Stark Discovery Under the Coatrack Today

Tailor came to our school as a scruffy looking, dirty eye-glassed, crazy-haired first grader.  As the literacy person, I had the role of doing some preliminary assessments to get a sense of where he was as a reader.  I'll never forget working with him that day.  He struck me as so quirky, reclining back in the seat of the sunlit library corner, smiling out of the corner of his mouth, taking his glasses on and off, on and off, squinting up at the ceiling then down at the paper, laughing, and talking about anything but what was on the reading tests.  So, of course, we talked about whatever came up, I asked him about his taped-together glasses ( "Can you see okay?" This simple question launched him into a long story; but, yeah, he could see okay.).  We actually got the tests done, too.  I don't remember exactly how he scored, but it wasn't too bad, wasn't too good (the 'move ins' usually come in a lot lower), but I do remember knowing I would know this child.  Something in him had struck a special cord with me.

The remainder of his first grade year wasn't the finest.  He was in a rough class, so he ran with the pack, spending quite a bit of time in the principal's office.  Between all my school-wide literacy duties, I'd take him aside, ask how he was doing, read a bit with him.  When I did lessons or co-taught in his classroom, he was always all smiles and generous with hugs when I was on the way out the door.

Now, it's February, and he's well into his second grade year.  He has a fabulous teacher.  He's still his zany self, of course, and we wouldn't want it any other way, but he's not hanging out in the principal's office.  I just spent two weeks in his class working on informative writing, culminating in the composition of newspaper articles.  We made our own newspaper, announced it to the school, and gave out copies today.  Unfortunately, his teacher was absent, and apparently the class had a bit of a difficult time behavior-wise with the substitute.  I checked in on them just before lunch, and there was Tailor and another boy, not yet excused, reaping some consequence for what was, I guess, a day-long deluge of miscreant behavior.  I walked over to Tailor, put my arm around him and asked, "What's wrong, bud?  You haven't been having these kinds of problems."  With that, he started crying.  

"I've been bad all day.  I just miss my mom so much."

"Oh, honey, I know how that is.  My son misses me a lot when he's at school, too."

"No, no, my mom is dead."

My heart sank.  "Oh, Tailor, I am so very sorry to hear that.  That must be so hard.  Here take a minute and sit down.  Do you want to talk about it?"

At this point, we were seated where no one could hear our conversation.  I was picking grass out of his hair (first recess must have been one to remember), when he answered,  "No, I don't want to talk about it."

I told him that I remembered when he moved into our school last year, when I first sat with him in the library, and how he struck me as such a special kid.  "Maybe your mom was looking down and sent me a message that day.  We are so glad you are here with us and I'm sure your mom is so proud of you.  Today's been a tough day.  We all have them.  It will be fine."

"No, it's not fine.  If I do one more thing there's going to be a 'parent contact!'  I haven't had a parent contact all year."

"We'll, see, you haven't had one because you've been doing so well.  Don't worry, after lunch I'm sure things will be better.  There won't be a need for the substitute to call home, right?"

He nodded.

"Hey, I know, I have a bunch of books in my office that I give out to kids.  Do you want to come to my office and pick some?"

"No, that's okay.  You don't have to give me books."  His tears had dried up by now.  

"I give away lots of books, Tailor.  I have an idea. I'll pick some for you for a surprise.  I'll put them in your backpack.  You think you're ready to go to lunch now?"

"No, not yet." We were out by the coatrack now so he could point out which backpack was his.  "See this soccer ball?"  The soccer ball was on the shelf above his pack.  He had written his name on it with black marker.


"My mom gave me this ball.  It's one of the things I have that makes me think of her."

"It's a very special soccer ball then, huh?"  He was standing, talking, and I was sitting on a step under the coats and backpacks.

"Yeah.  She gave it to me just before my birthday.  That's how she died.  It was my birthday and she went out to buy me some presents.  She stopped at a stoplight.  The driver of a truck didn't stop and he ran right into her.  The steering wheel crushed her."  

I started sobbing.  I couldn't help it.   He peered down at me straight-faced.  Somebody walking by handed me a tissue.  He held the soccer ball gingerly, rolling it between his hands.  I wiped my eyes.  "That is just horrible, Tailor.  I am so, so sorry.  When is your birthday?"

"November second."

"My son's birthday is in November, too.  I just can't imagine how hard that is.  You are such a strong boy."  I gave him another hug.  "I am so glad to know you."

He walked off.  I just sat there awhile.  Then, I went to my office, picked some books, wrote him a little note wishing him a good weekend and letting him know I'd check in on him again.  I tied everything up with a bright green ribbon.  I meandered back to the coatrack, and there, under that soccer ball, in his very empty red backpack, I left the little gift.

It was a busy end to the day today.  I was running the halls, as usual, this time making sure all the copies of our newspapers got into readers' hands.  None left over.  Not on my watch.  

When I returned to my office, the librarian told me Tailor had been by to thank me.  "He made me promise to thank you.  He was so happy."

I went out the double doors, and there he was.  He had the biggest smile.  He ran up to me and gave me a tight hug.  "Oh, thank you!  Thank you, Ms. Wag.  I love the books!"

"I'm so glad, Tailor.  Enjoy them and let me know which one you like best."  

"I will.  I will!  See you on Monday!"  Off he went, down the street, kicking the soccer ball.



  1. Wow! What a tough day. So many of our kids have difficult realities. I am so glad you were there for him today.

    1. I was exhausted by it all. I'm glad I walked in when I did, too. Meant to be, I guess. Yep, so many of our students have incredible challenges and it's daunting to realize we don't even know what they're dealing with. Thanks, Tap Shoes, for all you do for our students every day! xxoo

  2. Oh, Janiel. What a special boy and what a story. You are so very special, too!!


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