By Amy Spitzer
Parenting is terrifying.
It is a never ending rollercoaster of dips and turns, deep dives and steep climbs. There are moments full of silence so loud that the click-clack-click of movement is all you can hear and then there are moments where the screams fill up the atmosphere, choking out usable oxygen. And just when you get back to the beginning of the ride, the place where you can breathe and loosen your grip, the car speeds up again or, in some cases, lurches into reverse.
I work with adolescents; 8th graders, to be exact. They are full of sharp angles and unpredictability, surprising themselves, and me, with their unique insights and revelations about the world around them—and they are complicated.
In one classroom, I have a student who watched a sibling die at the hands of the police, another whose parents split their time between Egypt and the U.S., sometimes taking one or all of the children and sometimes leaving them behind for months at a time.
In here are students with IEPs and students with 504 plans; students who play with LEGO and students who vape and have sex.
I have a student who barely speaks above a whisper but who writes beautifully, pushing words together on the page in ways I have never seen. All of them tentatively own their own space, large or small, from behind their masks…and for now, those masks are real and tangible.
My students’ pain is real and I can confront it confidently for the few hours that they are with me each week.
I may be helping—and I am fairly certain that I am not hurting––but in the end, it does not draw me in fully and completely. It used to, in a time before I had my own children and before I was even married. Kids filled up the space in my heart and my connection with some of them lasted long into their high school and adult years. But I did not ride their roller coaster. I did not then and I do not now. I didn’t even know that ride existed until I had my own kids and, more specifically, my own teenager.
But the thing with the roller coaster analogy is that it is flawed: the roller coaster stays on the tracks, the riders stay safely in their seats and when the ride ends, the joy is inextricably connected to the fear.
The truth is that I don’t know if my kid will stay on the tracks, safely belted in beneath the safety bar, confidently looking back on the ride once his feet return to the security of the ground. I want to believe with all the air in my lungs that ultimately the joy will outlast the fear, but I have seen too many of my students’ roller coasters derail to pretend that isn’t a possibility.
So, for now, we will provide as many safety measures as we can and hope that the ride eventually slows down enough for us to enjoy it.
Amy finally settled into being a middle school English teacher, after a long rambling journey through a myriad of professions, which included learning how to expertly wait tables without dropping too many dishes, becoming a fully licensed stockbroker on Wall Street, navigating the Guilliani administration’s “Welfare to Work” program in New York City on behalf of displaced adults, and eventually finding her soul’s purpose at a Boys & Girls Club in Syracuse. The leap from there to teaching was an easy, logical (and responsible!) one. Teaching felt right, purposeful and impactful. After almost 20 years of teaching writing, Amy is finally putting her words out there, hoping that they find an audience. When she is not searching for the just right word, she can be found strumming the same three or four chords on her guitar, bantering with one of her three children or hiking in the woods with her husband. Her greatest joy comes from belly laughing with the few people she has gathered up as her friends…a hodgepodge tribe of like-minded people who also seem to appreciate the need for finding the just right words.
Editor: Dana Gornall