Friday, March 20, 2015

The One When I Just Didn't Know #sol15

Every Tuesday, I participate in the Slice of Life challenge at Two Writing Teachers. Every March, the Slice of Life Challenge is a month-long experience where Slicers post every single day for the entire month. I'm joining in on the monthly challenge this year! For more information on what a Slice of Life post is about, you can go here.

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I grew up in an amazing gem of a place. Yes, it was the quaint, north shore town I wrote about before, but there I lived on a farm. Sometimes I wished we lived in a house with two stories and a garage and a deck like my friends had but I truly adored what I still call home. My parents rented a little two-bedroom apartment with one bathroom and not much closet space...but we had all the room we needed outside to run and explore and imagine. There were trees to climb, hills to picnic on, and animals like cows and horses and even goats. We rented from a family who owned the estate that was originally built as a weekend home for a famous Chicago family. Our driveway was a half mile long - a beautiful, tree-lined lane I have fond memories of, especially in winter when the branches would hang low with the weight of freshly fallen snow.

In the summers, there was an older man who mowed the lawns, trimmed the bushes, did all the odd jobs that needed to be done. His name was Esteban and he was from Mexico. I distinctly remember how he smelled of grass and gasoline. He always wore pants and often a flannel shirt even on hot days. His skin was tanned and wrinkly and his face was covered in a scruffy, salt-and-pepper beard. 

Thinking of the rumble from the riding lawnmower slowing to a hum every time he stopped in front of our house to talk to my mom sends a rush of annoyance through me. It drove me crazy when he stopped to talk to me or wanted to talk to my mom because I knew once he started talking, he wouldn't stop. I tried to avoid him as much as I could but my mom was always friendly and kind and patient. There were times she helped him with paperwork he didn't understand because it was in English or gave him advice about sending money or packages back to his family in Mexico. He worked hard, it was just him and it was a lot of land. When I think of it now, I wonder if he was lonely here without his family. Maybe talking to my mom was comforting to him. And I'm sure he did need her help. Then, I was irritated to have to talk to him...but, as much as I hate to admit it, I was also embarrassed.

It wasn't until my first year teaching that I gained a little perspective.

One of my students was a five-year-old kindergartner who had recently been diagnosed with a significant hearing loss. She was a little spitfire, a girl with spunk. It was recommended that she receive bilateral hearing aids but hearing aids are expensive. Thousands of dollars. Most of the time insurance doesn't cover hearing aids. There was financial aid to apply for...except for the fact that her family was her illegally which meant they weren't eligible to apply. I had no concept of this, no idea how this worked, how they got here, why they might not have papers yet. None of it made sense to me. I just didn't know. I hadn't learned about immigration firsthand in this way. But this was my student - an adorable, innocent girl with a giant personality - and she needed my help. I wanted to do what I could to explain to her family and to help them but it was frustratingly sad to know she might not be able to get hearing aids.

My mom helped me understand that some families might come to the United States without papers and the complicated process of applying for paperwork to be here. She shared ways people might come here, cross the border in baryon ways, but most importantly why they might come. She talked about how coming to the U.S. might mean a better life. Even working in difficult, low-paying unglamorous jobs in the U.S. can mean more money and a higher quality of life or the ability to help others back home.

And I saw Esteban in a different way.

Instead of seeing someone who 
wasn't educated 
and wasn't white 
and wasn't making a lot of money,

Now I saw someone who
was hard-working
and was brave in a new country
and was making money to help his family.

I went to school to work with students who are deaf and hard of hearing so I never anticipated how much I would use my Spanish and what an asset it would be. Being Hispanic and speaking Spanish helped me relate to and connect with my students but it also allowed me to support them because I could communicate with their parents. 

As much as my education prepared me to be a teacher, my students, their families, the dedicated colleagues I've worked with over the years, and my own family have taught me how to see different perspectives, to honor each person and his or her unique background and experiences, and to make decisions with compassion.

I'm still gathering more perspective. Still learning. Still striving to hear stories. Still hoping to expand how I view the world. But I'm happy to say I've come a long way from when I just didn't know.

To read my previous Slice of Life posts, click on any link below:

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