“Love isn't a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”
The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember
Finding grace in the imperfection... finding gentleness in the shifting sands...being comfortable when one is afraid... releasing guilt for time not spent... rebuilding trust in the face of anger...seeing a child now, accepting a child now, and facing my own new limitations as a teacher... No, love isn't perfect. This situation is far from perfect, the return to a classroom left abruptly after that swift kick to the head many months ago. Everything has changed since then. We have all struggled and have arrived in this present moment. Children, parents, teachers, and me.
I am changed. I stand in my classroom observing the children I have not seen since October. They are taller. Some of them are more engaged, productive, they have made friends. Others are more withdrawn, anxious, rigid in their play and behaviors. There is new "artwork" on the walls, teacher cut out trees with snowflakes the children were instructed to shake silver glitter onto glue, tiny caterpillars all the same. The handmade, haphazard collages I had posted so proudly are long gone. The schedule is the same. The children know what to expect and when. My assistants have done a phenomenal job at keeping the day moving, bringing the children along safely.
I notice I am afraid. The child, the Lightning boy who kicked me is one of those regressed. Playing with his back turned to others. Organizing cars, picking up a few letters from an alphabet puzzle, resistant to interaction and other's plans. I am afraid of being hurt again. He is too tall to be the toddler that he is at heart and in his mind. He is too strong, impulsive, reactive. I am wary.
The day passes in a haze for me. A cloudy looking glass. I write with my finger on the fog, a series of negative statements: "I cannot be here anymore", " I cannot get hurt again", "I am weak", "I have so much less to offer." The day warms, the fog slowly evaporates hiding my fears from the glass. I try and coach the substitute on how to interact with Lightning, and suddenly I remember. I remember what it means to see him, to know him, to imperfectly figure out loving him. I help him to pick up a marker he has thrown, I praise him for doing so, I continue to shower him with the attention he lacks, and for the first time on this first day he sees me, and I see him. "Hug" he says. And gently, without force or aggression, he hugs me. He smiles at me. "Hug" he says again, smiling, seeing. Healing.
This is a new beginning. I will continue to struggle with my new limitations, with the feelings of anger, fear and instability. I will stay away from Lightnings feet. I will show up, care for myself and keep trying to see, to accept and like Mr. Rogers, to greet each child openly and warmly and to say "hello neighbor, I'm glad we are together again." And imperfectly together is better than being apart. This much I know.