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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Love Breeds Love

Merry Christmas! Today is the saddest day of the year for me, as I love all things Christmas and knowing that I now have to wait a full year to do it all over again always bums me out. I know the idea is to keep the spirit of Christmas in our hearts year-round, but there is just something about twinkling lights, the smell of pine and burning cinnamon candles, and cheesy Christmas carols that makes it easier for me. Oh well - look at it this way - we all have 364 shopping days until next year. Ha!
In keeping with the spirit of the holiday season, I wanted to share a touching moment I had a few days ago.  My teacher friends know that we have these "a-ha" moments all the time in our jobs, but this one, I had to share.
(This story is a secret. If you know or communicate with any of my current students, please do NOT share what you are about to read. It is a surprise until after January 3.)
A brief backstory: Every year since I began teaching, I have always done a very secret project for my seniors. This is the 10th anniversary of the inception of the assignment and prepping for it is by far, my favorite thing on my to-do list each autumn. The project is called "Letters of Love." My Catholic school friends will recognize a similarity between my assignment and Kairos ( a retreat Catholic high schools embark upon each year). For the non-Caths out there in the blogosphere, the project works like this: Every year beginning in August when I first meet my students, I begin sending home secret letters to their parents, guardians, friends, family, cousins, etc, asking them for "letters of love" for their student. The general idea is that the first week of January, after we all get back from holiday break, I present each one of my students with at least one letter of love from someone who loves them. (Some students gets over 20 letters!) 
The reason I began this assignment is because I noticed that the school community in which I teach is not BIG on showing feelings or emotions. Many of the kids at my school do not hear "I love you" enough.  Come visit my school for a day and I promise, you will feel this yearning. It is tangible and real.  This isnt to fault their experience. The sad reality is that many of my kids (not all) come from single-parent homes where the parent is simply trying to keep their heads above water msot days.  Of course my students' parents love their children, but I think they do not always place any value on SAYING it. They simply assume their child knows.
 It has always been my experience that presenting these kids with letters of love impacts them in a powerful, powerful, profound way. There are many tears that day - and the boys are the most affected. I promise you have not lived until you stand there and watch a boy read "I love you and I'm proud of you" from a father they rarely see. It is overwhelming and deeply moving and they are SO grateful. I had one student from 2003 stop me one day and show me that he carries his letter from his granny in his wallet!
Unfortunately, collecting the letters is not the easiest job on the planet. Sometimes, they have no stable address and my requests never reach them. Often, parents get my requests and forget to send one, despite numerous reminders and phone calls, begging for them. Rarely, parents actually flat-out refuse. I had one parent tell me, "I dont have anything nice to say about him," and I cried for an hour. "I'm only his teacher," I wanted to shout. "And I can list 25 amazingly wonderful things about your son!"
In these cases, I do not quit my efforts. I will dig, root, turn over any stone I can to find someone, ANYONE who can send in a letter for each student. The staff at our school (teachers, counselors, coaches, hall monitors, principals) has been amazingly supportive, filling in for kids whose parents opt not to participate. On the day of the assignment, every kid WILL get at least 2 letters - one from me, and one from someone else - and I will not present the letters until that goal is met.
Now, onto my "moment" last week...
I have a student - a lovely, talented, intelligent, funny, beautiful girl - for whom I had not received any letters. (This particular girl also has two adorable children, which will come into relevance later in the story.) I spoke to her mother, her father, her grandmother... all assured they would send me something, but the deadline has passed and I still have not heard from them.  So, I did what I normally do in these situations- I "Facebook creeped" on her page to see if I could find any relatives listed among her friends. (LOL) I'm not friends with my students on FB, so sometimes if their page is private, this is a deadend, but this time- her page was open and I was able to see her friend list.
On her list was her boyfriend and the father of her two children. I had actually had this boy in my English class a few years ago, so I knew him. I immediately sent him a message asking him if he would send in something for her. To be honest, I completely did not expect him to participate. Knowing his history, I was fairly confident (jaded?) that he would not come through for this.  But I sent the request anyway.

 Imagine my surprise when three days later, I get this email from him, thanking me for asking him to do it and explaining that his letter was attached. I was absolutely OVERCOME by his words to her.
First of all, he told her that she is directly responsible for giving him the two best things in his life - his children. Then he goes on to tell her what an amazing mother she is to them and how, from watching her with them, he learns directly from her how to be a good parent. He explains that in his life, he never expected to be given so much and how she and their 2 children are his entire world. He said how he doesnt express his love for her enough, because he doesnt always feel deserving of them but that he prays a lot for the strength to always do right by them.

As if this wasnt emotional enough, he ends his letter with:

"We're both just kids, trying to figure out how this living thing goes. I cant promise you the future, just like you cant promise me. But I can promise you that as long as God allows me, I will keep working my ass off to make sure our puzzle pieces always fit together."
It isnt Thoreau and he isnt perfect, but it's beautiful and from the heart. And it will make her realize that somebody sees her worth and beauty and values her enough to try hard every day to be worthy of her love.
And if that isnt the entire point of the assignment, I dont know what is. 
TODAY I AM THANKFUL FOR ... little signs that remind me to stop always assuming the worst about people.


  1. i. LOVE. this. brought tears to my eyes. and how i know all to well about those kids that don't 'get loved'. love you and what you do every single day.

  2. Very moving post, Katie. Please update us on the class reactions when they receive their letters this year!

  3. Katie, I am sitting at work blubbering like a baby while reading this! I am so thankful that you have brought to your school what the Catholic schools do on retreat. I recall writing my daughter's Kairos letter then trading with my husband as we read one another's sentiments. Neither of us could finish immediately because of the tears, and we ARE parents who regularly express our feelings to our children! What you are doing is truly a wonderful thing and I know that it will come back to you tenfold! Let us know how today went!