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life + work + parenthood + COMMUNITY

  • Writer's pictureJill Devine

Momma of All, Parent To None

Photo courtesy of @NeONBRAND from Unsplash

When I was asked to become one of Jill Devine’s newest interns, I was nervous to begin. Could I offer advice to parents out there? Why would you want to listen to any tips or tricks I could give? I have no children of my own and don’t plan on having any soon (if at all). What makes me so qualified? But then I realized something -- being a mother isn’t a test you take or a license you carry. There is no certain way to be a mother-figure in someone’s life.

I am like a mother in many ways. From living with my two nieces and being a helpful live-in babysitter to working as an art teacher in a K through 8 elementary school. I constantly step into a nurturing and guiding role. Is that not what a mother/father is? Someone who can help a child grow into the best adult version of themselves they can? Someone who teaches children patience, understanding, love...I also teach them color theory but that’s more due to learning standards than anything. It is, however, nice to see children learn to love art and be able to notice not only their interest but their skills grow as they continue to work.

I will happily admit that, as much as I help children learn and evolve, I do have it easier than parents, in certain ways. I have the pleasure (and sometimes pains) of only having these children for 6 hours of the day; 9am to 3 pm. When I have hard days, I have the relief of knowing it will be over soon and I can relax in a quiet room with no distractions or fighting over not sharing or crying over a little color outside the lines. The main upside to this is that I rarely have reason to lose my cool. That is not to say there aren’t times that I get a little too overwhelmed and raise my voice too loud, I am human after all. What I am saying is that I can always see a light at the end of the day which allows me to be patient longer. I have time to sit with a child and talk through every aspect of their problem, every emotion, every rock they saw on their walk to school, every good or bad thing to happen at home or in the lunchroom or in gym the day before. This is a luxury not all parents can have. I am happy I can be that person for these children and help them practice healthy communication.

That being said; yes, I have it easier than some parents, but in certain ways, I have it harder. And much for the same reason that it is easier. I see these children so rarely, there are major events that happen at home I can’t help with. The school I work in is in a severely impoverished area. There is little funding, even less staff support, and a lot of violence. There are sixth graders smashing mason jars over each other’s head, third graders with the mouths of sailors getting into fist fights, and kindergarteners still walking in their orderly lines all in the same, small building. This makes my job harder than it needs to be when the younger kids see how the older ones are acting and perceive it as beneficial behavior. Because it is such an impoverished area, the majority of them live in the same housing development. This means, there is a second session of school happening right down the street with dangerous lessons being taught and I have to work twice as hard come Monday morning after a particularly study-intensive weekend at home to counteract all the bad behaviors they have learned. At times, it feels like an endless struggle. We have good weeks when they come in with a proper greeting, sit quietly, and happily engage in their art project for the day, a broad smile across their cherub cheeks. Then, without warning, their next meeting is an anxiety-fueled rage of “he said, she said” or, worse, a deeper problem I can’t help.

I still remember the first time I realized there wasn’t always a way I could “fix” things. It happened within my first month of teaching. A particularly angry and troubled student was having a particularly angry and troubled day. I pulled him to the side so we could talk. I had to sit in a squat so my already short stature could be level with his eyes. I tried to talk to him and explain why he needed to change his attitude for the day. We tried taking deep breaths but those didn’t help. We tried a few sprints up and down the hall to see if it would tire out the jitters. He started to cry hot, angry tears. I thought I made it worse. I asked him what he wanted, what he needed.

“I want my mom!” It was the first thing he had said all class. I told him he’d be able to see her after school, but right now we needed to focus our time on learning until then. I thought it was a good answer. Just wait a little longer, we’ll all be home and happy soon. He told me it was impossible. His mother had died. What was I supposed to say to a baby dealing with such unfathomable trauma? I am considered an adult and still don’t know how I would process the loss of my mother. The stories of loss continued. Most children in the school only see one of their parents and, even then, most are too busy working to stay afloat to devote the extra time these children need. Their lives are filled with unmeasurable trauma and struggle and they need more support to cope and become their best selves. In that moment of hopelessness, however, I felt a new spark. A spark of responsibility. If these children could not have the best life, I could use my skills to try and set them up for a better one in the future.

So, although I may have no children of my own, I still worry about 300 children 24/7. I still wonder if that boy in second grade’s bruise was truly from a fall, or if that girl who’s been out for 2 weeks is feeling better, or if the twins in eighth grade had their water turned on long enough so they could shower and clean their uniforms so the other children stop making fun of them. I wonder if the star student in third grade whose stomach is constantly grumbling up until lunch will be alright until breakfast on Monday morning. So yes, I am not a mother. I get to return my children home and enjoy my weekends. But do I really?

Morgan Galvez is a freelance writer and editor with a BA in English (with a concentration in writing, rhetoric, and publication) from the College of Charleston. She is currently building her freelancing career through positions at Brainfuse and Fiverr.

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