People ask in meetings, bars, doctors’ offices, expecting an answer I won’t give. By now, I’ve learned how to be both consoling and concise.
I can’t just say no. This abrasive honesty makes these people who, at best, barely know me, wince. No matter what it might take from me, I respond in a way that gives them hope. I smile, shrug. Instead.
When any of my lovelies, my high school students, used to ask — at the beginning of every year, and often again later — I would say the same thing. Without making eye contact, I answered, wondering if I should say something else. More. Closer to the truth.
But this is easy. What I’m used to. So, even in my classroom, I answered the way I do anywhere else.
One time, the question finds me as I’m prowling my classroom’s perimeter, stepping between bookbags strewn on the floor. I want to make sure everyone understands their assignment, they’re doing what they’re supposed to, they’re okay.
When she asks, I’m almost to her desk, midway between the wall and window. Her voice sounds, always, like petulance. She requires constant cajoling. To put her phone away. Stop talking. Start her work. I see her mouth open, and instantly remind myself how to practice patience — again.
But she surprises me; this isn’t a complaint. She’s just curious.
“Ms. Graham, you have any kids?”
Hearing myself, I almost gasp. With one word, I’ve stopped hiding, stepping out from the shadows of what people prefer to hear. I’m astonished by how it feels to glow.
She doesn’t ask, but, for once, I’m eager to continue. To finally say what I mean. Pausing at her desk, I tell her what I’ve known since I started teaching, what, for me, will always be true now that I’ve been blessed with my lovelies, who I’ll love within or outside of a classroom.
“For me, it’s either lovelies or kids, and …”
She bats her hand, having heard enough. “NevermindIneedyoutoomuch,” she says in the span of one breath — just as, finally, I’m releasing my own.