To the 4th and 5th graders at Ayuda:
Wednesday began my time interning with you at Day Camp. With 20 or so of you in the summer heat of a classroom, I’m there to help organize the chaos that naturally ensues.
I didn’t know I’d look at a room full of 9 and 10 year-olds with such frustration. And it’s not because you all are balls of energy that need twenty-three reminders to raise your hand before speaking while I read the words of Dr. Seuss. Or because one of you refuses to respond, refuses to even look at me, as I ask for a third time if you’d like to color your workbook pages with me. Not even because one just cursed, one just ran down the hall away from their teacher, one just made his friend cry because he doesn’t quite know how to play scatter-ball.
No, I’m not frustrated at you all. I don’t know how I ever could be. This mess runs deeper into a tangled natty wreckage of my soul. It’s a piece of shattered glass, bright green—the color of the grass, the leaves, the growing of weeds that weave through flowers, the ones that squeeze and choke and kill.
“Miss Alexis, we’ll still cheer you on,” he says. His big brown eyes, his tender words, pierce my heart.
And so I take my flimsy tower to the front of the classroom. It’s made of ten index cards, held together with ten inches of blue masking tape. Four cards rolled into long hot-dog support the flat-rough top. They rest atop an index card supported by four more rolled columns. It’s a teetering fragile creation doomed to collapse under the weight of Froggie—the stuffed animal the class was instructed to build the towers for. I didn’t want to test mine. I didn’t want to be shamed in front of you all. But his big eyes begged.
Froggie is lowered and held atop, I plead a prayer for a miracle, peer through one eye as I hold in my breath. All of you kids are watching, waiting. Froggie isn’t even fully let go of before my tower falls down. Six or so of the students rush up, shifting and mending and strengthening my broken construction.
We’ll fix it— you all try to assure me. I’m not so convinced, but here and now, it doesn’t matter. I never felt so included, so supported, so cherished by a mass of young souls.
Froggie is gingerly placed atop again. I cross my fingers. Silence hovers over the room as the countdown begins—1… 2… 3… —and the tower lives.
I didn’t know my heart would swell inside up to my chest, threaten to leak through my eyes. My miracle came. What beautiful children you all are.
Yet. I hear her say she’s had 36 boyfriends. One admits he doesn’t think he’s wanted at home. Another cannot sleep because his neighbors don’t sleep; they yell, they set off fire crackers, scream some more. He didn’t have breakfast, didn’t get sleep. She hasn’t seen her father.
Ten-year-olds shouldn’t harbor such pain. Their small bodies cannot carry such heavy loads. But they do. They must.
And so I want to tell you, my beautiful 4th and 5th graders, you are brave. You are smart, truly amaze me with the things you know. You read when there is free time. You dream of being cops and stopping crime. You are brave and beautiful and I want you to know. I want you to believe. I never want you to hear you are not good enough, not smart enough, not tough enough, not white enough. Simply never enough.
You are who they are. Beautiful and brave. Fearfully and wonderfully made. You can build towers that hold the world together.