Published in the Michigan Catholic
As we draw near the end of another school year, I’m reminded of the first graduation I attended as a teacher at St. Mary’s. As I sat amidst my cohorts watching the students process in, I felt a sudden tinge of emotion. As students gave speeches and parents beamed with pride, here I was, sitting with the faculty, welling up. I barely knew these kids; so, what was my problem? Perhaps I recognized – as a parent – how these families felt as they watched their children walk through this ceremonious doorway, into the next phase of their lives.
Being both a teacher and parent, I tend to make connections between my own kids and the ones I teach. And I wonder if my kids come across to their teachers as well as my students do to me. The other day I got a glimpse of an answer.
“Hey, mom and dad; your kids are alright.” So said a waitress who complimented my daughters on their manners. Then I wondered: is she talking about my daughters? Is she talking about the eight year old who rolls her eyes at us; or the ten year old going on thirteen; the one who stomps her feet from time to time? We’ve all asked that question, as parents. And I’m sure we’ve all endured the indifference our children show us from time to time.
Now, as a teacher of high school girls, many of my cohorts and I marvel at how well our students carry themselves. So impressed am I that I sometimes forget they’re kids.
Recently, I engaged in conversation with some of my students about their daily struggles. They revealed that they too sometimes – get this – act like teenagers. They actually admitted to rolling their eyes, stomping their feet, and struggling with their parents’ rules. Although they didn’t say it, I’ll bet something else, too: I’ll bet their parents love them deeply, and don’t always feel that love returned.
I’m reminded of some dear family friends, active in the inner city. Years ago, they adopted a number of parentless boys. Selflessly, they raised these boys, giving of themselves so that they might have better lives. Years later, one of those boys was sentenced to life in prison after an unfortunate decision. They visited their son in prison. Regularly, they brought him gifts, food and most importantly their presence; until one day he no longer welcomed their visits. While they continued trying, he rejected their attempts, virtually shutting them out. One day, the father admitted to me how painful that was. His attempts to reach out to his son were met with rejection and indifference. And when he told me the advice someone gave him, it struck me too. Someone looked at him – straight in the eye – and said, “Now you know how God feels.”
I wonder, if but for an instant, we parents haven’t been given a special gift; to see into the heart of God. We love our children unconditionally. When that love is met with indifference; when they act like teenagers; when we pour out our very selves to them and it remains unrequited, perhaps we can find solace in the fact God understands.
We are called in the Gospels to imitate Christ; to love without counting the cost, or expecting in return. Who would have known being a parent would allow us to do just that? Now, when my ten year old would just as soon pull off her fingernails than hug me in public, I can pull the dagger out of my own heart by recognizing the one in Christ’s.
What helps me realize that my kids will be okay in the end, is watching the kids I teach. Seeing the decency with which they carry themselves; marveling at the maturity with which they plan services, complete projects, and show respect to their teachers in one moment - then admit to struggles with parents in the next. It reminds me that although we revel in the accolades our kids show us (as teachers or parents), we are just as called to love them when they don’t. And when those affections aren’t as evident, perhaps we can look to the heavens and know there is One who understands; One whose life was just as acquainted with the grief we may feel as stewards of the children He’s given us.
We see your kids in the classrooms of the Catholic schools that you so unselfishly sacrifice to send them. And guess what? They’re okay. They’ll struggle; and sometimes they’ll fall. But know this: they love you. They’ve said so, more than once. Maybe that’s why it’ll be so hard for us teachers keep dry eyes this graduation season.