All of Me… for All of Us

The email arrives at 2:18, one minute before the last bell and the rush to professional development that will rob me of my time and steal what little time is left to revise my latest paperwork dilemma (the endless paperwork dilemma of being a teacher in the twenty-first century).

This is the rush, the constant rush, that is my afternoon: students stopping me in the hallway to ask what they missed when they were gone, teachers commenting on the lack of grammar present in all writing and instruction, a line for the only staff bathroom nearby, a snakelike maneuver through the after-school net of kids clinging tightly to the last moments of the school day, a quick conversation in the shared bathroom about a shared student who told a teacher my class is his favorite, the rush back to my room to pack up my bag, gather my things, and make it to the classroom on the other end of the third floor.

All in ten minutes.

All after giving up nearly my entire block of planning to meet with a student and her family about an IEP, after waiting for a translator who never showed up, after discussing her math skills, her joy of writing, her absenteeism, her prom dress (donated by a kind soul who managed to find a sheer blue scoop neck that was made for her).

And after an hour of mindfulness with a video that has scared the shit out of me about my failure to raise teens in this day and age, about the addictiveness (equivalent to alcohol) of phones and social media, I must begin my afternoon rush: late to pick up my youngest, a dash across town to gather up the carpool, a dash back to discover two unpaid water bills by our tenants, to receive two flustered calls from the insurance agent about the dent in my Pilot, to break up three arguments over whose doll is whose, and to finish that damn SLO data nightmare before my midnight deadline.

All in sixty minutes.

I have ten papers for my online class that I must grade by Saturday. I have twenty emails I haven’t checked. I have a stack of paragraphs waiting for editing. I have dinner to cook and children to coerce into completing chores and finishing homework.

And I don’t have time for this.

But I do it anyway. I place the delinquent bill on top of our MacBook for Bruce to see. I finish my tea. I gather my keys. I call my girls. The oldest defiantly stays, but the younger two join me for the trek back.

We stop for fast food noodles and make it in time to see the art show. Riona googles over the sculptures, the pottery, the mixed media. Mythili eyes the graphic arts.

And then the choir concert. The show begins with all the choirs onstage singing a song from five decades ago, and Riona comments (quite accurately) that they must have picked a song from when the choir teacher was little. I can almost feel a collective groan building up inside us all as the song nears its end. But then I notice how many of my students are on stage, and I simmer down, because they are why we are here.

The cute emcees crack song-related jokes between each song. And what follows is nothing shy of amazing.

Soloist after soloist take the stage with voices as smooth and luxurious as anything you’d hear on the perfect pop radio station. A mix of modern and foreign, old and new. Belting out all ranges of the scale from the highest soprano to the lowest baritone.

As I sit with my wiggling girls in the front row, screaming and clapping when they hit those high notes, tears are ever present. I let them fall only two times–when the smaller-than-the-rest special needs student sings a solo in the choir’s interpretation of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, and when PoeMuLayLo takes the stage.

Hers was the paragraph I put up on my screen for the past two days as one to model, one to look up to.

Hers was the voice I heard singing in Karen last week, the lilting pain of persecution so clear even if I couldn’t understand the foreign words.

She has been in my class for three years, with her bright eyes, her kind smile, her desire to bring every piece of writing to perfection, to never put up with anything but the best from even her seat partner, to quietly be a calming presence that no one would ever think to cross.

And here she stands, her accent gone, the American song spilling out of her as if she wrote the words herself, and I can do nothing but try to capture one last piece of this magic before I have to say goodbye to her forever.

I’m not thinking about the emails. The papers to grade. The endless tasks that make up my afternoons of teacher-motherhood.

I’m thinking about only her luxurious voice, about the music that connects us all, about how much I will miss her.

“She’s leaving, isn’t she, Mama?” Riona whispers to me, seeing the tears linger on my cheeks.

MuLai belts out the chorus of “All of Me” one last time as I nod my head, unable to answer.

Right now, in this moment, there is no rush. No snakelike maneuvers. No wishing to be somewhere else.

There is only her voice. John Legend’s song. And All of Me.

Here.


Where Is My Grandparents’ America?

In the middle class houses all being scraped
to build mansions no one can afford?
In the stagnant salaries that ask us to
work harder for less money?
In the moms working two jobs,
the dads unable to keep up?

Where is my Italian grandmother’s dream
of a better tomorrow, a house she and her
Irish husband built and paid for
before they retired?

It is not my dream.
It is not our dream.

I am the working mother,
the disappearing middle class,
I am the two-incomes-barely-making it generation,
the strapped-with-student-loans
cause-we-thought-it-mattered generation,
the trapped in social media comparison
of who has the best selfie, the best vacation,
the best life?

Where is my grandparents’ America,
who came back from the war and
built from the ground up those tiny homes
that we can’t wait to tear down?

Where are the housewives who can sew clothes
and cook duck a’l’orange for a Wednesday evening?
Who are there when their children come home?
Whose husbands could buy pay for this house
on just one salary?

I am Generation X, torn between Baby Boomers
who raised us to be independent
and Millennials who can’t do anything for themselves.
I am the white woman who can never decide
between what is fair for her and fair for everyone.

Where is my grandparents’ America?
In the broken corporate ladder,
in the endless need for greed,
in the generations lost between yesterday and tomorrow.

In the hope lost between King’s improvised speech
and Trump’s rampant ignorance,
in a land I barely recognize,
in the rubble of torn-down houses,
torn-down American dreams.

(NOTE: Inspired by “Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes)