A writer in the Monday memoir-writing class I lead grew up in Germany, came to America through a study abroad program at Vassar, and stayed. Brigitte has retired from a career in academia now, and twice a week she volunteers in a third-grade class at a Chicago Public School.
Nearly all the students in Brigitte’s third-grade class at Swift School are children of immigrants, and to celebrate the end of a successful year, Brigitte ordered every one of them a copy of my children’s book, Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound and had me come over last Friday to meet them all.
I was captivated by the children’s curiosity. Without being able to see them, I forgot that the nine- and ten-year olds in Brigitte’s class might look different from any of the kids in the other classes Whitney and I have visited this past school year. Maybe you can tell from the questions they asked?
- How old is your dog?
- If she is only five, why is she sleeping?
- How old are you?
- How come you got diabetes?
- Has life changed for you now, you know,because you’re blind?
- How do you cook?
- How do you fry?
- You never said what the building was like where your dog went to school. How old is the school it went to?
- Was it hard for you and your dog at first, you know, when it got to Chicago?
- Would you have a dog if you never got blind?
- Is your day ever very challenging?
- Does your dog have a dad?
That last question was one I’d never been asked before. Yes, I explained, my dog does have a dad. A mom, too. “One of them is a Golden Retriever, and the other is a Yellow Labrador Retriever,” I said. “They still live in New Jersey, that’s where my dog was born.”
After hearing my anser, the girl who’d asked the question said, “I think your dog is sad, because it misses the family it grew up with.” And that’s when I remembered. These kids had parents from different countries. Maybe that little girl’s response about my dog being sad, and the question about life being challenging, and whether or not my dog had a hard time when it first moved to Chicago…those questions might stem from something they hear their parents say from time to time at home.
These third-graders were mature beyond their years, but they were fun, too. And smart. Thanks for asking us to come to Swift School, Brigittte, and for seeing to it that each and every one of those kids got a book to bring home. Whitney and I had a ball.