Affirmation

April 04,2011
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

We had a busy Saturday this weekend (actually, we had a busy weekend--more on Sunday's activities later). While Scott took T. to her ice-skating lesson, I took L. to a two-hour chess workshop. The workshop was one of many activities sponsored by a county organization that promotes the idea that all kids are gifted, and that gifted education is more about innovative approaches to curriculum that can excite and inspire all kids--not just kids labeled "academically gifted" because of test scores. 

Hear, hear.

I'm all over THAT approach. When L. was in kindergarten I took him to a workshop sponsored by that same organization. He was only five years old, and spent two hours learning about musical instruments and then making a basic one out of supplied materials. That was five years ago. I don't know what happened in the intervening years. Somehow the availability of these twice/yearly workshops slipped off our radar. On Wednesday, when I was exploring the website again for the magnet school L. was accepted into I saw a link at the bottom announcing the workshops. Without hesitating too much I clicked over, found the one for the chess class (the Lego robotics one, alas, was already filled) and registered him.

While he didn't exactly jump up and down about the prospect when I told him, he seemed okay with it. 

I even got him out of the house on Saturday morning without too much drama. I was a little worried, though, about how the workshop would go. The last group event like that we tried was a flop, but I am stubborn that way--I just wasn't going to give up.

The other kids in the workshop seemed a quiet, eclectic, promising bunch. When L. entered the room, he stood there for moment, sizing it all up, trying to figure out where to go. A skinny boy in glasses bounded up to him. He jabbed one finger in the air at L.

"Do you know the name for the type of calculator that originated in China?" 

I exhaled in relief.

"An abacus," L. said, without missing a beat.

He was in.

************************

The workshops are held in a swanky private school about 20 minutes from our home. The school is housed on a beautiful campus and it serves middle through high school. Most of the parents dropped their kids off and left, happy to use the two-hours to run errands. But since L. can be a little unpredictable when it comes to organized events like that, I didn't want to go far. I found a bench in the hallway, cued up an album on my iPod, and graded papers while I waited. When I needed a break I'd stand, stretch, and wander the hallways, imagining what difference a $20,000/year education could make. If we could afford such a place, would it guarantee success for a child like L.? Would all our problems be solved?

I slipped in to use the bathroom at one point and I found the following on the back of the stall door:

Does anyone care? Someone had written, in small, tight handwriting. Who? I imagined a young middle school girl--feeling lost and overwhelmed by whatever was going on in her life. She must have felt like a small, tiny curled-up piece of herself; or, maybe, she didn't know who she really was. She must have felt so lost, insignificant; a tiny pinprick in the middle of a vast, spinning, and unfeeling world. 

I am familiar with all those feelings. I'm sure most people are. Adolescence is such a hard time, such an unforgiving place for so many. But what made a difference to me, what stood out, were the words of positive support written on the otherwise blank blue back of the bathroom stall door:

I do!

We all do!

The heart behind those words really struck me. It's not often I see gentle, positive words written on the back of bathroom stall doors. They seemed to fold around the original question and, by extension, the girl who asked it; they seemed to lift her up, hold her to the light. I'm glad no one has scrubbed the words away, or painted over them. To me, they seem necessary--words to chisel onto walls everywhere, around the world:

Does anyone care?

We do!

We all do...