I find him under a table in a public school classroom in a tiny town in rural, Michigan. It’s the end of the day and he is done. Finished. Tapped out. He’s had it. His body is flat on the floor, head in his arms, snot running out of his nose, tears squeezing out of squinted eyes, kicking, and screaming: all this telling me he’s absolutely, 100%, done.
He and I. We dwell together in a school system I’ve learned to love in a community not far from my own. A school system that my husband’s mom graduated from and her parents did too. A community far removed from billionaires and millionaires and congress men and women who think I need to be happy that our nation’s newest educational leader has rarely encountered, let alone tried to daily educate children who have chronically endured horrific stressors and mind-boggling struggles. Undesirable burdens placed upon them as unwanted facts, woven into their young lives as a result of abuse, neglect, and significant rural poverty.
He’s still under the table and I’m thankful I never wear skirts or dresses anymore. I’ve learned they are not practical when you have hearts to go meet and giant kid tears and pain to face. There is no high tuition, small class size, specific dress code, and just the right zip code to insulate me from his messes spilling on to me.
And so I meet him, where he is at, right where he is at on a day’s worth of classroom dirt worn into carpeting under the table. I talk quietly to him and always to Him as I make my way to meet this little kindergarten boy. My own belly now on the floor; I ask him what is wrong.
Sniffles and snot and dirty jeans and messy hair. Smudged glasses. Swollen eyes from crying. Quivering voice desperate for escape from the unreasonable demands that ignorant legislators continue to cram down his throat and expect him to buck up, suck it up, and gosh by golly, score well on the next test placed in front of him.
He can’t really tell me what’s wrong and I take comfort and pride in the fact that I know in his classroom there is love and care and amazing support from his teacher. And outside his room there are other teachers, a principal, a lunch crew, custodians, secretaries, paraprofessionals, and other educators who care about him too. And beyond those public school walls, down the road; there are community members, bus drivers, more school leaders and educators, and board members too who also care about him and his messes.
An invested community who didn’t have millions to pay their way in to the nation’s public educational system to be in power over children and families and strive once again to segregate children and families. Rather, a community of people who actually chose to do the hard work, the heart-wrenching, day to day work of being in and around the pain and the mess that comes with some of the kids and families that enter our school’s doors. Who know that you don’t get to pick which kids get our best and which ones don’t deserve much at all.
Who know first hand that there are no short cuts and there are no quick and easy solutions, but who do know that you have to dwell in the beautiful mess to know how to even begin to fix the messiness. You have to let the junk mess up your head, rip your heart wide open, and let it bring you to your knees to earn the right to tell me and my colleagues here and around the country that you know better.
Tears subside while he and I lay flat on the floor. I say his name, I touch his shoulder, and I let him know I’m there. There is no pressure here in our under the table conference room. Just he and I and sadness too. “It’s just so hard!” he finally says. “Yes it is,” I tell him. He takes my hand and we get up off the floor. Tears get wiped away, snot too. “Do you want to take a walk?” I ask. Head nods. Feet move. Out the classroom door, down the hall, in a small public school, in a rural town in Michigan.
A place I’m proud to work in.