I fall back suddenly into the sand. I grab my mouth, checking to see if my weak tooth is still in my mouth. I taste a little blood, but mostly I am stunned. Stunned my little student’s head could pop up so fast. Stunned that it could hurt so bad. I can feel the tears start to form. I don’t want my students to see me cry, so when my co-worker sees that I am not sitting in the sand for the kid’s amusement, I grab my mouth again and run into the hallway.
Once alone, I let the hot tears fall. I first cry for the pain, and then I cry for the possibility of being toothless. But after those fears subside, I find myself crying because this is hard. Three years ago I would have never thought I would be instructing children with special needs. Now, here I am, spending my days (primarily) with three first and second graders who have Down Syndrome. I cry because I often feel like I fail them. I cry because I want to be better for them.
It takes me awhile to push the tears back down. I have opened up a fountain of feelings and I can’t seem to put the lid back on them. After splashing my red, puffy face with water, I look into the bathroom mirror and I am relieved I’ve worn my glasses today. They partly hide the emotions that have streaked down my cheeks.
Upon entering the classroom, I can see the students watch me to see how I am. Their little faces register great concern. My second grader grabs my hand and says, “Mrs. M, it’s your birthday and we’ve made you a party.” (Now, after two years instructing him, I can understand his speech perfectly and I hear his words so clearly, whereas others still look at me to translate him.)
He instructs me to sit down. The other two come closer and they are bearing gifts. They have wrapped up “presents” in baby blankets and doll diapers, ranging from old flip phones to plastic dishes. Little N presents me with a plastic cake and has assembled a pointer with a plastic hand to act as a candle. The children sing to me in loud voices and I start to cry again. This time the tears are not from the pain. This time they are from the unabashed love they are pouring upon me. When the song ends, they throw their arms around me and dog pile me to express their love even more.
I am blessed. I am loved. These children of God don’t know my insecurities, but they know how to love me…in all my imperfections. In all the ways I fail them. They have thrown me a party to remind me that in their eyes, I’m doing okay.