The Blessing of Age

Wednesday, February 13, 2013
2:00 pm

I teach in a drop-out prevention program for high school students who are pregnant or who have had their babies. This is a program in which considerable resources are invested in these teens. They take parenting classes, and their babies are cared for by a generously staffed nursery. Free, need-based breakfasts and lunches are provided, and our students overwhelmingly demonstrate financial need. Some (and I stress some, not all) of these kids have grown up with a family dynamic that is dependent on public assistance. Though we are providing them the opportunity to earn their high school diplomas and giving them assistance for post secondary education or training, we do have a handful of students who attend school just enough to get their monthly checks, and for whom this remains a perfectly acceptable way to live. It's all they've known and they have no desire to work their way out of it.

The fact remains, these are still kids. Babies having babies. My youngest student is 14 and in 8th grade. Yes. 8th grade. Middle school. She delivered her son in November. Just prior to her son's birth, her mother went to prison, so this child had to go through labor and delivery, as well as bringing her newborn home without the help or presence of her mother. Most of our girls are 15, 16, or 17. One is 19, married, and the mother of 2 girls, ages 4 and 2. In non-academic moments students' conversations range from contractions and nursing to boy troubles and gossip. It is the quintessential culture clash.

The drama du jour has to do with a senior (who has a toddler son), who chose to have sex with the "baby daddy" (a term I hear way too much and disdain) of the daughter of another one of my students, thus breaking the unwritten code: Do not sleep with another girl's boyfriend or ex-boyfriend! And yes, these two girls are in the same class during at least one period. Since ours is a small program, the students cannot avoid each other, regardless of the circumstances. And as you'd expect, when there's drama, people take sides. You choose which one will be your friend, and of course it better not be both! The cat claws and "meowing" peak at times like this.

What my students cannot possibly understand yet is this: today's drama, that has them so entangled in bitterness and rage, will hardly even be a memory in just a few short years. These people, with whom they share the most intimate of experiences will soon be fading faces and forgotten names. And someday they will (I hope) realize just how thoughtless, stupid, and shortsighted their choices were. One choice none of them regret is having their babies. While the timing could most certainly have been better, they have discovered an endless store of love, and an indefensible protective force welling up from within them. They realize, at least in part, that they are no longer living life for themselves. They may not fully realize the fact that they have left childhood behind, and in its place, they have accepted the very adult responsibility of parenthood.

I have the benefit of age, which gives me a different vantage point from my students. I know that life races past you at ever increasing speed. That our children grow older and less dependent upon us with every passing day. That we cannot pour ourselves exclusively into our offspring and expect to live a well-balanced life when they are old enough to care for themselves. I understand the importance of a quality education and the value found in facing difficulties, doing the hard work, and reaping the benefits of accomplishment. I understand what it is to choose sacrifice for the welfare of my family or for a better quality of life. That there is satisfaction in saving money and building a nest egg, rather than spending every dime that lands in my hands. I know the peace, security, and depth of love that can be experienced when you have spent decades with one person, no matter how difficult the rough spots may have been. I know that life can be a rich and rewarding ride when you commit to living the best one possible. And I understand that each day is a gift that only comes once. It is to be opened and savored while it is ours. We are to ring out every drop of goodness or learn every lesson it offers while it is still "today," because all too soon, today is gone. God willing, we'll get another chance to live again tomorrow, and just maybe make it even better.

I don't know how long I will have to impact the lives of my students. While I'm with them, I'll try to give them some of the tools they'll need to be better human beings. It's up to them to learn how to use these tools and apply them to their own lives.

Until next time . . .

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