By Tom White
There’s a family at our school from the Ukraine. Each
morning, the mom walks her five kids to our school, drops off the two oldest
children at the flagpole and then walks back home with the three youngest. But
before she leaves, she swings past my classroom to check on Alex. She looks
through the window, catches his eye, and smiles. Then she waves to me and
repeats the same procedure outside her other son’s room. She wants to make
sure they made it safely into their classrooms. Later, when school’s over, she
waits for her two oldest kids at the flagpole, and she smiles at me when she
sees Alex. And I smile back.
The Ukrainian mom does not sign permission slips for her
sons to go on field trips. She’s not comfortable with the idea of letting them
leave the school, so she usually keeps them home on those days.
Last week, while I was collecting permission slips for an
upcoming field trip, Alex asked to spend the day in his older brother’s
classroom so that he wouldn’t have to stay home. I spoke with the other teacher
to make the arrangements and we talked briefly about the family. We agreed that
the Ukrainian mom was “over-protective.”
That’s right. We derisively called this wonderful mom “over-protective.”
This one got to me more than the others. Maybe it was the
proximity to Christmas. Or maybe it was the age of the victims.
Or maybe this time we have to face the fact that we’re
entirely unable to protect our most innocent and our most vulnerable from our
most evil. And their weapons.
Like you, I’m supposed to go back to school tomorrow and
talk to my students. I’m supposed to make them feel safe. I’m sure I’ll think
of something. And we’ll get through the day, and then the week and then the
But I’ll tell you this: I have no idea what to say to the
over-protective Ukrainian mom when I see her at the flagpole.
I’m not even sure I’ll be able to look her in the eye.