This little fellow has come into my life. He’s thin with wary, pale blue eyes. The child’s a skeptic; a hard-earned, already knows the world can be brutal, skeptic. And he’s seven. Honestly, there are moments when he can push my buttons like a lightning strike…fast and powerful before I even know it’s coming. The heat flushes under my skin and I have to bite my tongue. And then there are moments when I find his smile and I know I won’t pinch his head off that day. (Just kidding, seriously.)
Those smiles of his are rare. We go for weeks without smiles. Pain lives inside his tiny body and a smile just seems ridiculous to him. Of course I only have him with me for forty-five minutes of the day…just a blip in his massive twenty-four hour a day span. But for those 45 minutes, he’s mine. And when I see him in the halls, he’s mine. Once a child comes into my room, I get a little possessive, and whether they know it or not, they become part of the slew of students I call my own.
This past week, something eased at this little fellow’s home. I’m not sure exactly what but I have my guesses. He’d never be able to describe what it is, but something lessened its grip just enough for his anger to weaken. And then, it came. A very awkward smile…he did not want it to come out, and he fought it as long as he could. And then before he knew it, another smile popped out. I just smiled back, thankful for any grin I could get.
To some, it may be hard to believe that children in this world don’t smile. It seems as natural as breathing to most kids, but there are so many who have no reason to smile. Their home lives are broken and painful. They come to school starving. They come in with dirty clothes and unkempt hair. A lot of students struggle to find any reason to smile at all.
The mother in me wants to squeeze them until they feel better. I want to make it easier for them even though I know I can’t fix what so many of our kids live through. I want to trim their jagged nails and take them for hair cuts. I want to buy them a pair of matching socks or a pair of shoes that fit. My heart aches to wash the smell of neglect out of their hair. The teacher in me knows many of those things are beyond my capacity to do. Not because I don’t want to, but because we all know I would get fired for bathing other people’s children at school.
BUT…what can I do? I can not lose my temper when my buttons are repeatedly pushed to the point of exhaustion. I can be kind even when I’m the grumpy one. I can do my best to make a child smile, even if it’s only for a minute.
I don’t think anyone besides educators (and the spouses of educators that have to hear this every night) fathom the condition of little people…not just their outwardly condition, but their hearts. Their souls are fragile, and many of them are living through things we think only adults go through.
Those needy babies keep me grounded, they keep me focused on something other than myself. I cherish the children who smile easily and say thankful prayers for their joy, and then I pray again for the little ones who don’t smile at all. I pray the happy giggles of other children will rub off on them. And honestly, most days I pray for the strength to handle their moods and the ability to remember why they’re moody in the first place.
He smiled at me this week…a smile, not a snarl (and yes, he’s snarled at me many times). It was a good smile and it made my week.