One of the best things about teaching fifth grade is watching as the children begin to figure out who they really are. Ten year olds are like furled leaves; slowly, gently, while we are not watching, they open up and seek the sunlight. They learn to stretch themselves, and to grow, and to open their arms to all of life’s possibilities.
As part of this process, fifth grade teachers love to ask the children to write about themselves. “Describe your strengths as a learner.” “Tell us five of your favorite memories.” “What makes you most proud?” And one of the most challenging assignments, “Write a poem about yourself, using adjectives and verbs and labels that describe you.”
This is an “I” poem.
I introduced the idea of the “I” poem to this year’s class today. “Be honest!”, I told them. “Describe yourself the way you really see yourself. Describe they way that you hope others see you.”
They settled in to write, sharpened pencils scratching diligently in marble notebooks. They chewed their erasers, tapped their toes, squinted out the window at the falling rain for inspiration. A hand raised, and I pointed with a smile.
“Did you write one?”, the little girl asked, her face a mixture of seriousness and mischief. I laughed, acknowledging her request that I challenge myself in the same way that I was challenging them. I took up my pen, sat at my desk, and suddenly felt poised on the edge of a chasm.
Some of the poetry would be easy. I could surely use the word “teacher” without a problem! And “cook” and “gardener” and “music lover” could be worked in. But my hand, and my heart, wanted to start my poem with the word “Mom”, and I wasn’t sure that I could honestly do that any more.
I squirmed, and I struggled, and I chewed my pen and squinted out the window at the falling rain for inspiration. I am still “Mom”, but it is no longer the opening line in my poem. It is no longer the central theme upon which all others depend. “Mom” still finds a place in the poem of my life, but it isn’t the title any longer.
“I am a teacher, happiest with children around me
I am a singer, swept up in harmony
I am a cook, loving a table full of smiling faces
I am a daughter, sharing memories with Grandma
I am a wife, walking the dogs with my best friend
And I am a Mom, for now and always filled with joy at this one word.”