Y’all know I am a fool about these kids in Carlos’ preK class. There are a couple that I am super foolish about and my heart is pinching up this week because Friday is the last day of school. I’ll probably never see these kids again. Their preK class is pulled together from schools all over the district, so they won’t all be moving to a different room on the same hallway next year.
We have been through a lot this year, so we took a selfie this week at the Moving Up ceremony.
The little girl with the award for Outstanding Bus Conduct is the Egyptian angel that I wrote about in The Least of These. For the first two months of school, she didn’t speak. Then one morning while we were building a tower with blocks, she held up a block and whispered, “red.” Look at how she sparkles.
The little girl in the red shirt, she’s my special baby. She gets more lap time than anyone else. She tucks her head under my chin and I tell her that her hair smells like coconuts and it’s my favorite smell in the whole world. She left some boogers on my shirt on Superhero Day but we found a solution. I’m going to miss that little girl. Every day I fight the voice in my head that tells me I’m a worthless piece of shit, but this girl sees something in me.
Mr Man posing in the back there? He’s a handful. One of the smartest kids in the class–been writing his name in a neat line since before Halloween. We play a game every morning where I sit next to Carlos in one of the tiny chairs and Mr. Man comes up behind me to tap me on the shoulder. I look one way and then the other–with him bobbing and ducking–and then I ask one of the other kids if someone is behind me. They giggle and say his name, but I pretend I can’t see him. He knows I love him. And I hope I will see him again one day.
The boy on the end there? He’s the quietest kid in the class–Silent E. He’s left the most boogers on my shirt lately. He loves his mama. One time when I was playing at his table, he touched my arm gently and pointed to his feet. “My mama got me new shoes.” I made a big fuss over them. Then a few weeks later, he whispered with his chin tucked down to his neck, “My mama car broke.” I was about to say, “Did she get it fixed?” but then I thought about how much that costs and said, “Oh, that’s a big problem, huh?” instead. He nodded and we left it at that.
Two weeks ago, Silent E was sobbing before school because he missed his mama. The teacher held him and rocked him. I held him for a while and his favorite sweatshirt that he wears every day smelled like old cigarettes.
A few mornings later, his friend came up to me and tattled that Silent E had been running in the classroom. I turned to him to remind him that it was a walking feet place and he shrunk away from me. His whole body got narrower. No matter how many times I said, “You’re not in trouble, honey!” he cowered in the corner of the reading area. He wasn’t playing, no faking. The idea twisted into my heart–Silent E already sees the world as a fearful place.
And wouldn’t you know it–once the teacher talked Silent E into joining the class on the rug, Mr Man threw something hard and it bounced up and hit Silent E right in the head. While the teacher dealt with Mr Man, I took Silent E in my lap and held him close. I floated my fingers back and forth from his brow to his cheek, up and down, to the same rhythm that we were rocking. He quieted some but was still hurting. When it was time to leave, I kissed him on the head. I went home and changed my boogery shirt.
I love this kid, and I don’t know what kind of world he lives in. But every day when it’s time for me to go, he gets in line for a hug. He’s little, so I pick him up in the air and whisper in his ear, “I love you. Go have a great day.” Same thing I say to Carlos, who mostly ignores me.
On Graduation Day, I waved to all the kids and took pictures, just in case their parents couldn’t be there. I called Silent E’s name from the bleachers and he waved back. After the ceremony (which Carlos sat out on the sidelines with G and me), we went back to the class for awards and snacks. Silent E lay in a tight little ball on the floor behind the teacher’s desk. I caught her eye and pointed to him. “Mama couldn’t come” she mouthed.
I sat down on the carpet with him. “I was so proud of you today! Which song was your favorite?” He didn’t answer. “Hey, I took some pictures of you–look.” He leaned over my phone and swiped through the photos. “How about I email these to your teacher and she can send them to your mom? Or maybe she can print them out and you can take them home?” He nodded silently. Then he got a long hug and left some boogers on my sleeve.
This morning he was wearing a new shirt. He pointed to a tiny cut on his leg. I asked what happened and Mr Man said, “He fell on the playground yesterday.” Silent E asked for two hugs today.
I tossed him into the air and caught him close, held him tight.
I don’t know where he will land. I don’t know where either of us will be in the fall, but Silent E taught me that other people’s boogers can be a real gift. A sign of trust, of love given with open arms.