The first time I did this project was in 2000, when I was student teaching, and I've done it every year in my class since. It is my most favorite thing to do, as a teacher, and I love hearing the stories that come out of it. I also think that it creates a family type of environment, in my class, and may be why I've never had a verbal or physical fight in my room between my students. I always feel like a therapist, during this week that presentations are going on, because I hear so many sad stories, so many emotions bottled up that these teenagers may have never shared in public before. I hear about depression, loss, suicide, prison, abuse, families being separated and one year I even heard a student tell us that his father had held a gun to his head. (Of course, by law, I call CPS if the presentations or essays involve abuse, neglect or illegal activity.)
This year has been especially tough. Many of my students speak of relatives in Mexico, even their own mothers and fathers, who were deported, leaving them in the care of group homes or other family members. It breaks my heart to hear these stories and that we are separating mothers from their children, even though they have been here for years and have been supporting their family, as a working member of American society. Whatever you think about immigration changes when you work with a bunch of students who are not citizens, cannot apply to colleges but have lived here their whole lives or are being raised by someone other than their parents because their parents were sent back to Mexico. I understand there is a "right" way to do things but I don't think separating families is necessarily always "right." (But this is another post, one I am not educated about the topic enough to write.)
Today, three beautiful girls, talked about their battle with depression. They spoke of taking pills to end their life or trying to hang themselves - 16 year old girls. Girls I thought had it all together, girls in my Honors class, girls that seemed so "normal." These young women are struggling and their demons lay deep inside, and this will be something they battle their whole lives. I had two boys talk about being gay, and coming out to their family and friends - Juniors in high school. I told them how brave they were, how they did something at such a young age many cannot do, and wanted to tell them that there is a whole wide world out there that may be not as judgmental (should be not as judgmental) and to hang in there, it will get better. So much pain in these little souls, so much heartache.
I leave school feeling drained, feeling as if I carry all of these students' weight on my shoulders as well, wishing I could take it all away for them and that they could lead a normal, teenage life. But, instead of hanging with friends or going to work a mall job, two of my girls said they go home to take care of their little siblings because their moms work until late and their dads aren't around - one was even left (at 9 years old) to take care of her 2 month old baby sister who she found crying in the living room with no one else around. These kids shouldn't have to deal with this shit.
Their struggles weigh heavy on me, even though I've had my own struggles. High school wasn't easy for me either, I also remember feeling like an outcast, feeling like no one understood and feeling like my parents were my enemies; but I didn't go through anything like this. These are real problems, adult problems, not teenage kid stuff. Some have lived whole lifetimes before they will turn 16, and I have no idea what that is like. Their stories shake me to the very core and many I never forget.
I share my own song and story with them every year as well, and each year I pick a different song (because the same song doesn't represent me every year). This year I chose this song and I wrote the following, as my presentation. Take a read if you'd like.
One of my students wrote this, at the end of his narrative, and I will always remember it. He said, "Life doesn't write me, I write my life." This is something we all need to remember. If these kids can overcome all that they've been through, and are still coming to school and still working hard for their futures, we can too. Let's do it for them, let's do it because of them. Never lose sight of your goals, never stop trying to achieve them. Hopefully these kids won't either. As another student said, "I'm short on money but long on hope." Aren't we all.
My Song of the Self presentation, written August 2014 (I almost cried many times as I read it, the kids cry too when they present theirs. I believe that crying is good for the soul.):
On December 8th, 2010 I found out I was pregnant. After 9 months of trying I finally saw those little pink lines on that stick and was oh so happy. I ran out to tell my husband, as he was setting up the Christmas tree, and he was happy too, we just couldn’t believe it had finally happened for us. We decorated the Christmas tree that night knowing that by next Christmas, our baby would be here with us, to celebrate the holidays.
Late January I was headed to the hospital because something was wrong. After waiting and waiting, and my husband joining me from his long drive back from where he was hunting, and we saw our baby, our little blueberry, on the screen during the ultrasound, slumped over and not moving. Was he/she still alive? The tech, of course, couldn’t tell us but the doctors later did. I went home to have a baby that I couldn’t keep, one that would not be here for Christmas the next year.
Those next months were hard. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I felt like I failed our family, our friends, I felt like a disappointment. I felt alone, like no one understood and like I would never be a mother, and that I didn’t even want to try again. I was hurt, and didn’t understand why this had happened to us. I was healthy, wasn’t I? I did everything I was supposed to do but don’t get to have the baby I always dreamed of. I was so angry. In August of that year, on her birth day, I sent balloons into the air with a letter to our sweet blueberry. I hoped and prayed that we would meet her again one day, and that maybe she just wasn’t ready to join our family yet.
After her birthday that year I wrote this [here]: So many emotions, so many feelings. It was overwhelming and at this moment I realized - it WAS over and THIS, THIS is the other side. THIS is what I've been pretending to feel this whole time to everyone around me, THIS is the feeling I thought I'd never get back. Well, it's here again and I'm so excited. We made it and it's unbelievable what we've been through - OH MY GOD!!! I had decided to move on, to forge ahead and to come out the other side, a stronger person. There was a light at the end of the tunnel and I had found it.
In October of 2011 I found out I was pregnant again and wrote this [also here]:
Today, after trying for 5 months (and not really trying for the past month), I took a pregnancy test and low and behold I was pregnant again! I had to look at those two little lines on that test strip three times before it sunk in because this is something we've wanted for a very long time. It has been a long, sad, and trying journey but here we are again - a little more experienced and a little more cautious, but excited none-the-less!How do I feel about it? I am nervous but hopeful. I truly believe that my Nani went to Heaven, met our Blueberry and said, "What are you doing here? You should be down on Earth with them, not up here with me. Get down there!" And she sent his/her little spirit back to Earth to be with us, this time as a teeny, tiny lemon.
Ian, my husband, also wrote me a song that week, and left it on my desk one day at school:
You're gonna get a little belly
that's gonna be like dirt
that's gonna grow a seed
that's gonna be a person.
We're gonna have a little person
that's gonna look like you
that's gonna look like me
that's gonna live in our house.
We're gonna take that little person
and teach it all about the pretty things we see
then we'll send it off to college.
We're gonna buy a little beach house
with flowers in the front
and an ocean in the back
so our person can come visit.
We're gonna hold eachother's hand
and look back at this time
when things feel so unsure
then we will hug our person's person.
I tried to stay positive even though I was scared, I knew that this was our baby and we would finally get to meet her. I had to stay positive even though I was nervous every day that something would happen, every single day. I am still nervous, even though she’s here, you never stop being nervous, as a mother.
On July 2nd, 2012 our daughter Lemon Ray Angeline was born. Lemon because we called her a lemon in the womb, Ray because she was our ray of sunshine and Angeline because as I sat with my dying grandmother, a little lemon was growing inside of me but I didn’t know it yet.
Sometimes life doesn’t go as planned. Sometimes bad things happen to good people and sometimes you can’t explain the things that happen to you. But, what defines you, as a person, is how you come back from those hard times, how you get up after you’ve gotten knocked down and you keep going, even when it’s tough.
I chose this song because it is my daughter’s favorite song. We put it on, she dances and sings the whole thing and it melts my heart. It is her song, the song that always makes me think of her and the one that her daddy and her will dance to at her wedding. I don’t know where I heard it for the first time, but it will never represent anything else to me besides being about my Lemon. The night we listened to it for the first time, after dinner, and we all danced and Lemon asked him to play it “again, again” and it was one of the best nights of my life.
Every day I count my blessings. I know that not everyone is blessed like us to have the child that we do, and so many women are trying for families they may never have. Every moment, even the tough ones, I am thankful for because I know so many don’t get to experience them. I am so happy that I got out of bed, tried again, and have the family I’ve always wanted. Am I a proud mama? You bet.