I always think about Maria at the beginning of every school year. I was 7 on the first day of third grade at Crieve Hall Elementary. Being the first day of school, Mom walked me in to get me situated. We were early . . . I was the second student in the classroom, and the only one who had her mom with her. The other student was a little girl standing alone in the corner of the room wearing a brown plaid cotton dress, and I remember even as a 7-year-old, thinking she looked really scared. I felt for her. Where was her mom? Why was she alone? I was scared and I had my mom with me. For a moment my heart was braver than usual, and I walked to the corner and said "hi". We instantly struck up a friendship, as is so easy to do when you're 7, and I was blessed to have her as one of my two best friends that year in Mrs. Cosman's class. Her name was Maria. Maria had been bused there by the Nashville city schools. They had taken this little girl miles from her home, her friends, and her family and "integrated" us by putting her in a classroom with 29 white kids. Even at 7 I knew there was something unfair about the whole situation. We moved to Longview. Texas after that school year, so I don't know what she did with her life. Anyway, I'm not sure what prompted me to share this memory, except that I am working on lesson plans and was thinking about that day.
That story reminds me of another one. One late fall day about 4 or 5 years ago, a dozen kids bounced off the school bus and into the church annex where we had our afterschool program. I was waiting at the door to greet them as usual, mini-corn dogs in the oven, juice boxes on the table. But today was a bit different. Instead of rushing in, dropping backpacks and heading to the bathroom to wash hands, the kids pushed toward me like salmon swimming upstream, each one trying to slide past the next to show me the contents of their large manilla envelopes that marked the arrival of school pictures. Missing teeth, crooked ponytails, dirty shirts – some cute, some comical, all precious. One 11 x 14, however, was particularly adorable. With my arm around his shoulders, I squeezed the little boy who was the mirror-image of this photo, and told him how much his mom was going to love his picture. His eyes hit the floor and his little voice trembled, with words that will never escape me, “I don’t have a mom anymore.” His eyes, and mine, welled with tears. I didn’t want to let go of him. My heart literally ached and I wanted nothing more than to make all the pain in his little life disappear. I couldn’t, of course, but I did make sure he got a hug and a smile and as much mothering as I could squeeze into 2 hours after school.
Some kids you just never forget.