Sunday, June 5, 2022

What Your Kids Have Taught Me


Hello, Invisible Audience.


The shooting at the elementary school in Texas a couple weeks ago really shook me, Invisible Audience. Maybe more than the other ones, but maybe not. I have often marveled at humanity’s ability to recover from tragedy, and not often in a good way. We can only be profoundly sad for so long before our instincts try to remind us of the many other things we’re here for: caring for the children; getting something to eat; doing that small, completely unnecessary task because it was on the list, and somehow, when we’re grieving, that list—and the distraction from pain it represents—becomes all-important and all-encompassing.


Is that why we focus so much on productivity in our culture, Invisible Audience? To distract from all the shitty ways the world is progressing? I have visited, spent time in and lived in several other countries, and not one was as obsessed with productivity as we are. Most have much deeper practices for dealing with death; better relationships between the old and the young; much better work life balances. And far, far fewer people who walk into elementary schools to gun down children.


As I have been mulling over this post in my head, I’ve been trying to decide whether to rail against the mechanisms that make our country into what feels like an increasingly hopeless shitshow. What stops me is all the posts I’ve seen on social media that already do this—all the people posting what needs to change, as if the algorithm isn’t making sure the only people who will see those posts are the ones most likely to agree. So instead, I’m going to write about what I’ve learned from some of your kids, Invisible Audience. Because sometimes the best way to rail against death is to remind people how much life is in it. 


Four days a week for most of the school year, I show up at one of two elementary schools in North Central Washington, right before the end of the school day. I wait for the bell to ring or I gather the kids from their classes, depending on their age, and I walk them to where we’re going to have weekly Spanish class that I teach them.


At each of these classes, these kids ask each other how they are in Spanish, as I’ve taught them to do. And each week, they say things that surprise me.


Most of the kids answer the question in one of two ways: feliz, or emocionado/a. (Boys say emocionado; girls emocionada.) That’s right: when asked how they are, the kids say they’re happy or excited.

When was the last time you told someone you were happy when they asked you how you are, Invisible Audience? Even more mind blowing is when the kids say things like, “feliz y cansada,” (happy and tired) or “feliz y más o menos” happy and so/so. Because they seem to remember what we’ve forgotten: that it’s ok to have more than one emotion at a time, and that those emotions can be happiness and something else that isn’t so happy.


At the beginning of the year, I’d go get the kindergarteners from their classes at the end of the day. As we walked through the school toward the classroom that they’d use, one of them would inevitably yell, “HI JASON!” to someone they had just spent the whole day with. Because they were excited to see this kid again, just for a moment. By the end of the year, they’ve stopped doing this as much. I have to admit that it makes me sad.


Some of my classes ended last week. One class in particular was a tough one. I’ve had several of these kids in my classes for years; some will be moving on to fifth grade next year in the middle school, and I won’t teach them anymore. But it was hard to focus on that, Invisible Audience, because these kids were so far past capacity that it was nearly impossible to teach them in the end. One particular student—one of my favorites—broke down nearly every day in uncontrollable laughter. It took me until now, after class had ended, to wonder if it was easier for him to laugh than to cry. 


We’re asking so much of these kids, Invisible Audience. We asked them to stay home during a pandemic, then come back to school. We masked them, then vaccinated them, then unmasked them. We tell them to be quiet; to keep their voices down; to pay attention. We told them what was expected, then punished them when they didn’t deliver, even as the world changed, and the expectations with it. 


I am so very tired, Invisible Audience. I adore these kids, and I am past capacity with them. I am tired of trying to shush their enthusiasm. I am tired of trying to keep them engaged when they’re past their capacity to be engaged. I’m tired of trying to keep them productive. And thank all the stars in the heaven that I have a job that allows me to take a break from teaching; to have an ebb and flow. Because I need it, and so do they. I’d argue we all do, although it’s not something our culture is interested in admitting.


I wanted to end on a hopeful note, but I guess it’s not going to happen. For the last several weeks I’ve looked at these kids—with their missing teeth and the way they guffaw over the joke of calling their dads “papa” (potato) vs. “papá” (dad) and the way they raise their hands to tell me some inane fact that has nothing to do with the question I just asked—and my heart squeezes when I think about anyone hurting them. I think about how it just feels like hurting kids is exactly opposite of human nature. I think about the key cards that I use to get into the school buildings where I teach after school classes, with the bullet-proof glass set up between the outside world and the secretaries, and the doors that lock. And I wonder how any of us do it—the parents, the teachers, the kids. How we get up every day and try not to wonder if the random odds are going to fall against us that day. How anyone could even think about snuffing a single giggling child off the earth, and how little it feels like is being done to protect them.


Love and children’s kisses,



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