Big Heroes Come in Small Packages

She spoke with a slight lisp.  Her shiny brown hair never stayed in its neat morning braid, and joy sparkled out of her brown eyes.  She could never hurt a flea without her own heart breaking.  She’s one of those children who seem too good for earth in many ways, one of those you would like to spare suffering if you could.  Yet, to school she must go.

Numbers didn’t make sense until they were wrestled into submission after being taught and retaught and reviewed and reviewed.  A sentence was deciphered sound by sound, than word by word, and by the time a letter group had been constructed into a concrete word, the first words were forgotten.  We repeated each word multiple times, each phrase a couple times, each sentence at least once–or so it seemed.

But she worked and worked so hard that by the time she had struggled with a concept for a few days, it was as indelibly imprinted on her brain as an unnoticed stray dog’s print on freshly poured concrete.  

There were days where I would explain a concept to her step by step.  Eager to please, she would make valiant attempts at an answer and miss.  I remember one math class where my help for her had to spill into recess time.  I was exhausted, exasperated and frustrated, not at her but at the concept that just wouldn’t connect.  I remember leaving the classroom to hide my feelings, seeing an aide coming down the hall and telling her.  “I just can’t do it anymore!  If I go back in there, I’m going to loose my temper, and it’s not her fault.”

Even when I gave up, she never did.  She’s a fourth grader now.  School work is still not easy for her, but she earns her A’s honestly, maintains a soft heart and sparkles vivaciously.  Hero’s grit, that’s what she’s made of.

These days, I’m working with another kind of hero.  A resilient, freckled boy who was handed hard tack instead of bread in the meal of life.  No child needs a terminally ill mother, a domineering dad who’s been running from God for the past couple decades, a house fire, and two moves between two countries in as many years.  

On top of that, he’s one of those students who is being moved into Learning Support.  His reading skills are simply desperately slow. 

Despite the hard tack he’s one of the most creative, practical, friendly people I have ever met and last week, he became my hero.  

I was washing my hands in my classroom sink when an insect three inches long, with so many legs they looked like hairs scuttled out of…the drain? Generally, I’m not squeamish, but in the moment, I jumped back with exclamations of “Ew.”  Suddenly, I felt my head crawling, even as I stared sheepishly at the creepy intruder.  My students were intrigued but obediently remained in their seats until I said, “You all want to see it, don’t you?”

Need I ask? They all tumbled to the back of the room and giggled awe and disgust over the poor critter.  Soon, they returned to their seats.  “Would some of you take it out for me at recess?”  Hands waved hungry for acknowledgement.  “I don’t want you to kill it.  Just hold it like this.”  I showed them my hands formed into a no-escape cave.  

The freckle faced boy looked at me confused, hand raised.  I asked him what he was thinking.  “Couldn’t we just put it into a cup,” he asked.  His mouth frowned the gentle frown of one who is stating a simple truth.

“Yes, well, I guess that would work.  Remind me at recess.” After phonics class and fact drill the hairy insect was forgotten by me, but not them–Oh, no.  Hands waved desperately as I dismissed them.

“What about that thing?” another boy asked. 

“Oh, that’s right,”  I replied.  “You may go ahead and get it if you like.”

My practical, freckled-faced boy had that critter in a measuring cup covered in a paper towel before I’d listened to the last straggling student’s eager tale.    He took it out and came back to me with reassurance.  

“We took it outside and used stones to build a wall by the door so that it for sure can’t get in.” I didn’t bother telling him that if brick walls can’t keep it out, a few stones won’t.

“Thank you very much,”  I replied.  “I really appreciate it!”

IMG_20170126_190351687
Top row to the right of the heart is his master piece, the beautiful Lombardy. First class art for a first grader, if you ask me.  (‘ Course, I’m a little biased.)

Every day, heroes come our way, often in the most unlikely packages.  Who is your hero?

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