Sunday, October 23, 2011
"My family escaped from Vietnam on a boat. They were boat people. It was after the war, things were bad. They sailed to the Philippines and lived in a refugee camp until the U.S. let them in" the thin, pretty woman told me, while she painted my fingernails. "That sounds dangerous" I responded. "It is," she answered, "people get lost and the boats sink. The U.S. stopped letting people in not long after my parents got here. They had to. It had to end sometime. But people still get here". "How?" I asked. "They get fake papers and bribe people along the way until they get to the U.S. My roommate did it, she's not who her papers say she is," she responded "why are you missing a toenail?".
"The hot water heater went out?" Alec told me. Were we in Tijuana? "What do you mean, did you re-light it?" I asked. "Yeah, like a million times, it just goes back out. I'll try again". It didn't work. Coldest night in recent months and no hot water, and I smelled like wet dog after my slow jog around the park.
I stood in our morning meeting at work, feeling very bright eyed and bushy tailed after my freezing cold, splashing water army shower. A woman walked by in furry, leopard printed pajamas. A one piece. Must be pajama day somewhere in the school.
I was wearing the necklace, the long, silver necklace with a silver apple at the end, that has a real, working clock inside. My sister gave it to me when I started teaching. High school kids loved it and now elementary kids love it. It caught Emily's eye the minute she sat on her place on the rug. The place she always sits. Without change. Everyday. Barely thinking, I pulled it off and handed it to her. She tried to twist the knob that sets the time. I had to pull it out so that the hands would move. Would she break it? It was a gift. What if she slammed it into the brick wall? I love that necklace. For some reason, I felt like it was worth it to let her play with it. As I continued the lesson, every time I would glance at Emily's marble-like eyes, filled with fascination as she made the hands move and dangled the apple in front of her face as if hypnotizing herself, I felt oddly calm and content.
It was time to get off of the rug. Would it be a struggle to get the apple back from Emily? I couldn't let her have it. It was too important. As soon as I explained the assignment, the kids jumped up, including Emily, to go to the tables.
She quickly handed me the necklace and headed to her place at the table, to the place where she always sits. Everyday. She wanted to draw what the seasons of the year looked like.
I almost wanted her back, back watching the apple, back watching the silver swing in front of her glass eyes.
Sunday, October 16, 2011
"Did you enjoy the King center?" the kindergartner asked. "Huh?", "The King center, when you went?", "Sure" I answered. The little African-American girl was resuming a conversation that we had begun a month ago, completely without preface. "Martin Luther King was killed. Someone shot him." she continued. The little African-American boy that had just turned five piped up. "A white person!" he howled. "Noooo," Nia corrected, "a black person!". "White!" Joel yelled. "Black!" Nia responded. "White!", "Black!", "White!", "Black!" the kids continued, until their teacher came to take them away.
"Carbon dating is wrong! It doesn't tell you how old bones are!" the radio commentator squealed through the car speakers. "Man and dinosaurs existed at the same time. There are cave paintings of dinosaurs...,". Which apparently are more credible than carbon dating. "Dinosaurs were walking the earth even three hundred years ago!". Okay, you got me there. Ben Franklin and the brontosaurus. All the shit they wrote down with quill pens and no one mentioned flying beasts or man-eating monsters. The commentator started taking calls. "How did Noah fit the dinosaurs on the ark?" caller after caller asked. THAT is the only problem you have with this guy's story? "He took babies," he answered, "baby dinosaurs".
Someone called Nia a "black bitch" on the playground the other day. He was black too. And, in kindergarten.
"Thanks for returning my note" I said to the parent quickly. I already know her and her kid has been fucking around in class, hence the note. I was surprised when she started crying. "I'm sorry, I'm really sorry" she stammered. "What? Why? It's not your fault, I just need your help," I answered, "it's really not a big deal". "We've had a lot of chaos lately and it's showing and I just feel so bad, you are so nice and I worry that you get stepped on". So nice? I turned around, and spun back to her.
"Are you talking to me?".
Friday, October 7, 2011
"I was doing my best" he answered, sarcastically.
I woke up, feeling weird, and went to work.
The kids were actually working steadily on the thing I gave them. "¿Quieren música?" I asked them. They wanted it. I put on Daddy Yankee and not Norteño, my música of choice. "Is this rap?" Lashandi asked loudly. "Sí," I answered "de Puerto Rico". She looked to another African-American girl in her class. "We do it better" she said. I was disappointed. He is a "we". Are we really going down this road again, so early? Who is black and who is not. That you can't be black and Hispanic at the same time. Stupidity.
I laid down, just for a minute, after school. I heard my bird, Momo. She makes a typewriter noise, over and over again, on the side of her feeder. She does it when her partners die. Suddenly, I opened my eyes. More than two hours had passed. It was seven o'clock. Typewriters were in my head.
"You received a big shipment" Alec told me. "What?" I asked. "Like, a million boxes. They are in the front". Oh, those boxes. The one hundred and forty boxes for the kids to make mini-altars for Day of the Dead? I really needed small boxes, and the cheapest ones I could find were empty cigar boxes. My front room smells nice, cedary, and is filled with beautiful wooden boxes from Honduras and the Dominican Republic. They are golden, lovely, filled with embellishments and clasps. I spread them out on the floor, and open and close them.
"¿Como estás?" I asked Emily, just like I always do. I generally discard the answer. She says strange things - things I don't understand. She started talking, and for some reason, I watched her carefully. Little coos and sounds that no one would ever consider language flowed from her mouth. Her eyes and head moved back and forth, just like any other person's would while talking, except that her eyes looked like glass. I listened intently, for the first time. She was thinking and communicating whatever was in her head, just in a way that no one could understand. But she wanted to tell us something. I watched her until she was finished, and thanked her. For the first time, the corners of her mouth moved upwards and her normally expressionless face assumed a look of satisfaction.
A few minutes later, she said her first Spanish word of the year. Azul. Azul was her first word.
It has been a big week. First grade is making a project to send to a school in Mexico. I have begun full immersion teaching in grades K-3, and they are getting it. Fourth and fifth grades are researching historical figures and making cigar box altars that represent the person's life. Emily spoke her first words of Spanish. I was at school until nearly eight o'clock the other night, explaining my curriculum to happy parents, one of whom started crying and hugged me. "I need to talk to you" one of my bosses said, entering my room near the end of the day. "I received an email from a parent that said you are giving the kids candy everyday, which she says goes against our discipline policy and our sustainability plan for the school. And, it does".
Of all the things going on in my classroom, I was really surprised to only hear about the random piece of Mexican candy I give whichever kid wins our monthly Bingo game.