Friday, February 16, 2007

Can You Sing Happy Birthday With Me?

Wednesday morning Aina was in the office, ready to greet me as I arrived at school. His first words were, "Mr. Landry, do you know why today is a special day?" It was Valentine's Day, so that's how I responded. But that didn't work, there was something today for Aina that was way more special than Valentine's Day. After trying to get me to guess more reasons, he said, "Today's my mom's birthday!"

I'd been thinking a lot about Aina since he told me his mom had died last spring, but this was still one of those comments that you're not quite sure how to respond to. I tried to match his excitement and asked him what he was going to do for his mom's birthday. He said he and his dad were going to her grave that afternoon to bring flowers.

As I walked to my classroom, he tagged along, and when we got inside he asked me if I'd sing Happy Birthday to his mom with him. Man, I haven't had any child psychology classes, so I wasn't sure what the protocol for this was. I tried to shake him by saying that I wasn't sure if I wanted to because I didn't know his mom. His counter-argument was, "Of course you know my mom! She's my mom!" Still not knowing what to do, I left the question hanging ambiguously (which usually works with 4th graders) by saying, "Maybe later."

That seemed to placate him, so he went outside to play before the bell rang. When he came back into class, I noticed a forlorn look on his face. He immediately put his head down on his desk. I asked him if he didn't feel like doing his morning assignment, and he said, "Not really." I stooped down, put my hand on his back and asked what was the matter. After trying to fight back tears, the dam broke and he responded in between sobs that, "Nobody wants to tell my mom happy birthday."

The lump in my throat was so huge that I thought my own dam was about to break, so I asked him to step outside with me. When we got outside I asked him, in between my own tears, if he would feel better if as a class we told his mom happy birthday. He said that would make him feel a lot better. So I gave him a hug and we went back into the classroom.

After correcting our morning assignment, I asked the class why this was a special day. They responded in unison, "It's Valentine's Day!" I affirmed, "Yes, this is Valentine's Day. It's also a very special day for Aina. As some of you know, his mom passed away last spring. Well, today is Aina's mom's birthday, and it would mean a whole lot to him if we sang happy birthday to his mom."

My students didn't quite know how to react to this - both singing happy birthday to his mom, and the fact that I was so choked up, but they're wonderful kids, and we all sang together. Aina was much happier after that. He even came to my class at lunch to say, "Mr. Landry, thank you for singing happy birthday. It really meant a lot to me, and I know it meant a lot to my mom too."

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Honolulu Marathon 2007

Courtney and I have already registered for next year's marathon, and we'd like to extend the invitation to any of our friends who'd like to join us. It'll be held on December 9, 2007. Early registration for out-of-towers is $95, but I'd say just put our address down if you plan to come, that way it'll only be $60. We currently have one soft commitment from a friend, but we'll have an extra room in the condo, so it could be a great time for you to come for a visit. Just let me know.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

My Mom's Dead

"Mr. Landry, I have this string hanging off of my pants, what should I do about it?" said Aina

"Well, Aina, I think you should probably ask your mom to cut it off for you when you get home," I replied.

"My mom's dead," he retorted, in a subtle, matter-of-fact way.

"Oh," looooong pause, "well then I'll cut it off for you. When did your mom die, Aina?"

"She died last May. She got really sick and died. It makes me sad," he said.

Aaaahhh! No teacher training prepares you for that. I'm usually really careful when referencing people at home, because so few of my students live in a traditional family. I usually say, "Take this home to your mom, dad, grandma, auntie." A few of my kids have one parent in jail - one for murder this past September, and many of the rest live with an auntie or grandparent. Most of the rest live in modest housing with extended family. It's not uncommon to have 15-20 family members living in a 3-bedroom house.

Part of me wonders if it would be better if I didn't know any of this, if my expectations should be universal, left unhindered by the details of my kids' lives outside of the classroom. I worry because you can't help but soften your perspective when confronted with the reality of their daily struggles, but it scares me to think that in some way, on some level my expectations for them might be lowered as a result.

What I strive for, above all else, is a safe harbor my students, and I feel that I've been able to provide that. Knowing the challenges facing my kids helps put what I'm doing into perspective, and keeps me in check on a lot of levels. I won't say that what my 8 and 9 year-olds go through isn't fair, but my aching heart is repaired when I catch a worry-free glean of contentedness when they're in my classroom.