It was just supposed to be an extended weekend trip. He left school two days early, due to return the following Tuesday. My little fellow from Chicago, going home for a few days with his family to visit his Chicago family. Five hours away by car.
I didn’t say good-bye. He was supposed to be back. He was supposed to spend the last few days of school with us.
His family caught a ride to the city with others. He told me several times all their things were packed up because they were moving back to Chicago when school was out. But this was just a visit, his mom said.
They were supposed to come back.
Maybe he was my biggest challenge this year. I don’t think so–he was easy to love, right through his tough-guy demeanor, his distrust for those who don’t look like him (almost all of us), and his scorn for anything educational. He learned despite his defensiveness, though. His nose was constantly in a book and he read through the classroom library in no time at all–at least the “cool” books.
He had more left to do with us.
He was my biggest teacher this year. He challenged me at every turn and made me work hard to earn his trust. I was rewarded with fist bumps and giggles, shared excitement over books and whispered secrets that couldn’t be said out loud.
I couldn’t imagine our class without him.
He didn’t come back last Tuesday. With each day that passed, his best friend asked with increasing alarm where he was. I started running out of hopeful answers. They couldn’t find a ride back. They would still try to come back.
But my “trying to be realistic” side knew–he wasn’t coming back. I regretted not taking more pictures with him alongside his friends. I was sad every time I saw the books still sitting on his desk. His absence left a hole in our class that we weren’t ready for. By the end of the week I sadly told the kids that I was afraid that our boy just wasn’t going to come back after all.
The weekend came and went, and on the last Monday of this school year, I walked down to the gym to pick up the class knowing that one of my favorite little faces would not be in line.
And…he was BACK!!!
My “optimistic dreamer” self did the Happy Dance all over my “cynical realistic” self and we all rejoiced!
We only have a few days together before he really does go for good, but we are making the most of them. We are doing some of his favorite things. We are laughing over his favorite books and writing about his favorite topics. At first, he was so standoffish, uncomfortable with all the love thrown his way from his classmates and teacher. But before long he was at my side as if there was Velcro, telling me about Chicago and everything happening in his world. He knows he only has four days with us, and as glad as he will be to return to his city life he knows he was in a good place in our middle-of-Iowa classroom. We love him, even when he didn’t want to be loved.
It’s hard to say goodbye to your class when the year is done. Is it harder to say goodbye one at a time, or when they all dash out the door together towards their summer fun? It’s definitely easier to say goodbye with the promise of hello again in the fall. It’s the ones you know you won’t see again that make goodbye painful. Having these extra, unexpected four days with my boy from the city have made this goodbye a celebration–of friendship, of trust, and the family our class became this year.