The deadline for late and missing work is this Monday and one of my boys recently stopped doing his homework. His mother had missed parent-teacher conferences because she was sick and she wanted to meet with us today to get a list of what he was missing, how to do it, etc. Unfortunately, the day before Thanksgiving, most teachers are out the door and on the way to the airport on the heels of the students, so there wasn't any way anyone was going to agree to meet. Especially after 4 days of staying late for parent-teacher conferences: most of us were dead on our feet and just wanted to sleep.
I felt bad for Tim. He's a smart kid but he's experienced a period of popularity recently and I think it's gone to his head. So I looked up his address and realized I practically drive past his house on my way home. How hard would it be to drop off the stuff he's missing?
It took me longer than I thought to find his address. I knew he lived near the trailer park, but I couldn't seem to find the right house! I thought about giving up a couple of times, but I knew he was there somewhere and I really liked this kid: I wanted to see him win in the end. I kept driving in circles, thinking, "I could have been home by now!"
As I drove past a mailbox I had ignored up until now, I suddenly noticed it had the address I was looking for listed on the side. But surely not: the road next to the mailbox could hardly be identified as a driveway. It was more a muddy footpath leading through an opening in some trees. But I turned in anyways and drove down the path. There was a clearing behind it, with a tired, tiny house at one end. Someone had parked a motor home a bit away from the house and had run an extension cord to it so it had some power (though it was obvious no one was home right now). There was a tiny garden growing in front that had a few sickly-looking tomato plants and some unidentified herbs (it looked like they had already shut down for the winter). When I knocked on the door and asked for Tim, the teenager who answered the door directed me to continue down the driveway and park behind the house.
Tim's house used to be a workshed tacked onto the back of the main house. It showed evidence of being converted into a living space on the inside, but the outside clearly showed its history. A front door had been installed where the shed door would have been, but the walls looked paper thin and I didn't see any windows. It must have been a cold, claustrophobic existence to cram a family into that small space. And here I was, driving up in my nearly-new SUV, wearing my fashionably thick and warm pea coat and corduroy pants and feeling completely out of place here, where three families were living in a space meant for one, where everyone was barely holding on.
I wondered if anyone living here had lost a job recently. Lots of people in the area had. I didn't think anyone here could even afford a sick day, much less a period of unemployment.
Tim answered the door wearing a beanie, a thick coat and a pair of mittens. And no wonder: there didn't appear to be any heat in the house at all. He was genuinely surprised to see me, and a little uncomfortable to have me at his door. I mentioned that I knew he needed to make up some work but he had forgotten to see me, so I decided to drop it off on my way home. He woodenly took the stack of papers and directions from my hand. I heard a faint, nearly whispered "thank you" as he backed into the house. And, as I said my goodbyes and headed back to my car, a much louder and more sure-sounding "Thank you!" followed me out.
As I climbed back into my car, the digital thermometer informed me that it was 38 degrees outside.
I realized then that, for many of our students, our school is probably as wonderous as Hogwarts was to Harry Potter (except Harry stayed at Hogwarts for most of the year: our kids have to go back home every day). It's warm, spacious, and clean. Our library has a huge window overlooking a tree-covered mountain and instead of library chairs, it has plushy love seats that face that window. Our cafeteria bakes fresh every day. Except for this week, I suddenly realized with a great deal of guilt. No wonder so many of them were hungry! School lunch was probably the only reliable meal many of them got in a day.
Probably some of the canned green beans and ramen and cranberry sauce we'd collected during the food drive was going to feed Tim during this holiday.
As corny as it sounds, I'm going to be much more thankful this Thanksgiving. My condo may not be large (compared to the other houses around me), but it's big enough and it's warm and there's always something to eat. I have three wonderful cats to keep me entertained and warm, and a snake that shows love in his own way (translation: he tolerates me and doesn't bite me even when he's annoyed). I have a husband that loves me to distraction, who has already bought me my first Christmas present he tells me, and who always has my back when I need him. We both have jobs, we're both healthy, and we're both happy. A gut-stuffing meal would never have reminded me of that, but a cold child huddling in a moorlock-like existence in a converted work shed did.
Happy Thanksgiving all. I hope every one of us has something to be thankful for.