Happy Angry Hour

Do you know why he makes me so angry? Do you know why I screamed at him (during passing period) in front of the entire class? Why I was still yelling after the last bell, spilling the whole story to my two unwilling-to-listen-but-forced-to daughters, cuss words and all?

Because I love him.

And I want him to think of me, of all of us, when he doesn’t clean the cat litter or mop the floor. When he pours all the creamer I just bought into one cup of coffee. When he changes his doctor’s appointment that I rearranged my entire day around and had my mother drive across town to bring him to, and doesn’t tell me until two minutes after class STARTS.

I want him to stop running the damn space heater all night long (with the door to his room open) and costing us $100 extra a month.

I want him to care about learning English.

I want him to be my son, to be like my daughters who absolutely drive me crazy in every way and refuse to do chores and forget to turn in work and to tell their boss they can’t work when we have a ski weekend and rearrange their weekends with friends when ski weekends get canceled and then whine about having missed most of the ski season without actually skiing… And get near-perfect grades and would never change a doctor’s appointment without asking me or checking the calendar first.

Alas, I have four teenagers in my house, and one of them is a boy whom I barely know and  from a culture I barely understand and from a not-more-than-a-day-in-advance plan that I didn’t take into account when I asked him to move out of the homeless shelter and into my home.

Alas, that $100 a month on electricity matters to me right now because my husband just got laid off from his job and we have until May 21 to live like kings and the rest of our lives to figure out how we’re going to pay for our mortgage and our health insurance, and Bernie lost Super Tuesday and the stock market shot up 1,100 points the very next day because investors care more about health insurance profits than HUMAN LIVES.

Alas, just when things couldn’t be worse at work or anywhere else, the 1998 Camry died, and now I have another weight to carry each day: the shuffling of more teens to every last event from track practice that he (at the last minute) signed up for to musical rehearsal to never-ending-hours of fast-food employment to driving them to school each day.

Alas, I did not raise this boy to check calendars.

And I want him to listen to me. I want him to think about how each phone call and acting-up-in-class-joke and putting-his-head-down-shutdown is a punch into every last dark hollow of my teacher-mother soul.

But it is almost 5 o’clock. And I am going to walk seven blocks and sell tickets to my baby girl’s musical because, yes, I needed one of my tickets comp’ed so I can pay for the space heater and not spend another $12.

And I am going to smile and wear this shirt in front of all the racist white people at her school.

And that is my happy hour for today.

I Cry for his Loss

i cry for the card, for his loss,
 for his Iraqi-Syrian past,
 for all the burning hours of summer school
 where he committed himself
 to finishing high school in three years.
 
 i cry for his words, for his loss,
 his inescapable self that has hidden
 a kind face in a chaotic classroom,
 his sly smile catching my every
 snuck-in witty remark
 (even when no one else could).
 
 i cry for the system, for his loss,
 shuffled by our government’s wars
 between homelands that stole his home,
 for his pride in Iraqi architecture
 that he may never see again.
 
 i cry for his future, for his loss,
 for how unequivocally kind his soul remains
 after all he has witnessed in twenty-one years,
 for his brothers who wait under his watchful shadow,
 for our country to give him a chance.
 
 i cry for his words, for my loss,
 to not have his presence in my classroom,
 to have the nicest thing anyone’s
 ever written to me
 disappear with a graduation ceremony.
 
 i cry for the world, for their loss,
 for robbing refugees of their rights,
 for keeping the beauty that is him,
 that is within all of them,
 from sharing their strength
 with all of us, inshallah,
 for a brighter tomorrow.
 

Bilingual Rainbow

that moment at school
 when a domestic violence reference
 does not register
 as a violation of human rights.
 
 that.
 
 that is a teachable moment.
 
 let them write their stories,
 their poems,
 their lives poured out on paper
 in a language that sifts through their minds
 like Lucky Charms marshmallows,
 where finding the right words to describe the trees native to their homelands,
 the pain of fleeing war,
 the parents who missed even grade school,
 is like finding that rainbow marshmallow,
 the brightest and sweetest:
 the words,
 the art,
 that will save them.
 
 for today, at least.


 
 
 

This is All I Have For Now

Hope for today: a new student came to my advisory. A Syrian refugee who has been here for 20 days. He could not communicate very well in English, but another newcomer from El Salvador who’s been here for a few months was able to help him with signs and support. He also took pictures on his tablet of everything I handed out and was able to run the words through an app that translated the words to Arabic. And, through the tablet translation, proudly told me at the end of class that he speaks three languages: Arabic, Turkish, and Kurdish.

I wonder what else he has stored behind those questioning eyes? I can’t wait to find out. And I’m so glad he made it through the Trumpocracy.

#standwithrefugees #standwithimmigrants

The Last Plane

Red hair, green eyes, tall and sure of himself, he peeks into my room, searching for a familiar face after lunch. I have seen this look before, as my students often seek their native-language counterparts.
 
 “Who are you looking for?” I ask, the after-lunch crowds raucously meandering around our conversation.
 
 “I am looking for you. I am a new student.” His accent is smooth and meticulous, genteel and articulate.
 
 “Oh, OK. What’s your name?”
 
 “Arvin.”
 
 “Where are you from?”
 
 “Iran.”
 
 “Iran? … And… how did you get here??” But I have to look away because the tears are already in my eyes.
 
 “I boarded the plane on Friday morning. I was in the last group of Iranians to come.”
 
 I want to continue the conversation, but I can’t. I can’t because the tears will fall. I can’t because I have to teach for the next ninety minutes. I can’t because every waking moment of my life since this election, since this inauguration, have become a cycle of servitude. Of serving this need or the next, of wishing for this and receiving that, of hoping for the best and seeing the worst.
 
 Instead I tell him where to sit and hand him a hard copy of I Am Malala. We will listen to the lilting Pakistani accent from Audible today as we continue to highlight human rights violations from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (we will highlight thirteen incidents in three chapters; we will connect media suppression and fascism and women’s rights to an education too closely to our lives; we will hear Fazlullah’s rants with an American accent).
 
 My weekly volunteer returns from the library after a time with a group of students. She meets with my Iranian student to explain to him his role in the group as they create posters connecting Malala’s experiences to the UDHR. He fits in well and tells the group he cannot draw very efficiently, so can he please have the role of interpreting the quotation from the chapter and connecting it to the UDHR document?
 
 He has been here for five days. He got in on the LAST PLANE.
 
 After class, my retired-white-woman volunteer asks, “If he just got here from Iran, how come he can speak English?”
 
 And that is when I decide.
 
 I have to start here. Right in this moment. With this woman who drives one mile from her upscale mansion in Cherry Creek North to “make a difference.”
 
 “Pretty much all of the students who come here learned English before they came. Usually only the refugees have interrupted schooling. But most countries start teaching English when the kids are in kindergarten.”
 
 I swear her jaw drops ten inches. She wants to say something, but she doesn’t have the words to describe her ignorance.
 
 “Oh…”
 
 And now you know, I want to say. But I don’t. I don’t cry when I want to, because I have to be strong for them. I don’t tell her that Trump’s America is not my America, not Arvin’s America. I don’t tell her that the combination of students in this room represents the values of our country better than most Americans I know. That a red-headed Iranian entering my classroom five days past an executive order banning Muslims is as beautiful to me as Ziauddin’s tears in the New York Times documentary as he sees Swat for the first time in three months (which we watch at the end of class).
 
 Instead, I say, “Thank you for your help. I’ll see you next Wednesday.”
 
 And that is all I can do to resist.
 
 All for today.