Friday, February 23, 2007


my neighborhood kids have all gone to ground. in the wake of the valentine's day blizzard they've dug holes in all the snowbanks and when you drive by, heads pop up out of the holes, kind of like prairie dogs. so far the children have stayed clear of my snow fort. one day last week a kid started to cross over in front of my house and i had the urge to go out and tell him to get out of my snowbank.

terrific. i'm forty-two years old and i'm ready to become that cliché old guy, shaking a fist.

i have a valentine on the wall over my desk. a handmade valentine on pink paper, and covered with glitter. all the writing is in the scrawl of a young child. the artist has her locker near my classroom this year, on the senior hallway. the valentine is from very long ago.

when the kids give me artwork, i save it in a file and when they graduate i give it back. sometimes in the intervening years i take it out and look at it.

dave melted down today. the work he was looking at seemed unmanageable to him and he couldn't cope. "you're important to me", i told him. "i want you to trust that i'll help you break it down into pieces you can handle." we moved on. i checked his work. we went to lunch.

"you hate me", he said.
"i think only one of us gets to decide that."

i have learned that "you hate me" is what he says just before he's ready to let it go. hey, whatever helps.

there's this other kid. "when it's time for you to ask for recommendations for your college applications, please remember me", i told him. i'm pretty good with a recommendation letter, and sometimes my letter tips the balance. mostly i think it's because the letters i write are usually for kids for whom i volunteered to write.

i kind of had to explain to this kid what goes into a college application, but he looked up at me and said "wow. that means a lot to me."

you kind of have to know this kid to understand, but he is smart and funny and thoughtful. he cares about the way people behave. he is resilient. people have told him he'd make a good priest, a good teacher, a good businessman. the truth is that he will be good at whatever he sets his hand to. he knows what it's like to have life knock you around a bit, and someday i think he'll come out on the top of the pile.


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