31 March 2012

The Interchange of Hello and Goodbye

Yesterday was a half day of school. Thank goodness. If it'd been a full day, I think the middle schoolers would've been bruised irreparably with the way they were flinging themselves into each other. The third quarter started January 10th and just ended, which explains why everyone is now in the process of becoming a rabid wolf.

Actually, okay, not everyone was rabid. My 7th grade girls flocked to the bookshelf, asking which books they should take home over the break. It filled my little heart with sunshine, the way they recommended titles to one another: Tuck Everlasting, When You Reach Me, Turtle in Paradise. It was mostly boys that were foaming at the mouth to get out of there, and the crowning glory was a dog toy flying out the window.

It was the last day for two of my students, brothers who've been at our school for seven years, now relocating due to business on the other side of Madrid. The older brother walked around in a state of disbelief all week. When his female classmates were chattering away before Thursday's vocab quiz, he pounded his fist on the desk as he's been accustomed to doing this year when the girls get to be too much. "Guys, be quiet! This is my last vocab quiz!" And then his face registered seven years of sadness as he understood what he'd said.

We stood in the hallway yesterday, saying goodbye to the high school kids who are taking a spring break missions trip to Moldova, and I noticed him in the doorway, very still. He was looking around the circle at the goodbyers, looking at the school's front gate, and I heard him say softly to himself, "Wow. Seven years."


A month ago, we did a short-term class week, offering assorted electives instead of our regularly schedule academia. The rest of Caitlin's and my class had gone downstairs, having been effectively bleach-splattered during a t-shirt art project, but I stayed outside with one of the girls; she needed to fabric paint her shirt still. We talked about how next year's 8th grade class will shrink a little and then grow: kids going to the States on home assignment, kids coming back again. She and one of her best friends will both be gone first semester--one to California, one to Phoenix.

"What do you think?" I asked. "Do you want to live in the States one day, or do you think you'll come back to Europe?"

"Um, probably I'll go to college in the States, and then I'll just stay there."

"Yeah? It's hard to go back and forth, isn't it?"

"Yeah. You have to say goodbye a lot. But you get to see people again. But it's hard."

"Do you think you'd ever want your kids to experience this kind of life? I mean, you get to see and do so many things most kids never will! If you have a family, do you think you'd like for them to live the way you do, or would you rather belong to one place?"

She thought about that for only three seconds. "Stay in one place. Otherwise it's too sad."

I guess I wasn't expecting that. Maybe I was. My kids have seen stuff that every American kid grows up dreaming about: They saw the Eiffel Tower in kindergarten. They've been camping in Italy. They are used to classmates that appear and vanish yearly, and if the all-school chapel service is held entirely in Spanish, their parents aren't going to write nasty notes to the administration.

They say goodbye every year. Teachers. Classmates. Family members who pass away while they're in different countries. Pets. Go away for just a few months, and in that time, everything changes. I have had to say goodbye to seven different students this year. That's been enough. I've only been here for ten months. I hardly know.

I guess they build resilience and they learn to say goodbye and probably, secretly, some of them build little shelters around their hearts to keep out anything that might hurt too much later when it has to leave.

The 7th grade girls walked out the door toward spring break after giving me hugs and saying, "We'll miss you!" And though my first response was to laugh and say, "Girls, it's only a week," I realized that this is part of the life, and you have to tell people what you think of them while you're with them, because it all goes too fast, and if you don't say it now, the chance is over. So I hugged them back and said, "I'll miss you, too," because I will, and because they need to know, and because we'll all grow up and change and separate soon enough, and because behind those words we're all saying more; we're saying I love you and I care and In this moment, you are my life.


Carra said...

Just want to say that I love your writing--I have ever since college. I finally subscribed to you, so now there's no excuses for me not to be reading you!

sharbear said...

Carra--I'm way late in responding to this sweet comment, but thank you! (Just so you know, I've been a fan of YOUR writing since college.)