The answer to all the questions
Dear Evan and Lulu,
The best part of my job is going into classrooms and getting to be with children. It reminds me of how exciting it is to spend your days at school. The little things students look forward to: librarian visits, and the big things that they talk, think, and dream about for weeks in advance: readings of The Grinch or making gingerbread houses. (Just to list a few things the two of you have blabbered non-stop about for the last few weeks.) Kids have energy that is contagious and when you sit before them expected to provide entertainment they will shoot questions at you rapid fire until your eardrums beg for surrender and your mouth finally remembers how to form sounds. In these situations it is best to not worry so much about the questions, but instead just focus on the answer. Sometimes the answer is skipping right into a new story. Sometimes it is getting up and moving around to shake the questions loose from their joints. Usually the answer is silly or surprising, just to focus attention back to what we’re working on; sharing stories.
Today as I sat in a classroom the principal’s voice came over the loudspeaker and announced cheerfully that the school was entering a “safe student situation” and ended with the words “this is not a drill” that echoed in my mind for a few seconds afterward. As I watched from my small stool the teacher of the classroom locked her door, closed all the blinds and picked up her phone to make some calls. She motioned me to keep reading with a flippancy that suggested she does this every day. I peered down into 22 Kindergartener’s gazes to glean what I could from their reaction. Stoic. Nothing out of the ordinary. So we sang “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush” an extra time with added emphasis on brushing our teeth, because that was the answer for that question.
When I heard those words “safe student situation” and later when I was able to leave and saw three police cars parked outside, my mind went to the place it always goes when I hear about any type of danger in a school. It went to you. I thought of your excitement for holiday events that are happening at school. Your determination when working on your homework the night before. Your sweet lips as I kissed you goodbye this morning. I went through 12 years of public schooling without ever having a “drill” like this, let alone a “not a drill”. I started wondering too many questions. What is a safe student situation? Why are we in one right now? How long can I sing “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush” before they notice I’m slightly nervous? (30 minutes is the answer to that one). I finally just focused on the answer. We sang, and danced, and laughed until the situation was resolved. We got back to sharing stories.
On a larger scale we’ve also been asking a lot of questions lately about schools and safety. With some horrendous violence happening in our U.S. schools, there is a good reason to ask questions. Is it gun laws that are to blame? Is it mental health, or video games, or lack of parental involvement? Rapid fire questions to whoever is sitting on the stool in front.
I don’t know how to explain these questions to you. I only know the answer. The answer to all of those questions, and almost every other question shot my way, is love. Here is the way you answer the question about school violence. Love is what you can give every student in your school. Enough love to make their day better. Enough love to lift them up when they need it most. Love them as if they are your family, or as if they don’t have anyone else to love them. Love your teachers who work so hard to keep you happy and safe every day. They have thankless jobs that don’t pay in dollars, but really only in returned love. Love the janitor, the lunch providers, the crossing guards and the principal. Even love the crazy librarian who is signing an off key song about running around a bush.
Don’t focus too much on the questions. They will come, go, and change forms and come back again. People will get so caught up in the questions that they will never get to the answer. You already know the answer. I watch it in your own faces just as I watch it in the faces of the classrooms I visit. Even when the questions seem to fly too quickly. Even when the adults seem to mess everything up. Especially when you feel like you are not being loved in return. That is when you show them the answer.
So we can get back to sharing stories, like we were sent here to do.