heart warmer than Maui sun, and a gift to me and obviously so many others who read and comment on your wonderful words.

love,
Mary

Heidrun Khokhar said...

This is one fantastic descriptive piece. I could see you at the desk. I could hear their chatter. I felt it all. And the best part is that child brought you some joy!!

Dee said...

Dear Deb, . . . a lovely truth told with a tenderness that brings a lump to my throat.

Peace.

kathrynmagendie said...

This is so beautiful and so very poignant . . .

I miss coming by here.

(by the way - soon as my FG's arrive, I am sending you one for being a wonderful beta reader - meant to tell you earlier and keep forgetting!)

kt said...

Awh, mannnnn, that brought tears to my eyes. Deb, you have such a beautiful way of allowing your readers to experience your life.....kt

Kathryn Grace said...

Perfect. Everything. Perfect. Thank you.