Today was graduation. I always get a bit teary at graduation, but I think I cried more than usual this year because of a meeting I had last week with a former student, who I’ll call Annie. I saw her at the gym where I climb, struggling to hook on the carbineer of the auto belay (it’s a climbing thingy). I smiled, greeted her and offered to help. She smiled back warily and looked around the room to find her mom. I realized with a shock that I was a stranger to her. This isn’t my first time seeing a kid who didn’t recognize me, but usually the parents are there to prompt them to fake it. This time she was alone and I was asking to do something that involves putting my hands close to her body. I was not just a stranger, but a creepy one.
We used to know each other really well, Annie and I. We used to love each other. I had an intimacy with her. I held her while she cried and we celebrated the growth of her family together. I knew her dreams and fears. I sang to her of friendship and Shabbat. She is still her, and I am still me. I still know her, but she doesn’t know me anymore.
That’s what it is to teach early childhood. The five-year-olds keep leaving. I keep loving them, and they keep leaving, and even if I see them all the time (even if they are my own daughter), the five-year-olds leave.
Opening your heart to people means it hurts when they go. It’s still the right choice. To cling to love, to choose to embrace each new child is still the right choice. It hurts and it’s the right choice.
Here’s why I know it is. Today at graduation a grandmother of one of my students thanked me. She teared up as she told me that one of the songs we chose was her own mother’s favorite, and that her mother had sung it to her. She felt connected with her mother and her grandchild through that song. I know that boy so well, and I love him.
I love him, and he’ll forget me, but he’ll remember the song.