Welcome to "Down here", where the view is sometimes different.
“Down here” is the south, the shared border with Mexico, where life comes with its own benefits and challenges.
Traditions leak over the border fence, joy squeezes through the bars, problems slip under, grief slides through. Some days it’s a hassle to go south, some days it’s a struggle to get back to the north. Down here, family is divided into who can and who can’t cross, who has Sentri and who doesn’t, who receives money from the Tooth Fairy and who is visited by the Ratón de Dientes.
“Down here” is also elementary school. At the moment, it’s fifth grade, that magical age at which a student will write “If I could meet a famous person, I would want to meet Santa Claus because he’s the nicest person I’ve ever heard about,” and later the same day while studying the solar system, ask me, “Wait, Jupiter is real? Where is it?”
Down here, life in the fifth grade is a juggling act for me as I try to balance Common Core with basic English skills with lessons in kindness and motivation and, on a lucky day, art, while throwing in, “Yes, I see that the marker fits sideways in your mouth. Congratulations. Now get to work. And wash that marker.”
Down here, learning sometimes gets put on hold so we can talk about Miguel’s grandmother’s chemotherapy or how we can work together to help 11-year old Sandra learn the alphabet. Down here, I smile because “patiently” was a vocabulary word this week, so now everyone says, “I am waiting patiently,” even as they jostle and bump each other.
Down here, we struggle with pronunciation; a student proudly holds up her finished Christmas tree project and says, “Teacher, look at my three!”
“Down here” is the landscape of the childhood of my own children. Teachers' kids have a slightly higher burden, both to obtain excellence and to share their mom with the world at large.
Some days down here, I growl at my son in a manner I would never speak to my students, because we’ve been at the kitchen table for three hours and homework isn’t done and who the heck invented this Common Core math anyway and doesn’t the school think we’d like to have a little family time sometimes and will you just please focus, for crying out loud?
Down here one child spends her days with her heart in her throat, waiting to see which college will accept her, and the other child struggles with ADD and lives for light homework days which leave him time to play the guitar. Down here, I ask my kids to go through their closets and look for clothing that no longer fits, especially jackets, for whichever new needy family has shown up at school.
Down here, some days they’re annoyed because we can’t go anywhere without running into a student, former student or parent of a student, which means they must be on their best behavior in public all the time.
Down here is a socio-economic place as well, in which teachers are neither the top nor the bottom of the heap. Down here I work to balance what I have with what I want. I confess to a severe case of house envy. I’d like to live in a nicer place than a tiny condominium down here, and I can’t understand how everyone else has managed to buy a four-bedroom house. We’re a nice family, we work hard; why shouldn’t we have a house, preferably with a garage and an extra bedroom? When I visit students’ families in their cramped rooms or tiny trailers, though, I wonder what I have done to become so fortunate. Down here my own children have heard, “Do you live in a cardboard house? No? Then what are you complaining about?” so often they’ve become immune to its effect. I say it to myself almost daily to offset my grumbling about housecleaning or lack of space.
Down here life can be challenging, but there is enough laughter and joy to counteract the difficulties. I’m delighted to be able to share it all with you. Thanks for joining me down here. I hope you enjoy the view.
Clarification: An earlier version of this story referred to teacher's kids, rather than teachers' kids.