Remembering my priorities

Today I spent 45 instructive minutes in a first grade classroom, helping with a writing assignment.  I moved around and helped several children, but mostly ended up at the end of one table with five delightful boys.  The assignment was to write about your favorite place, describing it using your senses — what does it smell like, feel like, taste like, sound like, look like?

B. got to work even before the teacher had finished giving directions, I noticed.  He clearly is a good reader, and a confident writer.  Meanwhile some other children were having a hard time even putting their names down — one boy had his head on the table in misery — so it was a while before I got down to B.’s end of the table to look at his writing.

Here’s what he wrote:

“My favorite place is [name of homeless shelter].  Because it’s good for me and my mom and my sister.  And they give us three meals a day.”

I don’t know B. at all, as he hasn’t been in the class long, and the last time I spent time there was 1st quarter.  I asked him if he would keep writing, but he refused.  I said, “But Mr. R. wants you to write about your senses.  What does it smell like?”  B. replied, “it smells really bad in there.  You wouldn’t want to smell it, no way.” 

“Well, what does the food taste like?”

“It’s nasty.”

“B., are you sure you want this to be your favorite place?” I asked.

B. pointed emphatically at his second sentence.  “They – give – us – three – meals – a – day,” he said, emphasizing each word.

I was silenced, thinking about a boy who feels so grateful to have three meals a day that his favorite place is the stinky shelter where he lives.

B. happily commenced drawing on the back of his page while I helped T., and chatted with the other three boys near him.  T. just started a month ago, too, but he never went to school before.  His parents never sent him to kindergarten, and did not enroll him in first grade until March.  He cannot read or write, and does not know the names of most letters.  He did not know how to write a capital T or capital I until I showed him.

Mr. R. told me that the parents said, by way of explanation, that he had been “home helping out the family.”

But a sweeter boy would be hard to find.  “What’s your favorite place?” I asked, and T. replied, “Chuck E. Cheese.  I been there TWICE.”  I asked him to tell me each new sentence, and helped him to find the words on the class word list, or wrote them down for him to copy.  He worked really hard, with intense focus, looking at my words, and then copying them down neatly and in the right order.

The other three boys down by B. and T. were just as cute.  Each boy mysteriously decided that Chuck E. Cheese was his favorite place, too, and they argued vociferously about it while surreptitiously copying the words I had helped T. to write.

The five of them were amazed to learn that I happen to hate Chuck E. Cheese.  “It’s so noisy,” I said, “and the pizza doesn’t taste good, and the kids are all running around like wild.”

“Yeah, the kids go CRAZY,” grinned A.

It was a wonderful afternoon. 

I went to the grocery store with my sons after school and felt so grateful to have the money to buy bananas and bread and donuts and yogurt.

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