The day I decided to be a teacher.

I’m finishing up our first 5th-grade writing unit, memoirs, with my students this week. I decided this year that I’m going to be writing authentic pieces with my students and up my own writing ante. I’ve been working with the students on the elements, craft, and purpose of memoir writing, including reflection, elaboration, and development. So, after a four-week writing process, here’s my piece and truth about the day I decided to be a teacher.

“I don’t want to go to first grade!” I yelled, slamming my spoon into my bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. My mother looked at me consolingly, but we both knew I had to walk out that door. Mom dressed me, and we, along with my two brothers, walked the two blocks to P.S. 42 in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

As we walked to school, I thought back to the year prior and recalled how I had cried every day of kindergarten. I had so many questions when I was five years old. Why couldn’t I speak Cantonese at school? Why did all the teachers looked different from the people in my Chinese community? I felt I didn’t belong in that classroom, 202, and it was a fight to finish the year. I felt like a baby- I was the only one to cry after the first month of school. My mom and a bunch of the other kids called me a crybaby, and I felt so alone. Fast forward a summer, and I wondered if first grade would be a repeat of that awful kindergarten year.

At the front entrance of P.S. 42, I held my mother’s hand for a minute, not wanting to leave. “You have to go in,” my mom said. “And,” my mother added, “you have to walk your little brother in, too.”

Trying to put on a brave face, I said, “Okay, Mom.” I waved goodbye and walked with my little brother into the lunchroom. Anxiously, I walked to the sign “1-212,” my new class, and waited with my new classmates for our teacher. A brown-haired teacher walked up and guided us through the lunchroom, up the stairs, past the principal’s office, and into our new classroom.

The sky-blue walls of 1-212 already felt calmer than the bright yellow walls of last year’s classroom. All of us kids milled around the entrance of the door as Ms. Sheridan called out names from her attendance sheet and pointed us to our desks. When Ms. Sheridan finally called my name, I quickly put down my things and followed the rest of the students to the classroom rug, where we were to meet together as a class for the first time.

Ms. Sheridan looked on at us with a kind face. “Hello, everyone! It is so great to meet you. My name is Ms. Sheridan, and I will be your first-grade teacher this year. I want to know your names, so I want you to go around and share your name and your favorite color.”

About a dozen students shared their names and their favorite colors. Nervousness built as I heard my classmates share “blue” and “green” as their favorite colors over and over again. I knew I had a different answer, and different was not good, especially after kindergarten. After what seemed like forever, it was my turn.

“Hi. My name is Annie, and my favorite color is yellow.”

Immediately, a number of kids behind me started to laugh. “Yellow?” one of my classmates exclaimed. “You’re weird!” I stood out as different, just like I stood out last year in school. Different was bad.

I pushed away the river of tears that was welling up in my eye sockets. I didn’t want to be a crybaby again this year, but all I wanted to do in that moment was cry.

“Annie,” I heard suddenly from the front of the room. I looked up in terror, not wanting anyone to call my name. It was Ms. Sheridan. I was scared of what was coming next.

“Annie,” Ms. Sheridan repeated. “My favorite color is yellow, too.”

I heard a kid gasp behind me. Another student said, “My favorite color is yellow, too!” No one was laughing anymore. I felt a smile creep up on my face. “Let’s keep going,” Ms. Sheridan continued.

I stared in the front of the room, surprised at everything that had just happened. First off, I couldn’t believe that the teacher had heard me. But mostly, I couldn’t believe that Ms. Sheridan stuck up for me.

A tear came down my face, but it was out of happiness. I really thought first grade was going to be as terrible as kindergarten. But, unlike last year, I knew I had Ms. Sheridan to stick up for me, and to protect me. I felt this year was going to be okay, because Ms. Sheridan would make it okay.

I was right about Ms. Sheridan- and I loved school from that point on. Our class made popcorn from kernels, shook heavy cream into butter and milk, and had Easter Egg hunts later that year. I became a master speller and rocked the math tests. I felt confident and proud of myself. And, most of all, I wasn’t crying anymore.

I will never forget the joy I felt in that moment- it was the first moment of kindness, generosity, and understanding I felt in school. Ms. Sheridan changed how I looked at school, and how I proceeded onward. I didn’t feel alien anymore.

Most of all, I knew how much one person could change someone’s life. It was one day of my life and a small moment, but from that point on I declared that I was going to be a teacher when I grew up.

At the time of this writing, I am in my sixth year teaching. I hope I am a great teacher to my students like Ms. Sheridan was for me. I hope my students feel as confident and proud as I did in first grade. Most of all, as a teacher, I hope to teach my students that they can make that big difference for others. It only takes one moment and one act sometimes.

 

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@themoth StorySLAM- At home with my parents.

I shared a version of this story last night at The Moth StorySLAM, Sept. 21st at Housing Works Cafe in SoHo, NYC. The theme was “OUTGROWN”-

sept 2017 moth storyslam

There is nothing more soul-sucking and date-killing than telling someone, “I live at home with my parents.”

After living in Chicago for five years, I moved back home to New York last summer. My parents were so elated that they gave me their master bedroom, moving into a smaller room in our apartment in Chinatown! After being away so long, I figured it was time to move back- my dad was getting older and needed more medical help, and my mom was going to retire soon.

Because I’d moved home, I now needed to find a new teaching job (check!), find and rebuild my friend groups again, maybe start dating in New York again, and, of course, build a new relationship with my new roommates- my parents.

At first, it was okay. Then, of course with parents, the questions and the comments and the guilting and the shaming came. “Your room is a pigsty! This is not how a woman’s room should look like!” “You need to come home at 10pm!” my dad said in Cantonese, as he doesn’t speak English. (Spoiler alert- he doesn’t exactly like that I’m here right now!) “Don’t drink alcohol!” Yeah, like this 27-year-old single woman is not going out in New York City and drinking. Yeah. It came to a head after the work Christmas party, when I got home, after being on the train for two hours, phone dead, no calls home, parents furious.

January, February, March came, and I complained to anyone who would listen. Overwhelmed at work? It’s my parents’ fault because I have no room to think at home! No friend life? It’s my parents’ fault for nagging at me!

Finally April came and I had decided, as everyone in my life was telling me- my therapist, my friends, my potential dates in life- I needed to move out. Petrified, I told my parents over dinner- “Mom, Dad, I am planning to move out. I want to move closer to work, and I need my space.”

My dad stared me square in the face, and I was anxious because my dad isn’t always the most rational person. But he told me, “Annie, we want you to stay. We want you to help with rent. We want you to help with translating mail and other documents at home” (as they don’t speak English). And, we want you to pay rent here so you can save money with us. We can help you save, and when you’re ready to buy a home you’ll be able to.”

I stared back for a few seconds. I hadn’t even considered what my parents wanted- I was thinking of me the whole time. I had no conception that my parents would want me home. I felt like I was the typical Millenial moocher, that they wanted me to move out.

And in those few seconds, I started thinking- I loved my mom’s cooking, and I loved having my lunch packed for me every day for work. I loved my dad’s bad dad jokes and how he commented on the world around him. I didn’t mind translating mail or phone calls or documents at all- in fact, I felt really good about being able to help my parents. “What would we do without you?” they’ve commented many times in the year I’ve been home.

Moreover than that, I really like telling my parents about my days. How teaching is with my students, and what I did with them that day. About the teachers I work with and the parents of my students. About my friends and what they’re up to in life. About the activism I do and all my volunteer work outside my teaching.

It’s like my parents, for the first time, saw me as someone that wasn’t just their kid anymore, but some human being trying to find their way in the world. And I was beginning to see them in that same way. I’ll always be their kid, but something had shifted in the time I’d been home.

In those few seconds, all my reasons for moving out fell away. My commute was an easy three stops away via train, so it wasn’t really ever about the commute. I realized I just needed space, boundaries at home. I asked to use a room to do my work and to relax, and I asked for space, and they agreed immediately.

I realize now I moved back to New York not just to be closer physically to my parents, but because I was going to get a chance to know them fully as an adult. There’s something about building a relationship with your parents as adults, and it’s a beautiful thing. Two months after that conversation, in June I started taking Cantonese classes, so I could maybe one day have really full conversations and get deep with my parents.

I am seeing this time right now as an investment in my future- if or when I get married and have kids, I know my relationship with my parents will be fuller because I put this time in for all of us to build, together.

I thought by now, at 28 years old, that I’d outgrow this stage in my life. I don’t cringe as much now when I tell someone how I live. Because, at this moment, I’m very happy I live at home with my parents. I am very happy doing so.

For now.

Reminders for teachers.

Reminders to self these first few weeks of teaching (and good learnings I have picked up over the years)-

  • The basics- Drink water. Take your lunch. Finish your lunch. Go to the bathroom.
  • Don’t kill yourself working at night. You still have students to teach tomorrow.
  • Caffeine is good. Sleep is better.
  • Things happen.
  • Everything you want to get done won’t get done. Everything you need to get done will get done.
  • You don’t know the kids yet. It takes time to build relationships.
  • It’s the nature of teaching that everything can get upended at any moment. You know this. Prepare for everything else that could possibly happen, and, for the rest, you must go with the flow.
  • Use the people around you. They’re awesome. You also have great friends, former coworkers, and supports around you. Use them.
  • The kids are pretty darn smart. They are always good. Do no harm, and do great good if you can.
  • Tomorrow is another day. And, next year is a new year. That’s pretty amazing, actually.
  • As Colleen Wilcox puts, “Teaching is the greatest act of optimism.” Ain’t that the truth.

5th year in, why do I teach?

As I close out my fifth year of teaching, I’m consistently asking myself, as I have in all the years I’ve taught- do I still want to do this? Am I here for the right reasons? And, if I’m still in this, how can I be better for next year?

This year was tough, with transitions everywhere- moving to New York City, my hometown and where my family is, was tougher than I thought. I had to rebuild all of my relationships here while also maintaining the ones I’d made strong over my time in Chicago. Learning a whole new system and way of teaching (elementary integrated co-teaching is done very differently in Chicago and New York), was very tough. Learning my school’s culture, routines and balances took time. My co-teacher this year did not cut me any slack this year, for better or worse, and I grew for it, for better or worse. And, learning new curriculum is always hard. Finding where I belonged was the constant question this year.

But, the thing I loved about this year was the diversity of my staff and students, and what we get to do as a staff because of it. For the first time ever, I got to teach kids who looked like me as a kid: Chinese, some born in America, some not. I got to teach many different kinds of Latinx students, and a range of other students as well. Our fifth-grade graduation was conducted in four languages on Friday- English, Spanish, Arabic, and Chinese.

And, we got to reference, if not teach to, that diversity. My school gave all the teachers $200 to spend mid-year on supplies for the class- this would be unheard of in Chicago, where I spent the majority of my teaching thus far. I spent a good chunk of the money buying Asian American literature for our classroom library, including a wealth of Laurence Yep books. A student just finished Child of the Owl, sharing with me today that she really enjoyed the book and that she didn’t know Chinese people could be in the books she read. I told her Laurence Yep was one of my favorite authors as a child for precisely that reason- that I could see myself in the books and in trying to figure out how to be both Chinese and American at the same time. “So that’s why you bought all his books, Ms. Tan,” she said. “Maybe all of his books are like that, and that’s good.”

We have been reading Esperanza Rising in class, a perennial favorite with all the fifth-graders I’ve ever worked with, and all of my Latinx students just soaked it up, constantly asking when we’d finish it. The kids related to the Spanglish, the switching of languages, and the feeling of overcoming tough obstacles. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to finish Esperanza before the school year ended, but hopefully my students will get to pick it up at a later time. What a wonderful read.

I told someone on the phone Monday that the slog of the teaching days can drive many a teacher out. That feeling that we lack autonomy? That can drive anyone out of any profession.

But why do I stay, I asked her. I stay because, if I can get the kids to love themselves and how bicultural and multicultural they are, then I’ve done my job.

I related how I didn’t prize being Chinese as a youth, and that I lost my language as a result- oh, how I wish I were fluent in Cantonese today.

It would have made such a difference as a kid to have someone who I judged as American tell me that my language and culture were important. It would have been so key to have teachers who looked like me and spoke my language. It would have been great to have Chinese teachers who could catch me saying something inappropriate in my Chinglish as a kid (and, believe me, we said some pretty bad things in Cantonese).

Today I not only get to nip inappropriate Cantonese (and some Mandarin) conversation and phrases in the bud, but I also get to nip inappropriate Spanish phrases in the classroom as well. But, I never shut down the speaking of languages in general, because my students should own their language.

I also take the chance to practice with my students. Recently, when I told one of my students, “Gracias por la oportunidad para practicar mi Espanol. No tengo mucho tiempo para practicarlo,” my students retorted back, “What about the weekend? [to practice your Spanish] You have us! You have the weekend! You should use apps to practice your Spanish.” My fifth-graders, holding me accountable for the work I have to and want to do to serve my students.

The coolest thing about pushing this multicultural piece? I get to now practice that and model that for my students. I get to show how I prize my own culture on days other than Chinese New Year. We get to break down less important holidays like Cinco de Mayo and celebrate what might really count like El Grito.

So why do I teach? To teach the importance of multiculturalism means I have to model what it looks like to be multicultural. This means I get to be fully multicultural myself, and that is a gift that my students have given me, and continue to give me, time and time again. You know Maslow’s hierarchy, that people want to be self-actualized? My students do that for me, with me, remind me, and see me. And, I see my students, every day, for a whole year. That’s something I’m not giving up anytime soon.

Building the life we want.

A friend asked me the other day how I kept this drive. How I felt passionate about what I was doing. How I kept being inspired by what I was doing. 
Like I’m a great example of that.
I wonder to myself often just how much I can sustain, and what it means to sustain the work we do. How things are often asked of me and how, maybe, truly, I don’t want to be doing those things. How, in the things I do want to do, I don’t have the firm stance or will or grace to hold myself and others accountable for making things happen. To make things happen that are inclusive and bring people in. That we’re not building in the way we should. 
Is this what I want, I ask myself every day now. Is this what I want?
I find I do best when my experience and emotion grounds the work I do. Yet I don’t center my anger in the fights I want to fight (and win).
Am I spending more time reflecting than doing? Is there something inherently wrong in “not doing?”
I’m trying these days to make a choice and stick to it. To be decisive and make my life the way I want it. And part of that means I need to write again. 
Writing has always been a form of a status check for me, a means in which I determine if I’m in the place where I want to be in life. But I’m increasingly seeing that writing is not just a means to an end- it can be movement-building to tell your story, because, unlike alternative facts, personal life experiences cannot be challenged. It’s been easier to organize through telling stories than by giving facts or figures or statistics, because people, at the end of the day, want that human connection.
Movement building, whether in labor organizing or Asian Pacific American feminist organizing, or in educators of color organizing, in self-care and wellness, in affirming the lives of your students of color, necessitates a giving of yourself. Opening yourself to why you’re here and what you’re here for. Why are you doing this? What space and capacity do you have? What responsibilities do you have in your own life?
I’m trying my best to open up again. I often feel like, in my new school or home city I returned to less than a year ago, that people don’t know me deeply and fully. That my intent and work are questioned because I’m not known. That I haven’t proven myself yet. The people who knew me before, of course, know me, and know my vision, my passions.
Relationship-building is hard work. And it’s a lot of the work.
But I have to trust that there are others who share (part of or all of) my vision. I want to help build an education system where teachers have voice AND stand for students. Where teachers have true power in making the education system a place that’s welcoming, affirming, and sustainable for communities. Where folk of color and other marginalized communities get to share their experiences and make this a fuller world. Where I support my own community in getting there, and teach my students to think and act critically as they walk this earth. And, to do this work with love and solidarity. 
I want to write a book in ten to twenty years about how I got “here” and how we get “there.” I’m tired of folk telling me what’s good for me, and telling me the way I’m doing things is wrong. The only way to counter the gaslighting is to tell our own stories and to continue doing what we do (and do it damn well).
I’m scared, constantly, of investing in something for no payoff. That nothing I’ve built or attempted to build came to fruition. That the people I’m trying to build with are not wanting to build with me, and will just take everything we’ve done and toss it aside. Perhaps destroy it.
That’s the thing with love and building, though- there’s always the threat of loss. And I’ve lost plenty. Doesn’t mean I didn’t learn from those losses, but those losses have been felt fully and deeply. I’m trying not to let the fear of loss stop me from this dreaming.
This work will take many lifetimes to do, if climate change and capitalism do not destroy the world first. But, it is what keeps me waking up in the morning with vitality. I thought to myself on the train this morning, “Ooh, I do love my life.” I want to love this life we build together, too.

Out there.

You know that feeling when all your life’s purpose is out there? You have contributed some small something to this moment that’s necessary, infinite yet ephemeral at the same time.

Like singing with hundreds of other singers. I know I’m one of many. I’m not heard in the crowd by myself- I blend with all the other voices to make one sound. Some moments I may be singing with a smaller group of singers, and you might hear a little more closely my contribution, but for the most part we are an amalgamation.

And that moment of music making, when you’re at your best? It lasts a moment. It can’t be recorded as audio or video- it doesn’t sound the same. You can’t replicate that moment ever again, because groups of people may have a cold the next day, or another day your voice might sound better than ever, or another day….

That precise moment will never be yours again. But in that moment you know you made something that’s yours- and ours.

I’ve been looking for ages for that something, and I think most of us in this world have. I’ve felt it a number of times in my lifetime. In those so-many-small-and-big moments in the classroom where my kids just GET IT. When I’ve synergized with a teacher or paraprofessional and don’t need to verbalize what needs to get done because it gets done. When friends and family intuit a need and make it happen without anyone asking. When I’ve organized with fellow teachers and with the Chicago Teachers Union on special education and fighting for fair funding. When I’ve written something that brings folk to tears or laughter.

Fun fact, for those of you who have my email- the number behind my name signifies the day I told my first boyfriend I liked him. (We’ve long since broken up.) When making my email, I wasn’t thinking of my union with this boy, an anniversary, anything like that. That number signified a day I put myself out there. made myself vulnerable to his world, and where that vulnerability was rewarded. In a small gesture to this day, it is a number that pushes me to keep going, putting myself out there, because it’s worth it at the end of the day.

And now, I’ve begun finding the people that I’ll continue to build with. I’m working right now on creating spaces for Asian American women to feel empowered. Continuing to build my students’ voices. Pushing labor to do right by the workers and the people. Continuing to humanize this space and all our spaces. And forgiving myself, because I’m human, too.

I’ve been feeling this momentum, this space where we can all really make a difference together. It is exciting and requires my vulnerability. It requires me to be out there.

I am trying. Some days are harder than others. This week was particularly hard for some reason that I’m still trying to figure out. But I’m working hard to be one of the sea of many who’s going to change the world. Will you be out there with me?

My sign for the #WomensMarch Saturday.

All this week I was trying to figure out what sign I’d bring with me to DC for the Women’s March on Saturday. There were just so much to write about. If the rally were about education, I’d make a sign about my teaching. If it were about racial justice, then that. But literally there’s too much to say. And I made a joke while asking others for ideas- “There’s so much wrong with Trump it literally won’t all fit on a sign.”

“Ooh, Go with that,” folk said.

Oh!

Great slogan- “There’s so much wrong with Trump that I won’t fit it all on this sign.” But how to make my sign more clever, more visual? Hmm… why not literally write down everything wrong with Trump? I asked folk what was wrong with Trump- they obliged. So below are all the issues I recorded within my sign-

  • “Build a wall,” “deport them”, ban Muslims and immigrants rhetoric
  • Jeffrey Sessions as attorney general
  • Betsy DaVos as Secretary of Education, no experience
  • Rex Tillerson
  • Pence and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric
  • Administration does not believe in climate change
  • likely fight against Standing Rock and #NoDAPL
  • Militarization of marginalized groups
  • Normalization of Islamophobia
  • “Grab them by the pussy,” “I can kiss whoever I want because I’m a celebrity” talk
  • Billionaire class that profits from his presidency
  • Trump University and the settlement
  • Killing health insurance for millions with no ACA replacement
  • Twitter troll
  • Relationship with Russia and Putin, including alleged “golden showers” blackmail
  • Relationship with Breitbart (and Bannon, not included in sign)
  • Media distractions, including silencing free press
  • Narcissistic orange man who prioritizes his image and not the USA
  • Nepotism and first lady issues including the rise of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner
  • Tokenization of people of color, including Kanye, Omarosa, and Steve Harvey
  • “Mexico will pay for the wall” which the Mexican president has labeled “libel”
  • The starting of the birther movement against Obama
  • Divide and conquer strategy through trolling us
  • Me- “What is your plan”?
  • Promotion of fascism, racism, and xenophobia
  • No thought leaders
  • Normalizing of sexual assault
  • Policing of women’s bodies
  • No abortions and no birth control (ironically written within a lowercase t like a funeral cross)
  • Privatization of public education
  • Defunding of Planned Parenthood
  • Me- “stay away from my uterus, government”
  • Sexist pig
  • (Allegedly) raped women and children
  • Con artist
  • Mocks people with disabilities
  • Paranoid
  • Group think person
  • Not included- anti-Union and labor, hypocrisy of keeping jobs within country when his clothing line makes clothes in Mexico and China, obsession with the young and pretty, silencing of anyone who disagrees with him, clear lack of knowledge about national and international politics, alienation of the American people. Need I say more?

Phew, that was a lot. What’d I miss?

The fight- falling in love again.

You are sick of the world. You start, cynical, that there’s no one who quite understands you, that there’ll never be, because this society is nuts. You’ve been burned enough, and you’re not having it anymore. 

You treat new people and new coworkers as perpetual strangers, that they can’t penetrate your world because they’re bound to leave or hate you and your politics anyway. Some don’t believe in your intersectionality, and you don’t feel fully human in their presence. You’re alone.

You think one day that nothing can shock you anymore, that you’ll never be surprised at this point, and then some crazy awful thing happens, and an orange man is suddenly going to be leading, and a sea of red threatens to take rights to your body away, and that knocks you off your feet and changes your whole world view. 

You’re more cynical now, wondering how this environment can be like this, thinking about retreating for a while, because you can’t stand to see the world like this. Wondering whether people are innately awful or if it’s a select few ruining the world for the rest.

This world isn’t what you thought it was going to be. You stop the snarky diatribes on Facebook because you’ve pissed off enough of your friends in your attempt to be sarcastic and avoid the whole situation altogether. You stop the angry texting. You have dinners with friends and try to connect in person. But you also get away from the organizing you’ve been doing. 

You try reading everything you can get your hands on to understand, finding podcasts that might explain what just happened, only for your world to get more complex. You wonder if your brain can hold onto all this new knowledge.

From the time you were six, you were going to be a teacher. You were going to change lives, push your students to fight hard, too. And you were going to find the people around you to fight with. You still push for that.

And yet you see the suffering around you and you think to the future, wondering how you’re going to continue to not only wade through this life but make your difference happen. The older people around you tell you it’s gonna be fine, that they don’t have things figured out, either. But then they legitimize that you, a young person, got a raw deal.

You wonder how this is all going to change. How can it change?

You work on yourself first, because everyone says you need to get your life together before you work on anything else. So you start exercising regularly for the first time in a long time. (It helps that it’s January so lots around you are following their New Year’s Resolutions- for this month, anyway.) You write, write more than you have in a while. You hang with long-time friends who give you perspective. You mend things with family, because, like it or not, they’re your fam for the rest of your life. 

Nothing in your world is perfect, but nothing’s going to collapse, either. You move with regular motion after a while. You’re feeling connected again.

And then you dip your feet back into what you’ve been avoiding. You’re putting yourself back in the world.

You’re not scared of getting burned again. Well, you keep telling yourself that. You most likely WILL get burned again, but the love before? The fullness of being? Knowing you were fulfilling all that life’s purpose and you had your people, your group, backing you, fighting with you, together? It was all worth it before, even if it was only for a short time, and it’s worth it now. You just needed time to remember that. 

You meet a guy at the bar who’s cynical yet optimistic and raring to change his world. You meet others at a party who’s been wanting to bring you into an org for a while. Your former swagger that existed- while fighting for Bernie Sanders and when canvassing for state reps and alderwomen and when fighting for education funding and special education rights for your students- is showing again. 

You re-realize you DO have allies everywhere. You talk to the people you’ve been wanting to talk to for years, wanting to build movements together. You have coquito with a fellow movement builder and his family to regain that sense of urgency.

You grind your retainers at night, wondering how you’re gonna get screwed again. Being an Asian women from a working class background means people have tried to tokenize you, hypersexualize you. Because you’re young, people don’t think you understand the world enough, that you’re naive.

And you remember the people who build with you and who want to broaden the world, too. Think all you bring is an asset. 

You become optimistic again. Hardened, but optimistic. There are people willing to see you in your full humanity, but your hardened self, as much as it wants to see the full humanity in others, has been burned one too many times. And your instinct is to retreat.

You remember your first love then. That you opened up in a way you never had before. You shared everything, and being vulnerable was the source of all strength. You didn’t have that hardness when you were nineteen when you started dating, or 24 when you joined your first political organization. You were so ready to share all of you, because you wanted the listener to be empowered to open up, too. And then you built together.

None of that lasted. It was good while it lasted. And then you became bitter and casual like never before. Each time the relationship ended you became more distant from what you initially were fighting for.

That hurt will always be there, you say. But there’s only so much of life that I’m allowed to live while also holding this hurt, and I better take it on.

And so you dive in again in unknown, alien, harsh territory, and you’re not sure who’s there to grow with you. You’ve got the fam, friends, folk in your life in the background holding you down, though. 

And you’ve been in love enough times to know it’s worth fighting for.

You dive in, hoping to fall in love again with whatever comes.

Those kids.

You know those kids? Whose smiles you know are 100% genuine when you see them? Whose only worry seems to be what’s for lunch that day?

The ones who are trying their best so sincerely, who sometimes get it, sometimes don’t, but are doing everything in earnest?

The ones who help out without being asked to? The ones who just seem to lunge to action when they see something wrong happening?

The ones who are quick to crack a (bad) joke when they see someone who’s sad? The ones who’ll draw you a drawing as a holiday present of one of your favorite things (tea) because they wanted to share their soul and interests with you, knowing it’s not the material things that matter?

The ones who spend their precious money on other people? (I wouldn’t have thought ever to do that in elementary school)

Those kids who hug you and other classmates without you asking and the ones you have to teach, “Hey, not everyone wants a hug all the time. You have to ask them if they want to be hugged”?

Those kids.

Those kids are the ones who give me hope, that make me come into school every day. Those are the ones who push me to be a better person, to see the world through their eyes.

Those kids are the ones who I wish we could all be, because school and life beat us down.

We used to be that hopeful, creative, generous. I feel it beat out of me. Those kids? They remind me I had it all along, and that it’s worth fighting for.