1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10. “Knock out! You win!” Digital confetti plummeted my Wii Sports avatar. I breathed heavily in contentment. Winning felt great, but that wasn’t my primary goal. Back when Anne read my aura, she suggested boxing as a means of letting out my anger. I took her suggestion. Landing as many right hooks to the face on the computer’s highest level and unleashing my anger on Nintendo’s little kids with big heads was my goal. With each jab in the air of the wii remote and conjoined joystick, I imagined a person or obstacle in the recent days that sparked my anger on the receiving end of the television screen. Although the small bursts of anger in random moments of frustration have not completely subsided, they have decreased in numbers and length since taking up Wii boxing.
Fully exhausted, I laid down on my bed. Looking out the narrow window above my bed, I could see the lines of windows going up and up on the Kaiser Hospital building. How many people are on the otherside of those windows, I wondered, stuck in a bed, too incapacitated to go out and build more upon their lives? Next my thoughts turned toward myself. Why am I not going out and enjoying the city more and building a strong base for myself in this city? I paused. Again I asked myself, this time ridding the question of its rhetoricalness. Why? Fear, I thought; fear of disrupting a safe, predictable, and comfortable routine that was already in place, and fear that a new, unknown routine would not provide the amenities that my current one does.
For a time, I had the same routine as I do now in Los Angeles. Work, sleep, gym, free time reading, surfing the web, or watching something rented on netflix, work, sleep, and so on. Eventually I cut the habit because I could not take the lack of social, physical, and intellectual stimulation. My routine had become dull, repetitive, and depressing. Not only that, I was still caught within the walls I’d built around myself (see my post All My Rage in These Walls) originally intended for protection against emotional damage.
With an interest in becoming a teacher, I began volunteering at an elementary school close to home and work, one I’d seen on walks in the area several times. I started working in the library, but eventually made my way into a 2nd grade classroom. I set my roots there. I enjoyed the teacher in her style, her intelligence, her sense of humor, and I felt she put me to good use, setting me often with special needs students. Quickly I realized I was very fond of this age group, as well as this particular group of kids. As my mother, a long time teacher and resource specialist put it, 2nd graders are old enough to have distinct personalities and a strong intellectual curiosity, but are still young enough to love you unquestionably. I experienced that love in the moments leading up to my Thanksgiving break last year.
Dry macaroni and beans lay atop paper plates at each table, ready to be glued down to a cutout turkey. During lunch I’d prepared the plates carefully, making sure everyone had equal tools to manifest their gobbler. Click, clunk. I glanced over at the clock. 1:49p.m. Knowing a long drive back to Sacramento lay ahead of me, I tried to make eye contact with the teacher as I inched toward the door. Once our eyes met I let her know I was leaving. My vacation was beginning a little early, and it would be two weeks before I’d be in the classroom again. She brought this up and told the kids to say goodbye to Mr. Littman. The sounds of feet by the dozens hitting the hollow floor filled the portable classroom. Three quarters of the kids rushed over to me and gave me hugs intended to keep me from exiting the classroom. A half smile spread across my face.
Walking back to my car I paused inextricably when a revelatory thought struck me. I had not accepted the love of those little kids. I’d come to the conclusion, almost concurrent with the event, that this was in the nature of these children. It was their age. I’d done nothing to earn their love. The prolonged containment inside the walls I’d built severely warped my self perception. It was a revelation. This meant that I could take any positive reflection on my being and turn it into a negative one. I’d finally become aware of what the walls were doing to me, my confidence, and my ability to love and be loved.
Months later, a progressive moment occurred involving one student in particular, an autistic boy. A substitute was filling in for the day and the boy’s aid/therapist was out for a conference. This left me as the only adult in the classroom that knew his habits, his learning process, and how to deal with some of his behavioral issues. Of all days for a standardized 2nd grade math testing, this had to be the worst. I could see a storm brewing from miles away. The sub passed out the exam. I watched from the kidney table in the back, as the boy wiggled around uncomfortably in his seat. After a few instructions, the sub instructed everyone to begin. As I expected, the boy worked on the first two pages, then retreated to drawing, his favorite (and all consuming) activity.
The sub was apparently instructed to make sure the autistic boy finished a certain amount of his test. Once she realized the boy was avoiding the test, she asked him calmly to finish. Then sternly. Then consequences became a factor. She threatened to make him stay in during recess if he did not finish to a certain point. Giant tears formed behind the glass of the nine-year-old’s spectacles. Because the boy wore long-sighted glasses, his tears were put under a microscope. The sub placed him alone at a table in the front of the classroom then came back to consult me. He couldn’t stay in during recess, his sulking would just continue. He needed to know there was a definite end to the overwhelming work, otherwise it would be a wash.
The bell rang. Recess was over. Under my advice, the sub had let the boy have his recess. Looking around the portable after lunch I noticed everything was in order, except an empty seat. The boy had not returned. Out I went into the school yard, knowing what was on the boy’s mind. Returning to class meant he had to deal with that test and the discipline.
I found him swinging on the basketball hoop’s pole. “It’s time to go back to class,” I said. The boy moved further away from me. “No,” he replied. I followed, slowly and calmly. “We’re working on thank you notes for Nancy.” She happened to be a coworker of mine who was their grocery store field trip guide a week ago. I knew the boy loved video games. Super Mario characters and levels were practically all he ever drew. “You can draw Mario in your thank you note. I know Nancy would love that”. No response came from the boy. Better than a no, I thought to myself. Then: “Have you ever played Mario Kart”. “Yeah,” I answered. “It’s one of my favorite games”. As our conversation progressed, I corralled him toward the portable at the other end of the blacktop. The more I went into detail about levels and eventually other Mario games, the closer he physically came to me. By the time we’d reached the onramp to the portable, we were side by side. At this point the video game conversation was one sided. I was merely listening to what the little kid with a big head had to say about Nintendo’s plumber in overalls. As he spoke, I stared into the classroom, now only half paying attention to what he had to say. A step before the ramp I felt the warmth of a small hand cling to mine. In that moment, I let myself be loved.
I need to get back to REAL little kids with big heads. The digital ones are serving their purpose, but the ones in the real world positively affect a wider scope of my emotions.