Thursday, April 26, 2012

All of My Children

I came to teaching in a very backhanded way. I’d always loved my teachers (well almost always) and it seemed to me that teachers made a great difference in one’s life. I wanted to make that difference. I wanted to be in a place where I could do for some children what my teachers had done for me  save me. I wanted to throw out the lifeline that would reel them in and hold them tight and not allow them to feel that they were simply adrift at sea with no anchor, no shore. For a short time I became a teacher and the classroom with the experience of many personalities  all affecting you in some way, many ways  was a place I had always wanted to be. I got that chance in my mid-thirties.
I’d just begun my first teaching job in the heart of Manhattan’s Upper West Side...a job I went to later in life and without the proper training.  I was scared — a class of thirty-one fifth and sixth graders, some bigger than I was!  Still, in my heart of hearts I knew  I was meant to be a teacher.  It was just a matter of figuring out how.

Those first weeks, I came home drained and worried:  their lives were so troubled.  How was I going to give everyone what was needed?  Would I focus on the few bright ones that needed to be challenged to their potential before they were “bored” out of school?  Should I concentrate on keeping the ones who were on-grade-level on-track?  Or should I pour the bulk of my efforts into the struggling, barely scraping by, cohort of kids who seemed to have little chance of ever succeeding? I didn’t know and without any teaching experience to fall back on, I troubled over these choices again and again before falling 
asleep each night. It was making me sick to my stomach.

As time inched by, I grew more confident and less naive. I began to learn more and more about the “real world” my kids l
ived in — a world foreign to me.  Their world (a world I truly didn't know) intruded on us daily  when we had to clear our macadam schoolyard 
of the used condoms, broken glass, and empty syringes before playing kickball.

My education started the day half my class came in bleary-eyed. Why? Because early that morning a SWAT team had descende
d on their building trying to flush out a suspected "cop killer."  Police with machine guns and dogs had roused them crack-of-dawn out of 
their beds, scaring them out of their skins.

I continued to learn about the world of my students through class assignments.

Writing letters to then President-Elect Bush (the first) yielded a surprise when I innocently began sharing them alo
ud to the class: 
“Dear President-Elect Bush, I don’t think mothers should be allowed to use hot irons or hangers on their children…Sincerely, Natalie.”  
That taught me to pre-read their writing before sharing.

The assignment to “dr
aw a picture of a room in your home” produced a believable depiction of 11-year-old Selena being straddled in bed by a male stick-figure (her step-grandfather, I later learned). She'd carefully drawn her younger sister and brother standing nearby, watching.

Or the twin who when it was his turn to answer, "What will you do over the holiday break?" kept insisting tha
t he was going to stay in our classroom, by himself, all vacation. No matter how I tried to convince him otherwise, he told me he wasn’t going to leave our classroom to go home. I had him stay in at recess  trying to elicit what was going on.  On an impulse I had him look in the mirror.  “Tell me what you see, Robert,” I asked. “Nothing,” he replied, “nothing.”

Emotionally, physically and sexually abused faces eagerly greeted me each morning — looking for all I cou
ld give.  No wonder I felt sick every day.  But my husband didn’t buy it.  “This is nuts,” he persisted, “what if you have cancer or something?  You’ve got to 
get checked out.” And so I did.

I didn’t expec
t to be pregnant.  I’d just taken on this new job and had my hands full with thirty-one kids; I didn’t need another.  Still, except for being surprised at the timing, 
we’d both always wanted to be parents and were genuinely happy about it.

My class was delighted.

Six weeks later the midwife I was seeing told me that she thought I might be carrying twins. “
What would make you say that?”  I asked.  She explained that due to the height of my fundus (whatever that was) I was either a month further along than I thought, incredibly constipated, had fibroid tumors or was pregnant with twins.  “But no one in 
our families has twins,” I protested. “Well, they have to start some place,” she smiled.

I almost didn’t tell my husband, but of course did. He lit up at the possibility, then absorbed the shock on my face.

“How will we know?”

“My sonogram on the 16th.”

We had a month
 to go. Two weeks later for my birthday he gave me this unusual pair of  pins — Scottie dogs: one red with a black bow and one black with a red bow  tiny contrasting satin bows around their little plastic necks.  They were darling.

“Just in case," he said dog-ishly.

I’d never been a parent but imagined it would be hard enough with one, let alone two babies and besides,
 I didn’t think it was possible.  I’d had two abortions in my past and always felt that somewhere along the way God would punish me for them.  No matter that one of these pregnancies was headed for a miscarriage and the doctor who assessed me determined I was in no shape to wait out Mother Nature’s timetable.  Both times I had entered into the sex for the benefit of someone else but to the detriment of me.  I 
pushed the thought of “two” out of my mind.

But much like an American Express television commercial airing at that time, my husband and I received the astounding news during the sonogram. Splayed on a table, in an unfamiliar office, covered with jelly, gauges, and straps, the doctor (unknown to us) asked, “Is this your first sonogram?”

I answered "Yes."

“You’ve never had an ultrasound?”


“You mean this is the first sonogram you’ve had during this pregnancy?”

Skittish and exasperated I barked, “Why do you keep asking me that? This is the first time I’ve had a sonogram. You've asked me THREE times already — why would I lie about it?!”

My husband was gripping my hand gently, hoping I’d calm down. We were both anxious and this klutz wasn’t helping things.

“Well, I’ve got a surprise for you. I see two. I see two in there.”

“I don’t see two,” my husband said in disbelief.  But the doctor just circled on the monitor “Twin A.  Twin B” and we stared with our mouths gaping.

It was funny how everything changed that day.  It was like finding out all over again that you were pregnant.  A lot was gonna change.  We couldn’t stay in our apartment, not enough room.  My salary wouldn’t cover daycare costs for two.  Before, we didn’t want to know in advance what sex we were having. Now, we needed to know.  

We told no one the news until we could get acclimated to it ourselves. 

I was in my mid-thirties and having boy-girl twins.  I took it as a sign of God’s forgiveness.  We were being blessed with an incredible gift I didn’t deserve.  I was stunned by the symmetry of it.

It soon became clear that I could no longer continue teaching. There were consecutive complications, all fairly serious, all pointing to the urgent need for complete bed rest. Though I’d explained to the class that my doctor insisted I stop working, and that the safety of all three of us was the only reason I was leaving, my kids still looked at me with acute disappointment in their accusing stares. Yet one more adult in their young lives abandoning them. No matter what I said, their faces let me know I was making a choice and I wasn’t choosing them. 

The price of my gift became apparent. 

Two for thirty-one: painful as it was, I was grateful for the choice.


  1. Symmetry is Beautiful and Choice is Sacred! Thank-you so much for sharing.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. It was a blessing. All of it. Happy Birthday kids!

    1. What a touching story. Thanks for writing it. Therese

    2. Thank you Therese...glad you shared this comment.