Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Breaking Away

A colleague brought a yearbook to school the other day from the year I graduated high school.  It wasn't from my school, but the other high school in my city at that time.  We were looking through the book to find a picture of the mother of one of my current students.  (As a side note, I am a bit horrified that I have now been teaching long enough to have a student whose mother graduated from high school in the same year as me!) 

On the same page as the student's mother's senior picture were pictures of several other people I knew at that time.  My best friend early in high school, M-, was on that page and when I saw her senior picture it immediately took me back to some of the times we had shared together.  I was definitely a rule-follower in high school (much as I am now), but I did have a few tiffs with my parents.  These episodes were very rare though, and because of that, I remember exactly what they were concerning.  One was about M-'s boyfriend -- a Robert Smith-styled guy with wild black hair, unusual clothing and the occasional red lipstick.  I just couldn't understand why my parents were wary of this young man and reluctant to let me trot around Southern California as the third wheel with him and M-.

A natural part of a teenager's life is separating himself from his parents, becoming his own person, independent from and sometimes in direct opposition to the authority figures in his life. I did not want to hear my parents' opinions or cautionary tales because I wanted to prove them wrong as a means of becoming myself.  Yet, even though I remember this feeling completely, I find myself doing the same thing with the students in my classes, particularly the seniors.  The poor dears -- they leave their own parents each morning hoping for some respite, only to find themselves in my class baraged with even more advice and unsolicited words of wisdom.  But I cannot stop myself.  And sometimes, it helps.

For National Poetry Month, I have been sharing poems in a variety of ways with my students.  On a few ocasions I have read poems I have written.  Last week, one of those poems came with a Public Service Announcement.  One of my cousins passed away at the age of 19 due to meningococcal disease.  What she thought was a bad cold or flu ended up taking her life. I shared her story with my students and suggested they read what they can about the disease and decide if vaccination would be appropriate.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states: "The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends routine vaccination of all persons 11-18 years of age with 1 dose of meningococcal conjugate vaccine at the earliest opportunity. Pre-teens who are 11-12 years old should be routinely vaccinated at the 11-12 year old check-up as recommended by ACIP. This visit is the best time for adolescents to receive meningococcal conjugate vaccine. Also, since the occurrence of meningococcal disease increases during adolescence, health-care providers should vaccinate previously unvaccinated pre-teens and teens 11-18 years of age with meningococcal conjugate vaccine at the earliest possible health-care visit.

College freshmen living in dormitories are at increased risk for meningococcal disease and should be vaccinated with meningococcal conjugate vaccine before college entry if they have not previously been vaccinated. The risk for meningococcal disease among nonfreshmen college students is similar to that for the general population of similar age (age 18-24 years). However, since the vaccines are safe and produce immunity, they can be provided to nonfreshmen college students who want to reduce their risk for meningococcal disease."

I followed this information with a poem I wrote one year after my cousin Amanda passed away.  The poem is written from a mother's point of view, though I did not discuss the poem with my aunt.  It was written before I became a mother myself; and when I read it now, it has an even stronger impact on me.  I'd like to share the poem with you:


I bought you twenty balloons
colored like licorice
          like sunshine
          like the Mediterranean Sea,
things you love, things you have never seen.

I bought you all twenty,
had them blown up big
and tied to curly ribbon.

They tug at my fist,
wanting me to
set them free, let them loose,
see them soar,
until they are only tiny dots
disappearing into distance, but
bought these twenty balloons
and I do not want to let go,
will not let go,
cannot let go.

I close my fist up tight
'til my nails are leaving half-moons
in my palm
and tears itch the corners
of my eyes,

but while I
the one in the middle
wiggles right out
and dances off to tomorrow.

I watch
                and I watch
                                               and I watch
until all I see is the space
it left behind.

                                                      While I blinked,
                                                      my baby danced out of my sight.

                                                      The tug is on my heart,
                                                      the half-moons on my soul.

                                                      You were only nineteen;
                                                      you will never be twenty.

                                                      And all I feel is the space you left behind.

I experience tremendous joy as a teacher.  I care so much for my students and hope the lessons they learn in my class, both academic and personal, will inspire in them a balance of curiosity, peace and confidence that will allow them to find joy in their lives as well.  And if that means sounding a bit like their moms at times, I think I am okay with that.   As parents always say, someday they will thank me for it.


Anonymous said...

Dear Ms. Elliott:
Thanks for you courage to post your personal feelings and the diligence to keep doing so regularly. I enjoy your blogs and they inspire me to strive to do my best knowing that you and other teachers are going all out for our kids! Your blog is the highlight of my morning! (I know it's early, but still...)

Chris Hollister

Anonymous said...

A good poem always makes me cry. That...was a great poem. You are so brave to write about death--i know that sounds funny, but I can't get myself to do it. I, too, really enjoy your blog and am very thankful you write for all to see! Keep 'em coming!
--amanda buchanan