"Hey Mrs. Swager, how much money you got?"
I get asked this question every time I work the cafeteria with the 3rd through 5th grade students. It's not a rude commentary on my wages, or a judgement of me of any kind. It's a game we play. I then respond, "I don't know, you tell me." Then I produce the contents of my pocket, and the kids count my change. Some of them see this as a huge challenge, and they really scramble to get chosen to give me the answer. There are days when there isn't much there, and they all know that the value of lint and chap stick count for nothing money-wise.
So I got asked this on Friday, and I responded as usual, and this one kid says, "Hey, can I have that? I'm poor." I can't go about giving kids money, poor or not, but I responded without thinking it all the way through, and I hope I didn't hurt him. I know his family and they don't have much. I know he lights up a smile on his Mom's face. What I said was, "Lots of people are poor. You have something that counts more than money." He was irritated by this answer and started talking about how hard his family has it. I believe him, but there's something else I know.
We are all poor. We are all rich.
When this kid looks at my life, I'm sure he thinks, "What would you know about poor? Your kids have clothes that fit and you have food for dinner. You have a house without wheels, a yard, a garage, a bike, a TV, all the toys and games kids could want! Rich!" If you ask my kids (on some days) they will point to the things we don't have and all the times Mom says no because we don't have the money right now and think: poor!
One of the speakers I heard this weekend said that if you have Love plus a million things, and I have only Love that you don't have anything more than I do. This child is rich. His Mother loves him. This child is poor. She doesn't always provide what he needs.
It has occurred to me that this child does not know he is loved. I can see it, but perhaps he doesn't. Perhaps their lack of the necessities translates to no one caring in his young mind. Maybe he can see that to his parents, any money is beer money, no matter what the kids need. I'm sure I only hope for the bright side of his life, and I don't want to think about how mean things get when no one else is around. Thinking back to the conversation, he seemed confused at my comment. This thought rips at my heart, and I pray it's not true, and it changes me. It will change the way I perform my job at school.
No child left behind? No. Maybe instead we should shoot for "No Child Left Feeling Unloved and Unvalued." THEN we will teach them to read out of love. THEN we will teach them what they need to know about the world around them so they can spend their lives making it a better place. THEN we will teach them how to COUNT the change in our pockets, and CREATE change in their families, and in our our community.