I had already begun to close the human-sized windows in my classroom, certain that non of my club attendees were coming, when Derrick strolled in. “No club today?”
I shrugged my shoulders, “No one else showed up except you.”
He set his sports equipment down. “Good, let’s work on my essay.”
I sat at one of the front desks, taking out my correcting pens. “Alright, lets make this into something awesome.”
Derrick sat across from me, his blue eyes sparkling out of his light brown face. “Ms J?”
“Why do you love kids so much?”
The question completely took me aback. I didn’t know how to answer it. Doesn’t everyone love kids? , I wanted to ask. But, I already knew the answer to that. I looked out my window at the Bavarian forests in the distance.
“Because you guys deserve to be loved. Every kid ought to know they’re loved every minute of everyday, regardless of what you do. There’s enough heartbreak in life when you get older,” I finally responded, not looking at him, in fear of choking up.
Derrick nodded his head and started rearranging his loose-leaf paper and pencils.
This conversation made me think about a book I discussed with Derrick and some classmates in my creative writing class earlier. I was reading The One Plus One by JoJo Moyes out loud (certain pertinent sections) that I thought would be great for showing character thoughts and feelings. However, there were deeper reasons for sharing this book: I wanted them to hear how I felt about them, through the voice of Jess, without being weird or too sentimental.
There’s this touching part of the book that so perfectly mirrors my feelings about kids whose parents I can tell aren’t giving them the kind of attention and listening that their kids really need:
“when Nicky had turned up two years later, and everyone had told her she was mad to take on someone else’s child…she ignored them. Because she could see instantly in the wary little shadow who had stood a minimum twelve inches away from anyone, from his father even, a little of what happened to you when your mother didn’t hold you close, or tell you all the time that you were the best thing ever, or even notice when you were home: a little part of you sealed over.” (Jojo Moyes, The One Plus One, p. 245)
Moyes captures so perfectly what I’ve experienced as a teacher for the past nine years of my experience working with kids ages 11-20. I’ve battled with parents about what their kids need emotionally and how no matter what I do in the classroom if they aren’t giving their kids what they need emotionally (time + love) whatever I did was only a drop in the bucket, really.
When my wonderful friends talk about their kids (be it positive or negative) I hear the love in their voices, the struggle and I’m so proud of them that my eyes tear up. I’ve heard my adult friends talk about the struggles with their own parents and then see how they are with their kids and how they’ve broken the cycle of whatever bad they grew up with.
One of the reasons I love the novel The One Plus One is because Jess’s feeling mirror mine so perfectly in her love of both of her children, including Nicky, who biologically isn’t “hers”. I don’t have any kids “of my own” but I have taught over 900 kids who “belong” to others. Gosh I love those kids. With every particle of my being. I love their stories, drawings, cool hairdos, pet rocks, stuffed animals, diverse handwriting, and the varieties of their laughter.
I love Derrick’s funky handwriting, how he has to have a conversation in order to really understand something and I especially like going to his basketball games, even though I’m such a sports ignoramus. The feeling of being enmeshed in others lives and being a part of a greater whole: that’s what makes me love kids. They see the world from an innocent perspective. They are beautiful, untainted, willing to try-out new ideas, apologize for things that aren’t their fault, and deal with a lot of adult failings with grace I rarely see adults exhibit.
Some people tell me I’m crazy for teaching middle-school. It’s my favourite age. I relish in teens like Nicky in Moyes’ novel, who wear weird clothes and try to overcome a rocky personal history. I enjoy watching math wizards like Tanzie talk about algebraic expressions with the same joy I like to talk about my latest favourite book.
I love how literature connects us together and makes us feel less alone. It makes me sad when I see adults burned out and unable to see the suffering of kids around them. I wonder what has made them so hard and unyielding. And I wonder what made Derrick ask me that question a week ago. It is a question that has haunted me everyday since he asked it.
I’ve started another Jojo Moyes book. I can already tell it isn’t as wonderful (to me) as The One Plus One, because Jess, Ed, Tanzie and Nicky were characters I feel already exist in my world. If you also love kids and believe that things eventually turn out alright (even when it feels like your world has fallen apart) you must read this book.