"You're lucky," said the woman to my daughter.
We were in the public bathroom, drying our hands, and a large group of women had come in, chattering excitedly and, in the middle of their conversation, they had paused and looked at my 12-year-old.
"You are lucky," the woman repeated, "you are a part of history today, little girl!"
We were at a political rally, and it was the third time that day that someone had pointed out to Adria that she was in the midst of history, and so this time, even though they had called her "little girl", she grinned back and nodded, "I know!"
It was a school day and there weren't many children present, but we had been sitting in front of a middle school history teacher and we overheard her saying, "If you are ever going to take a child out of school, today is the day."
It's not often that you can be in the center of an event and know, beyond a doubt, that you are watching history unfold. And yet, there we were. Immersed.
Most mamas are there to record the first smile, the first word, the first step. Personal history. Even if we don't write it down, we celebrate the moment.
Adria was our first child, and her firsts were celebrated and recorded and analyzed and revisited.
I wrote down, not just the first words, but the first 150 words and phrases. We have pictures; they poured out onto our walls, across every horizontal surface, into photo albums, boxes and baskets. Even when I went back to work, it was only part-time and I still caught and celebrated the first of everything.
Including the first day of kindergarten. The first day of kindergarten coincided with the first day I didn't head back to the classroom with all the other teachers. I wanted to be at home with her that first year of school, so I could share it.
So I have the pictures: the tiny happy little girl, in the blue dress, her hair in braids, posing in front of our garden with her new backpack. And, a little later, posing in front of the school. And, even later, on a swing on the school's playground. Only I didn't take that last picture. The kindergarten teacher did, because it was after I dropped her off in the line forming outside of her classroom, after I showered her with kisses, after I walked out of the school feeling sad and a little empty.
Suddenly I wasn't around for the firsts. Most of them took place inside that building, with a wonderful teacher who loved her students, but who, after 30 years of teaching, had seen those firsts so many times, it was no longer new or exciting.
Day after day, she went into that brick building and accomplished a thousand little firsts and emerged a little changed and I'd see the change but not the process that created it. I'd hear from her teacher that she seemed happy, but that she didn't always play with the other kids and maybe I should worry and so I'd ask her about it and, well, she didn't want to play what the other kids were playing and they didn't want to play what she was playing and so she played her own thing by herself and, no, it didn't bother her, why do I keep asking? and so I'd explain again to the teacher that she was really okay playing by herself sometimes and, yes, her father and I were okay with it, too.
In first grade I'd hear about what a nice average child she was, but that she did seem to be easily distracted and spent a lot of time daydreaming or gazing out the window. And in second grade, the teacher--according to one of the kids and not refuted by the teacher, who heard it--didn't like black kids. We learned that, in everywhere, in the classroom, in computer, in art, in lunch, she partnered Adria with one of the unruly boys she couldn't control herself because she thought the nice quiet black girl could influence the out-of-control, boisterous black boy, who was probably out-of-control and boisterous and unruly because the teacher was rude and disrespectful and barely attempted to hide her racism.
There were more firsts that year and they weren't good. I saw more change and it wasn't good. We realized that not being there, in the middle of it all, wasn't working for any of us.
Now, five years later, I sometimes have to remind myself that it's good in the middle. It's good to be surrounded by it all, through the noise and the confusion and the energy.
I've been able to watch my daughter create when she's inspired. She wrote an amazing poem last week, after several years of insisting that she isn't poetic because her ideas didn't mesh with what she was taught in school. I've watch my 8-year-old leap from single syllable words to Harry Potter, with little in between beyond street signs and board games. Reading, if it's not immediately meaningful to him, is painful. So I just waited. And I got to listen to him whisper words to himself whenever we drove somewhere, and slowly, the words got harder and his reading became smoother.
I've watched my baby, too weak to sit by himself at 12 months, let alone crawl or walk, learn in chunks. Nothing to him is done piece by piece, it seems. It's all or nothing. If he couldn't keep up with his brother on a bike, he wouldn't ride it. If he couldn't draw something, he just wouldn't try. I don't have any baby scribbles from him because he just got frustrated and refused to color. I now have pictures, with faces and fingers and strange little pig noses. Until he was three years old, he knew only one color. Orange. Then, one day, he woke up and knew them all. (Orange, however, is still his favorite.) He knew one number. 3. Because he was 3. The next year, he knew 4. Because he was 4. Then, suddenly, he woke up and knew them all.
He didn't try to write letters until they were small and neat, with perfect lines and angles. He wouldn't try mazes until he could do them perfectly and then he completed every maze book in the house in two days. I bought wooden tangrams, magnetic tangrams, travel trangrams. They were ignored until last week, and now he works with them for hours.
I'm right here, in the middle, and I see how he learns, how he stores information away in the back of his mind, until it's all there, until it makes sense to him. And I wonder how much of that I would miss if I wasn't sitting here, surrounded by it all the time. I wonder how someone else, someone who doesn't have this attachment, this awareness, this time, would interpret his developmental "gaps". I wonder how he would have been viewed in a classroom, what box they would have placed him in.
Because I haven't always been here, because, for a few years, I wasn't in the middle, and I watched from the outside while others labeled my daughter through their own narrow lens and defined her talents and her abilities based on a pre-determined spectrum, I now appreciate the chaos and the mess (most of the time). I know what it means to be able to be here, immersed, catching moments that I wouldn't see otherwise.
I love that my children can see the history they are living right now, and I love that I can see them living it.
Missy's homeschooling journey began when she realized that the walls surrounding her daughter's classroom were too narrow; there was no room for exploration, no space for stretching. Now, she and her three children stretch and explore the world together. My blog: caffeinatedjive.