Thursday, December 15, 2016

All My Friends are Heathens

I walked into the Housing Authority prepared with a week's worth of tutoring materials, eager to finish off the week before our break.  I was surprised.....and pleased, when one of the coordinators, really she is the caretaker of the Center, announced to the kids that we would be competing in a gingerbread house contest and that she had bought all of the supplies.

She spread out colorful, plastic tablecloths and each teacher took their group of students to a table.  We had to select a gingerbread kit.
I looked at the options and asked, "Which...", and the students yelled "TRAIN!" in unison before I could even finish the question.
I was relieved that the students picked the train kit instead of the nativity scene.  I liked the animals in the nativity scene but felt weird about the religious angle, especially because I felt I would be inflicting something on my Muslim students, which is basically all of them.

I have never made a gingerbread house before.  I thought we might have an edge because of my years working in bakeries, but quickly realized my skills would not be necessary.  I felt tense as I commanded the kids to allow me to sort the pieces of the train while they broke the pieces that were supposed to be separated and took turns reading the directions.  The directions sucked.  This thing was hard.

Working together, we actually built the fucking thing.  I started telling the students to take turns decorating, but they quickly took over and I backed off, watching our train become a glistening, bedazzled tribute to sugar.
"Miss Gibson is doing it for them!"  Mahmo called to me, pointing.
I watched the other teacher with her group.  Cheating asshole, she was definitely doing it for them.  For the fucking kindergartners of all people.
I gazed at my group proudly.  They were scaring the shit out of me when I would see seven hands simultaneously decorating a very fragile ginger-train, but the thing was looking great and they were doing it, not me.  I was surprised that Abshir, one of two males in my group, actually knew his way around a pastry bag and seemed to have an eye for decorating.

Paris sat off to the side.  She was pouting, but I knew why.  She had been shut out.  Early in the activity, our caretaker had really gotten in her face about trying to take over the activity from the teacher.  I am the teacher and it embarrassed me to have another adult feel like they had to advocate for me with my own students.  I have had problems with Paris in the past and yes, it was a power struggle.  She has been there five years and I had entered her turf.  But, we have turned a corner and I felt bad that she was getting in trouble by someone she loves based on old crimes. I appreciated that our caretaker wanted to help me and would never question her in front of students.  But it was off-base.  And I feel stupid being viewed as the helpless white woman.

Paris had participated in the early rounds of building the ginger-train, but as the kids got handsy-er and handsy-er during the decorating, she had gone against her normal instincts and stepped away, deflated by the take-down from our caretaker.

Some middle school age kids were roaming the Center, eyeballing the ginger-creations. They normally aren't around, we offer a K-5 program.  I have taught some of them, but they were too far in their adolescence to acknowledge me.  They lurked like vultures, but I have to admit that I felt proud when the kept pointing at ours whenever anyone asked whose was the best.

It was time for the judging.  A count down commenced and ended with "HANDS UP!"  My students stood around our creation, eyes wide and hands up.  It was cute and then uncomfortable to watch my children of color, which is all of them, with their hands up, though I was one of the people that had yelled the command.

I knew we were going to win.
"And the winner is......."
THE KINDERGARTNERS.
"We were robbed" I said and we all laughed, because it really didn't matter anyway.

"Okay kids, you can eat your houses!"  Mr. Kevin announced.
It was shocking how quickly it was gone, chunks of it in each of my students' hands, but the majority in the middle schoolers' hands that attacked our train.  Paris jumped up, eyes filling with tears, hands empty and ran to the other side of the room.

"Paris!!!!"  Mahmo screamed, his voice shrill and horrified, his hands extended with pieces of ginger train that he wanted to save for her.  I had never heard his voice sound like that before.  They aren't even friends.  Ladaan cluthed her ginger pieces to her chest.
"Give this to Paris." she commanded.

I took the pieces to Paris as she dug in her book bag, trying to hide that she was crying.
"I'm fine."  she said, whenever I tried to talk to her.
"Look Paris, I am leaving these cookies here on the table for you.  I know you are disappointed and I understand why.  I just want you to know that Macoow and Ladaan really wanted you to have some and they saved these for you."

I returned to my group as they happily ate their pieces.  I watched Paris walk slowly over and pick up the cookies off of the table and eat them.

"He's okay!" I heard Mr. Kevin call out across the Center.  A white man stood there, the kids had let him in through the locked front door but stared at Mr. Kevin for clarification.  My mind went to Dylan Roof and I scanned his body for firearms.  I pictured the long tables on their sides to serve as buffers against gunshots and knew that plastic would never protect the kids.  I don't know why that occurred to me, but I kept watching him until he left the room.

I stood in Paris' Spanish class at eight o'clock the next morning, ready to start my lesson at my full time gig.  She marched up to me, merry.
"Remember building those ginger bread houses?!"  she said excitedly, as if it had happened years ago instead of fifteen hours ago.
"That was so much fun!"
"Did you see when Miss Ethel tried to take our cookie?"
"I did, Paris, that was hilarious, but we put Ersheti on her and she couldn't get through...."
"Yeah, it was great....."