"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

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Hammy's Gift

Josh's dad brought in Hammy, their new hamster, at the end of a recent Friday. 

I was supposed to say no when Josh asked weeks ago to bring his pet in, because animals are not allowed at school without an act of Congress and dispensation from the Pope (only a slight exaggeration). I have been following the rule all year, even though I think it's one of the dumber ones around. But Josh never asks for anything. And I knew that things at home had been particularly challenging. So just to see him smile, I said yes. 

And then forgot the whole thing. 

That Friday at last recess, Josh stayed back, clearly wanting to talk. In private. This is a kid who speaks primarily through actions - like throwing himself on the floor of the classroom without a peep, pretending to be dead. Or stealing the sticky note pad I've just written a list on and watching from across the room with a wicked grin waiting for me to notice. Or drawing a bizarre and funny stick figure named Bob and setting it under my nose. When the class wrote about the funniest thing that happened this year, most of the kids shared a Josh story. He waited until everyone else finally went out to recess before he whispered, "Remember Hammy's coming this afternoon."

Hammy turned out to be two and fat and a remarkably mellow hamster who only sleeps and nothing else. They got him for free on Craig's List. I didn't have the heart to tell them not to get too attached. Hammy is ancient and sure not to be around for Josh's fourth grade year. Josh proudly took his pet around the room for everyone to admire while dad leaned against a counter waiting patiently. 

I was sitting in my usual end-of-the-day silent ball spot, a table in the back of the room. Scanning to make sure I wasn't missing any important shenanigans that might result in disaster, I realized that Josh's little brother, Elijah, had come in with their dad. A four-year-old version of his long, lean, blonde brother, this little guy stood wide-eyed, silently clinging to his dad's leg. In the chaos of getting Hammy back in his cage, getting the kids settled back down, getting ready to play silent ball, I forgot about the little brother.

The game began with a little more energy than usual, the kids worked up from having company, so I had to work harder to keep things moving. A stirring from the vicinity of Josh's dad caught my eye. Little brother had moved away from dad to track the movement of the ball flying back and forth from kid to kid. I invited him to join me at my table. He raised his arms, without saying a word. 

Once settled next to me, he became the focus of the game. Kids would toss the ball gently in his direction, and he and I would sort of toss it back. Over and over and over, my all-about-me, nobody-throws-it-to-me, me-me-me kids gently drew Elijah into the game.

Elijah's throwing is not well-developed and my kids laughed at his wild tosses. The laughter was kind and inclusive, but little brother wasn't sure about it. The longer the game went on, the closer he scooted to me, until his side was pressed tight against mine and my arm winged over his little shoulder.

Eventually the game ended. The day ended. A happy Josh and his smiling dad took a sleeping Hammy home. Elijah went, too, even though the solid warmth and trust of his little body leaning into mine was as substantial as if he were still by my side. 

All these days later, I can still feel the weight of his belief in me as a safe place to be. It makes me want to weep. It anchors me as the last days of my life as a third grade teacher swirl ever faster around and away from me. It reminds me of who I am, without the effort to be, and who I will take with me into the beckoning light of my new life. All because I broke a rule and invited a hamster into my room. 

photo from Flickr


Jessica Nelson said...

What a sweet story! I just worked in the nursery at church the other night and was touched by how the older kids treated the younger.
I'm glad you have this memory. :-)

Carrie Wilson Link said...

You invited more than a hamster into your room. And into your heart.

Jerri said...

Carrie TOTALLY stole my comment.

Far, far more than a hamster, Deb. All these years. All these Elijah's. All this trust.

Is this really the child's name? Cause if it is, it's amazing--the word for Jehovah, the name of a prophet. If not--great name selection.

Deb Shucka said...

He really is Elijah and big brother really is Joshua. And Hammy really is Hammy - but I guess that part was obvious. :)

Mark Lyons said...

Wow...I loved this story. Not only that you broke the rule (although the principal in me simply shook my head), but that God gave you a special gift in your closing pages of this chapter of your life. I reflect back to your writing 10 months ago as you haltingly entered this final year. Wondering why...and now you can look back and see all of the special moments, and kids, that you've had.

I'm thankful that you had THIS year as your last.



The Unbreakable Child said...

What a touching and poignant post. Thank you for sharing.

My daughter's second grade teacher had a hamster named, Speedy. Course for years there had always been, Speedy's in Mrs. P's class . ; ) Whenever one passed she'd replace it.

What a tribute the lil' one paid to you! Much, much deserved!

Amber said...

Oh what a wonderful little story. I saw so much of this in these last couple years, when I would bring my little girl into her brothers classes. All the older kids are so sweet to the little visitor. ;) It is so cool that this little guy gave you that last reminder of who you are with children. Keep it.


Suzy said...

time to "think outside the cage".

Josh sounds like my kind of kid.

Midlife Roadtripper said...

"It reminds me of who I am, without the effort to be, and who I will take with me into the beckoning light of my new life."

Lovely line, lovely post. The image the young boy leaning into you will stay with me for quite a while.

Deb Cushman said...

Wonderful story. We never know who will touch our lives in important ways.

kario said...

I love that you are this safe haven for kids like Joshua and his brother.

You always will be, you know. Even when you aren't collecting that paycheck from the school district. You'll still be a teacher. The best one.


Kathryn Magendie said...

*smiling* -- just loved this...

hooray said...

What a lovely story. You capture these moments so well.

Anonymous said...

Rules are meant to be broken. Especially school rules!! :o)

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