Dear Fifth Grade Girl Who Fell at the School Assembly

Dear Fifth Grade Girl Who Fell at the School Assembly,

There you were, seated with the rest of the fifth graders at the end of trimester awards assembly. I didn’t notice you at first although you stood out. Taller than the rest. Wild mane of red hair. Attempting to be fifth grade cool in the presence of the younger kids who revere your place of honor in the back row. There’s a fifth grade arrogance and you try to assume it.

The third graders got their awards. Perfect attendance. Honor roll. Top AR points. Then fourth. Then fifth. Then the reading teacher was at the podium. She gave a short speech about the kids in her program and how much they had improved.

There had to be a little part of you that said oh crap when you saw her up there. Reading improvement awards are the suckiest* of all awards. That’s a word I don’t allow my students to say but there’s no appropriate equivalent so let’s call it what it is. The award means your reading sucks. It just sucks a little less now that you go to the reading teacher. It’s the you don’t suck at reading as bad as you used to award. I know these things. I’m a reading teacher.

Sure enough, your name was called. You tried to stand and wondered why gangly fifth graders are still forced to sit criss cross applesauce on a hard gym floor. Your boots that this morning you were so proud of failed you. You didn’t just stumble. Or trip a little and recover. Nope. You skidded to the left and then took three hops to the right, then a knee, elbows flailing, then a last desperate wobble of a foot trying to gain traction, followed by a full on face plant and whole body skid in front of 500 people. It was the most glorious fall ever. Spectacular, even. You easily spanned 15 feet of floor and had third graders on both sides ducking for cover.

You picked yourself up. You limped to the front. The reading teacher made a joke about you being excited to get your award. She was trying to help, but it didn’t. You accepted your award and let your hair fall over your face to cover the tears in your eyes and stood in a row with other improved sucky readers while parents snapped pictures. You returned to your seat and criss cross applesauced.

I’ve never met you. But I know you. I wanted so desperately to climb out of the bleachers where they stick all the parents – who are far too old to sit with knees in each other’s shoulders and no back support – and wrap my arms around you and talk to you from my heart.

Honey, you’re gonna remember that moment for the rest of your life. Even if you’re 92 and in a nursing home your thoughts will return to the time in fifth grade when you fell in front of everyone. And a little part of you will still be wilting. But there’s so much more to the story than that – the most important being that you picked yourself back up. I know that sounds corny, like it should be on one of those dumb motivational posters your teacher purchased with Scholastic points and hung on every wall of the classroom. It should definitely be up there, lettered over a completely unrelated picture of a field of wildflowers -“When you fall, get back up.”

Regardless of how trite, you did get back up. You had a couple other options. You could have fled the room and found refuge in a stall in the girls bathroom. No one would have blamed you. Or you could have stayed right there and pretended the fall was part of a larger problem. Like a rare fifth grade heart attack. Just stayed perfectly still or murmured how dizzy you felt and left in a blaze of glory on an ambulance stretcher, envied by every kid in the room. But you didn’t. You got back on your feet and received your award.

It’s possible that some kids said rude things to you later, once they were away from their teacher’s warning glare. They probably did. That’s because some kids are jerks. Some grownups are jerks too. For that split second when they see the red return to your cheeks they feel powerful and the longing they have for control overrides their conscience reminding them to be nice. But there were kids around you who leaned in and whispered to you with concern when you sat back down. And a teacher quietly tiptoed over and asked if you were okay and for a moment kept her hand on your back, letting you soak in her comfort and strength. There are more people like that in life than there are jerks. I promise.

What you didn’t know was if you could have listened in on the thoughts of all the grownups behind you – the voices of those who are farther down life’s path – you would have heard story after story. The boy who peed his pants in sixth grade because his teacher wouldn’t let him go to the bathroom is the bald man seated next to the blond woman who was once a seventh grader who forgot the words to her solo in the talent show. Behind him is a tall guy who just got fired from his job even though he worked as hard as he could and two rows ahead is an old lady who got the brake and gas pedals mixed up and her daughter took her keys away for good. The fact is, we’re all walking on banana peels and each of us has been the sprawled and know we will be again someday.

And in the middle of the crowd is a reading teacher who is not at work. She’s there to watch her third grader claim her awards and to clap and take pictures. But that’s not the reason she’s not at work. She’s in the middle of one of life’s glorious 15 foot sprawls and face plants. She’s fighting disease and depression and anxiety and the unknown and trying desperately to get back on her feet. And you showed her the way.

You showed her that she needs to relocate her footing as gracefully as possible under the circumstances. Walk forward and face the crowd, hair covering tear filled eyes when necessary. Return to her tribe for love and support. Let God’s hand rest on her back for comfort and strength. Cry a little – or a lot – once the crowd is gone. Know that this season of life will be remembered as failure and always wilt a little in the recalling, but make peace with it. Pair the memory with the one of climbing back up.

Fifth grade girl who fell during the assembly, you showed us all how it’s done. And I am grateful.

With love,
A teacher who knows the best lessons are taught by students


*I hate the word sucks. It is not part of my vocabulary. It’s the only word that seemed to fit here. Acknowledging that this may be offensive to some.


Dear Planned Parenthood – Somewhere Inside, We All Know

Dear Planned Parenthood – Somewhere Inside, We All Know:

We each have our minds made up. I am unashamedly pro-life. For ethical purposes, I’m not 100% sure when life begins but in my own decision making I prefer to err on the side of conception. I don’t know at what week a fetus feels pain, but I’ve felt the panic caused by silence on the Doppler at a 12 week appointment and the rush of relief minutes later viewing the steady pulsing of a kidney bean shape on a fuzzy screen.

Those ultrasounds change you. At first they make you nervous. You glance at the screen and squint and try desperately to make sense of the image and worry you are nurturing a seahorse-alien hybrid – calling into question your maternal instincts. But then there was that day around 20 weeks where it clicked and I saw her. And him. And her. One was sucking her thumb. One covered her face with her hands. One was waving hello. The ultrasound tech declared our first baby a girl and was promptly tackled in a hug by my mother who was sobbing and screeching, “Thank you! Oh thank you!!” Really mom? Which proves you’re never too old to be embarrassed by your parents.

The first picture in each baby book is a black and white image of a little body curled around a big head and my five year old says, “That’s me? When I was still in your belly? Before the doctor cut you up and took me out?” I had c-sections and he’s a boy so this is extremely cool. And he doesn’t know how to say it exactly, but he’s proud of the picture and his grin says, “I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” He tells people – random strangers – “My name is Matthew because that means gift from God and I’m a gift from God.” You have no idea, kid. A total surprise gift from God as He chuckled at our belief that natural family planning was a legitimate form of birth control.

I do not doubt anyone’s intentions. The statement that a woman has a right to control her own body is truly a beautiful thought. We all find it appalling to know around the world there are millions of women who have zero say in what will happen to their bodies tonight. Where we disagree is on a point of time – do the options for the mother, the host, the one who will be sustaining this little one, end at the moment of conception? Implantation? When the baby can experience pain? At viability? At birth?

I think for many of us the problem with Planned Parenthood is the callous conversation over wine. The nonchalant attitude. Discussing body parts with the same tone of voice used when scrolling through Craigslist looking for the best used couch, preferably from a pet-free, non-smoking household but a few small tears might be acceptable at the right price. When I was in early pregnancy for my third, we were at an appointment with 4 year old Elisabeth following up on surgery she recently had on a defective kidney. Because the condition was congenital, I asked the surgeon when we should have the new baby checked. He said, in that same nonchalant tone, “You should be able to tell on the 20 week ultrasound. That’s not too late for termination.” Termination? Elisabeth’s surgery was a stressful ordeal but termination? That same horror. Recoiling. I felt it when each video was released. I get that they were edited. I get that Planned Parenthood does some noble things. But deep inside, we know. I think somewhere inside we all know.

When I was 23 weeks along with Emily my doctor called. She said those words all mamas carrying little ones inside fear most, “I have bad news for you.” Somehow, a fluke, no one really is sure how these things happen, it’s not your fault, your placenta tore. And then these words of hope, “You need to pray for your baby.” (And get in bed. Don’t get up except to use the bathroom. And I will see you first thing Monday morning.) Monday morning came. By then I had exhausted all the medical resources the internet had to offer.

My doctor was compassionate and also matter of fact. She told me we needed one more week. If we could make it one more week we would have a chance. Back to bed. We made it one more week. She said at some point the placenta would tear further, at which time I would need to get to the hospital immediately. She would do the c-section and the baby would be sent via Life Flight to a NICU. My husband would follow the baby. A friend was on call to come be with me.

Here’s how valuable that little unborn life was. Valuable enough to make me stay in bed for the majority of the next 16 weeks. Valuable enough for my insurance to cover weekly non-stress tests and frequent ultrasounds. Enough for my doctor to see me every seven days to check things over and give me pep talks. And go to war with me over my reasoning that lying on a raft in the pool is the same as bedrest – we had negotiations about number of hours allowed out of bed intense enough to shame those hammering out Middle Eastern peace policies. Valuable enough that countless family members, friends, and coworkers brought meals, took the other kids on summer excursions, did laundry, loaned stacks of books, bought Preemie clothes, and frantically texted whenever they heard Life Flight overhead. So why? Why was that life so valuable while still in my womb? How does society decide?  Is it because this baby was wanted? Desirable? That path of logic has some frightening ramifications.

As a side note – the whole “My body my choice” is a farce. At 36 weeks – 13 of which there was nothing to do but watch TV and eat casseroles from neighbors – I was an elephant. I started to worry I was going to be the 6:00 news story where the ambulance crew dismantles the door frame to wedge me out of the house. I was bored and in pain and had heartburn and couldn’t breathe and just So. Over. Being. Pregnant. I had received the shots for the baby’s lungs. Armed with a packed suitcase and documented research (from the internet of course) suggesting that both Emily and I would be safer with her out of my ever expanding belly, I demanded my doctor perform an early delivery. I returned home and waddled back to bed for more daytime talk shows and cheesy potatoes. My body my choice is a total lie. When is anyone’s body their choice? My choice would be to be hooked to a morphine drip during staff meetings. I can’t even legally choose how fast I drive my body down the road or whether or not to strap myself into a seatbelt. There are laws all over my body. Yet we let that statement stand unchallenged. To disagree with this hallowed mantra is to deny our womanhood. To forfeit our feminist credentials.

At 39 weeks, two days before my scheduled c-section, Emily was born. My obgyn, bless her, cheerfully chirped, “See, I told you she’d be early.” Through countless prayers and by the mercy of God, we had a healthy baby girl whose Preemie clothes could not stretch to cover her.

Three blessed babies were protected, nourished, and sustained by my body. Three souls that convince me we can do better as a society. And when we can’t turn away from the video quickly enough and we catch a glimpse of that dismembered little one, we know. We all know.

God have mercy.