He held the large pencil like a battle club, tiny fingers white from pressure against the wood, totally focused, the tip of his tongue sticking ever so slightly from the corner of his mouth in concentration. He appeared to be at war with the yellow writing tool. To the victor belonged the alphabet.
“Loosen your grip a little,’ Patty instructed. “There you go. Move your hand at the wrist, honey, not at your elbow. There…much better.” She watched the battle another minute and repeated, “Much better.”
She stepped to the next desk, watching as another five-year-old successfully completed his name and tousled his hair.
This wasn’t where her life was supposed to take her. She was destined, in her plans of three decades ago, to infuse the literary world with character, life and Light. She had the talent and the drive, professors told her eagerly, something akin to jealous excitement in their eyes and voices. A frequently published freelancer by her junior year, she was certainly on the road.
That summer she’d made a detour and never gone back. That summer she’d taken a job as a research assistant for a study tracking illiteracy in inner city youth. The plan had been to use the information gathered in the study for several articles. She already had a vague idea of possible outlines and the magazines she’d approach with the pieces. But it had been too much for her to walk away. She’d been appalled at the number of kids for whom the delights and benefits of reading were nothing but a brick wall.
She knew she couldn’t change the world, but she could, if she got them young enough, change the lives of some. Her kindergarten/1st grade classrooms had produced kids who loved to read and write, and who were excited about learning. And, although she’d put her own writing career on a backburner, of her 600-plus students, fourteen were newspaper reporters, four freelanced successfully, and one had published three best sellers.
Not that she’d quit writing, she thought as she corrected a backwards ‘s’. She’d written ten picture books over the years, all taken from real life moments with her students. She’d used evenings to quietly perfect the text and carefully sketch the pictures with the help of her husband, himself a well known illustrator. And somewhere, jotted on napkins and notebooks, post-it notes and 3x5 cards, was the novel she still anticipated finishing ‘someday’.
She couldn’t imagine a better life.
Emily laid her big #2 pencil down on her desk, making a loud slapping sound, and rubbed a chubby hand across her eyes. Patty knew she was getting tired and walked over to kneel beside the youngster. Her getting-older knees creaked and complained at the movement. “What’s up, sweetheart?” She looked at the paper. “You’re doing really well.”
Emily sighed. “I’m tired of doing this, Mrs. Stokes. Can I go read now?”
Patty smiled gently. “Reading and writing are like—“
“Best friends,” Emily finished for her. “But, Mrs. Stokes, I’d like to go hang out with the other friend for a while. Pleeeeease?”
Patty looked at her watch. “Three more minutes,” she promised. “Then we’ll all go read.”
Emily nodded and went back to the task at hand, frowning with effort. “I’ll finish this letter,” she said, “and then I’ll be all done.”
“Good.” Patty stood up, slower than in years past, and looked across her world—a room full of restless kids, all striving to learn just a little more before the bell rang. She straightened her pants and smiled.
‘Reading and writing are like best friends’ she told her class regularly. In this room she was creating both the readers and writers of the future. Her touch, through them, would last forever.
What could be better than this?
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