At the end of each week in sixth grade, we have “Fun Friday” 30 minutes of social time at the end of the day.   Sadly, recess is thing of the past when students reach middle school.     Although it was warm today, the fields were wet and we opted for game time inside.  I had papers to check, but I chose instead to play UNO with six students.   Some had never played (cursed video games!) so we all assured them that they would learn as we went along.  I loved watching each face wrinkle up in disbelief at the realization of drawing four, changing the color to the “only one NOT in (my) hand,”  or being skipped or reversed.   I laughed out loud when one boy looked at me with a gleam in his eye and said, “I’m going to get you, Mrs. L. I’m going to pay you back for this year.”  We laughed.  The kids talked incessantly (adolescent kids just like to hear themselves talk..a lot). 

 It was time well spent with my kids.  I now have work to do at home, but that’s ok.  You can’t measure what they learned today on any standardized test and knowing the rules of UNO won’t secure them a place in a top-tier college or make them competitive with Chinese kids.  But maybe they will go home tonight and instead of watching tv, suggest a game of cards with their family.  Maybe they will some day look back on this moment, laughing with their teacher on the floor and knowing that all things said in veiled threats toward her were not taken seriously.  Maybe they will understand the importance of laughter and playtime with their own children one day.   What they reminded me of today is my calling to be a teacher wasn’t rooted in a deep desire to teach kids about energy, weather,  tides or our vast universe.   It was because I love kids, especially these adolescent rascals. I love their awkwardness, their need to be affirmed, their laughter, and their perfect imperfections.    I need to remember to give them  a break every now and then to give myself one as well.  

Living by Example

The world has lost a shining example of resiliency and perseverance.  Monica Pence Barlow epitomized the motto: ‘Never Give Up.’ She was my second cousin, and when you are from a family as large as mine (I believe there are 74 first cousins on my Mom’s side of the family) you really can’t possibly know everyone.  Over the past few years, I got to know Monica more as our lives paralleled.  I remember she and Tony speaking to one another at a Christmas party right before he had started his first clinical trial.  She was diagnosed several months before Tony, and the conversation ended with “I’ll pray for you, Tony.”   He was touched by her sincerity and strength.  It was exactly what he needed to hear before going into his clinical trial.  

In January, Monica began coming to Nashville for a clinical trial at Sarah Cannon Research Institute.   She did not look or behave as someone sick or in pain.  She walked into her appointment, head high.   When she described her side effects and symptoms to the nurse at one appointment, I couldn’t believe it.  She had just been on the phone,  talking to someone in the Orioles office, tying up loose ends for the big Fanfest.  Strength.  

On the way home, she turned to me and said, “I noticed that you knew where everything was in the hospital.  Was this hard for you today?”   I confessed that there was just one difficult moment.    I remembered how Tony would go sit down in the waiting room, as I would check him in for his appointment.   Today, when I walked into the waiting room, and turned around, I saw a shaggy-haired young man with his head in his hands, staring at the floor.  A couple of years before, I had turned to see someone else in this same position.  It literally took my breath away.  I didn’t cry.  I didn’t want to run.  I just remembered.  

“If it’s too much, Sarah, I can stay at Hope Lodge.” “Monica, if you can do this,  I can certainly do this.”   

She talked candidly about  cancer and how it would not define her life.  Her job gave her great joy, and it was a welcome reprieve from cancer.  “I don’t know if I have months or years, but I will not let it take over my present life.”   Courage. 

After I dropped her off at the airport, I had some time to think.   How does someone so young become this strong?  Did she learn this from her parents? Her grandparents? Was this a trait that passes through the generations? I knew stories of the benevolent, hard-working great-grandparents that she had never met.  It struck me that it didn’t matter that she had never known them because she had lived her life exactly as they had.  It made me think about my students over the years who miss days and days of school or never complete homework because they “don’t feel good.”  I thought about their enabling parents who rob their children of the opportunity to learn to persevere when things are tough.  

I had meant to ask her permission to write about her on her last planned visit to Nashville, but I never got the chance.   This week, I’m going to take a short break from teaching about ocean tides, to teach my sixth grade science students a lesson about character. They are going to watch the Baltimore news piece about Monica Pence Barlow.   We are going to talk about digging deep when things are tough, and being not a spectator in life,  but an accountable participant.   Monica will be their example. 

Tony’s birthday recently passed.   A day after his birthday, I saw that my teenage daughter had posted something on twitter.  In the picture, she is a little over two and in her Daddy’s arms.  The text below the picture read :  “Unable are the loved to die.  For love is immortality.”   I would offer these words to Monica’s family, but I am certain they already know them.  They learned this from their parents, grandparents and generations before.   Monica will touch lives to come, not because they will know her but because they will know of her.