A Special God for Children

There is a little girl who landed on our doorstep about a month ago named Krystal. Krystal is in 3rd grade by age, but cannot read or write. Krystal is deaf but does not know American Sign Language. Krystal cannot eat but is fed via a gastro-intestinal (GI) tube twice a day at school by her mother, who is having a hard time getting on Medicaid in Texas. Krystal is always happy.

Krystal’s hair is parted beautifully every day in a centered, zig-zag pattern and every day she wears a clean bib with some paper towels folded in the pocket to catch her drool as she smiles at us, nods, and gurgles throughout the day.

Every time I see Krystal, I say “Hi!” with bright eyes and a full smile, and she nods to me and says hi in her own way and gives me a hug. The children love her and have brought her into the school in the most amazing ways; gently tossing a ball to her in PE, looking after her at recess, and asking sweet questions about her when she cannot hear them (they don’t understand deafness). They ask: “Why does that little girl not speak? Can she hear us? No hearing?!?” They are mostly unaware of life’s greatest mysteries.

The other day I was walking with Krystal out to the Special Education room, which is where she spends most of her days. Her paperwork that came from California is out of date and it looks like she hasn’t been in school for about three years. Her mom was living in Orange County and said it was hard for her. Our district won’t use the old paperwork as they claim it is too out of date. This is a way they can keep her at our campus despite our lack of a Life Skills classroom. They say they have to follow policy and that until Mom gets doctor’s orders for Krystal, there is nothing they can do to help her. So we help her, every day assigning someone to walk around with her, hold her hand, and take her to meet her mother.

I was just watching “Fried Green Tomatoes” tonight. It is an early spring night and it is very cool out. When I was walking with Krystal the other day I thought about the part of the movie during which Ninny mentions Ruth’s belief in there being a special God for children. When I am with Krystal and she is smiling at me and gurgle-laughing, or when I am drawing with Jade and trying to get her to talk to me about why she is so violent, when Zoe is screaming at me over and over and over again, when Tara is able to calm down and come out of her hiding space and walk off her upset feelings, I think about that God. There are few mercies for little children who are in the dire straits of poverty during late-stage capitalism, parents who are under-employed, houses that aren’t sanitary or safe, in a school system that is only designed for children who would make it even if the system just went away.

Right now the stool holding up society isn’t steady and it’s because we are missing a huge part of its structure: the children. I wish it was as simple as praying to that God and asking her/him to step in and help us. For now, it seems that no one will help, and no one knows how, anyway. For now, we will walk around with our Krystals and try to soothe our Jades and try to figure out our Taras so we can make it through the school days. It seems so strange for a country to, over and over again, ignore and leave behind its children. Just as in the Pied Piper of Hamlin, we are trading so much for our children. What happens when the Piper comes to call in his debts?

Midnight in an Imperfect World

I feel this intense sadness as I sit here, right now, listening to the rain beat on the roof of my school. The sadness comes from many corners of my emotional life; the loss of a best friend in November, the many issues at my school that all stem from a lack of organization and care for its most vulnerable children, the process of clearing and sorting and packing and selling of my home so that we can relocate. Grief is complex, and for me, extremely so.

Yesterday I sat here, in my office, and asked myself why it is so hard to let all of this go (the job), even though I have already resigned and am content (if not happy) with that decision. A friend of mine told me it is because I care so much, and that is most likely true. I wonder if caring so much is a bad thing when one is in the midst of a perfect storm of state-sponsored destruction of public schools, high poverty, a pool of inexperienced or low quality candidates, and district-level administrators who are cut off from the issues at the campus level.

I don’t know.

As the end of this year approaches, and fast at that, I find myself again in a position where I feel I know less than I thought I knew before the year started. I always keep the faith that people truly care for children and know how to treat and interact with them. I have learned this year that that is not true. I always keep the faith that people in positions of power and influence want to exert that power and influence to better the lives of children and improve the outcomes of schools. I have learned this year that that is not true, either. Sometimes people get in those positions simply because they want to be in them, whether it be for money, title, or lack of responsibility/accountability.

Working within a system that has no true sense of accountability for employees coupled with a lack of incentive for improvement can lead to pits of complacency. This feels especially true in schools and districts that are under-resourced and have parents who are less involved. Parents often trust the schools entirely, or distrust them entirely; there is little in between. Unlike wealthier districts in which parents feel entitled to advocate for anything they feel like they or their children deserve, districts that are under-resourced do not have demanding parents hammering at the schoolhouse door; they therefore can hide many things from parents who really need to know that there is no research-based curriculum, ineffective district-level administrators in programs like special education and bilingual education, lack of effort toward building inclusive, positive campus culture, responsive education, and trauma-informed practices.

I am about to step away from public school, again. I did this once before in 2012. Here I am again in 2023: time for a break. Time for some reflection and repair of my heart space. So many times this year I have felt my heart break, for different reasons. I have felt my soul tug at me; saying, what are you doing here? I am thankful to say that I have a new opportunity at a wonderful, small, experimental, place-based school where we are moving. There is a stream through the property, a learning forest, a barn in which middle schoolers learn, and a view of the ocean.

Time to heal, to read, to write. I wish Texas schools all the best.

In the Dark

In the dark, I sit in my room; lamps glowing on the newly white walls. This week I will sell my house to someone new. I love this house; it has been a wonderful 5.5 years here and I will miss it.

In the dark, I sit in my room and reflect on this year of growth, learning, and heartache. I think about how heart broken I am on the one hand, and grateful on the other. How is it possible to have both?

The other day I had to send a child to the mental hospital. She became so upset that she cut herself and made herself bleed and she rubbed blood all over her face and hands and she looked like a doll or as if she was wearing a mask. She required sedation three times before she left campus and two more times in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. Someone asked me afterward what I was thinking about when it was happening and I didn’t know the answer.

After that happened I went on a walk to the park that is down the street from the school. It was a beautiful spring day and, as I walked, I began to notice flowers and spring leaves: neon green baby spring leaves. I arrived at the park and smiled and felt the wind flow around me; it was almost saying to me, “don’t worry as you are on your way away from here, I am carrying you away”. I could see the ocean in my mind’s eye and smell the salt air. I smiled and realized how much I love that park and all of its trees and the way its gravel always gets into my shoes somehow. When Oscar was a little puppy this was where I trained him to walk on a leash. This is where I ran into Paola the custodian who retired (she walks each day).

On Friday I had a meeting with the director of Special Education and she was very angry with us and criticized us and told us we would get used to these things and disassociate with time and experience. She mentioned the importance of running through scenarios with the team so that we could know what better to do next time. I looked at her as if she was insane, remembering my morning the day before and thinking there was no way in hell I would ever run through that scenario with anyone except the people who happened to be there at that one, specific moment. She mentioned that when she was lifeguarding this is what she would do with the other guards to anticipate things happening. I sat there, in my mind saying “lifeguarding?” and asked, over and over, for help, training, ideas, solutions. I was batting zero.

I love this beautiful place. I have loved it every day for 5.5 years and now it is on its way to becoming someone else’s and I can just sit here, remembering, feeling the heartbreak and hearing the song and understanding it is two sides to the same coin of life. There is pain and gratitude: bewilderment and truth all at the same time.