Friday, December 17, 2010

It Started with Stanley

A paper doll.  A geography/reading lesson.  A "creative" strategy.  Never would have predicted a miracle.

Meet Flat Stanley.  (picture to be added later)  Flat Stanley is a paper doll.  He is about 13 inches tall and  once detailed features are added, he can become anyone at all.  Meet Flat Maya.  Flat Maya was created by a student in my classroom and sent via Facebook post to a high school friend of mine.  Today I was witness to a miracle.

Story to follow...

Not long ago, our class created paper dolls to send out into the big, wide world.  Our plan being to send them out to exotic places - places we would likely never get to visit ourselves.  Then once our dolls came back to us, they'd share their stories of adventure and we would learn about all the places they visited...vicariously, of course.

Well this little Stanley-ette didn't leave Knoxville, but she certainly was a catalyst for a magnificent adventure...Here's what happened in as small a nutshell as this little squirrel can find.

L. is a champion in the making to be sure.  She has seven children in her family ranging in age from 3 to 15.  Five boys.  Two girls.  The oldest boy is in a wheelchair, but is of sound mind.  Their father is not able to be with them at this time due to his incarceration for reasons unknown and irrelevant to me.

My first conference with L.'s mother left me in awe and admiration of a strong woman with a lot of pride.  When I volunteered help, she looked away from me and said, "I have this pride thing..."  Let me step up on my soapbox for just a minute.  I need to vent.

First of all, who are "we" to think that we can ride in on white horses (pun intended) to "save" our poor, black neighbors (as long as they don't live next door, but on the other side of town)?!  Maybe it's me and the way I've been changed to see things differently, but "Blind Side" movie considered as well, how the heck would I feel if the roles were reversed?!  Yes, it makes us feel like we've done something to write a modest check, bag up some old, worn-out clothes, and take our time to haul it down to Goodwill...Look at me.  I did my "Christian" duty.  I helped the poor today.  Ugh!  What we actually did was clean out our closets and our garages or our basements to make room for new stuff for ourselves, by giving our old stuff to "them."  (See?  I'm finally learning why "them" can be an offensive pronoun.  Before, I had no clue).  Not that it doesn't help because it does, but at what price?  More stripping away of dignity and self-respect.  We should seriously look at tearing down walls and actually learning from each other.  Those of us who think we're in a position to help and teach, just might be surprised to find out that we can be helped too,  and we just might have a little something to learn. Okay, I'm climbing down now...

By all outward appearances, L.'s mother looked tired.  Other adjectives come to mind as well, but I am ashamed to admit they crossed my mind at the time.  She wore a housedress and houseshoes.  Her teeth were in need of some dental care.  But there was something about her eyes...they shined.  When she talked about her children, her eyes lit up and sparkled!  There were a couple of times during our conversation when her eyes actually filled with tears of pride, especially when she talked about L.  Apparently, L. is Momma #2 in the family.  She wakes herself up early to get her younger siblings fed, dressed, and ready for school.  She is a hard worker and is so, so eager to please.  L. is a fabulous judge of character and surprisingly will stand up for herself with force and determination.  (Once, a substitute threw a folder at her and she told him, "You ain't gonna throw nuthin' at me!"- for that, she got sent to the principal's office, but she went with her head held high).  I love this kid!

L.'s paper doll was sent to an elementary school friend of mine.  Ironically, we'd recently reconnected via Facebook!  Hope (more irony...or divine appointment?) has a daughter the same age as L. and thought it might be a fun thing to take part in our project as a family.  Flat Maya, as L. had named her, went off to Hope's house the first week of November.  She rode horses and attended plays.  She visited a private school and made new friends, but one of the most interesting things that happened occurred on a trip to the dentist's office.

As Hope waited in the reception area, she shared the story of the fun they'd had with Flat Maya.  The receptionist and Hope struck up a conversation and as Hope shared what little she knew of L.'s life, the receptionist's eyes filled with tears and she grabbed Hope by the hand and explained.  Three years prior, she had found herself in very similar circumstances.  Single mom.  No job.  No money for Christmas.  Too much pride to beg...Desperation and despair had taken over.  One night, she arrived home to find a fully decorated Christmas tree on her front porch complete with presents below for herself and her children.  She'd been keeping the tree "for such a time as this" in the hope (?) that someday she would be able to pass along the tree and her story with someone else who could keep the tradition alive.  When you get on your feet, pass the tree on to another...

Well, needless to say, that special tree ended up in L.'s family room complete with presents for the entire family (and then some)!

Fast forward to the day before Christmas break.  Chelcie and Drew stayed after school with me to help load L.'s mother's car with a plethora of gifts, gift cards and cash.  I handed her mother a business card that contained a quote from John C. Maxwell.  “If we do not INTENTIONALLY ADD value to others, we probably UNINTENTIONALLY SUBTRACT from them.” My prayer is that she will continue to add value to the lives of her children and everyone with whom she comes in contact.  I know she's added value to my life.

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