Seventh grade was probably the most challenging year for me as a student. Our dad worked for a company that made tractor trailer and school buses. It was in the process of shutting down the plant in the city where we lived, and we didn't know if he would have a job in the new plant. Needless to say, for about six months, we lived with the "unknown" . . . not a happy few months. During that time, I realized that boys were treated differently from the girls (truly, it had been unknown to me up until that year), that I wasn't that good at math, and that I probably would never be an athlete. Needless to say, Dad was offered a position at the new plant, he commuted for a few months, and then we sold our home and moved to Ohio. I was more than happy to put seventh grade behind me forever.
Fast forward about 20 years . . . I'm an adult, I'm a certified teacher, and I'm offered my first contract: teaching seventh grade English. Turns out I couldn't escape that scourge after all. The only thing that changed? I kind of like it now. I love that my kids come up with something new every day. I love that they are in abject misery because they can't go to the bathroom right that minute and then are in rapture the next when we do something interesting. I love seeing the "look" when they get something. I love the stories. I love them.
Tonight, I am doing something I never thought I would be doing in a million years: singing on stage with a bunch of junior high students in front of their friends and families. For some reason, our choir director asked the students to see if they could convince female teachers to sing "Lollipop" (the Chordettes version, not L'il Wayne's opus). Two of my girls from the literary magazine that I run asked if I would join in. For these two, I can refuse nothing. One of them has such a bubbly personality that you can't help but smile and laugh out loud. She wants to be a middle school teacher and will be damn good at it. She has one story after the other, yet I really fear for her. She is in seventh grade, and I never want her to get to the point where she feels like it is all too much for her: the drama with friends, boys acting like boys, school work piling up, life in general.
The other one? She isn't a typical eighth grader. She's a little too streetwise. She's seen too much at 14. She's taken on too much responsibility. She calls me Cherry Blossom because of my water bottle. And yet, she's after school every Tuesday, working on her creative writing and being brutally honest with the papers in front of her. Three weeks ago, she showed up in my first period class with blurry, blood shot eyes. I took her in the hall and listened as she sobbed and poured her heart out. For a change, I was at a loss for words.
She lost a brother in the earthquake in Haiti. Her grandfather was immigrating any day from Haiti, only he died of a heart attack. An older sister was missing in NewYork. And the petty little day-to-day bullshit stuff that adults learn to deal with? Well, it had taken their toll on an already fragile little girl. So, I let her cry. I listened. I offered advice. I walked with her to see another teacher she trusted. We let her cry. And we listened. And we offered advice.
I'd like to say it made a difference and for all I know, it did. But tonight . . . tonight, I swallow my pride and will be singing, "Lollipop" on a hot stage in an auditorium full of god-knows-who . . . all for two little girls - because they really are girls after all - who make my world brighter. I'll sing off key and snap my fingers in all the wrong places. Because my girls asked me to.
Jill, who promises to take some relevant photos this weekend . . . but this one was the only one from school