Friday, March 2, 2018


My first conference is waiting when I come back from picking up report cards down the hall. K's mom works in the kitchen at a big Italian restaurant downtown and needed a time on her day off. She is accompanied by K and a smiley younger bother, who proudly tells me he will be going to kindergarten at our school next year.

I ask if she would prefer that we speak in Spanish or English. "EspaƱol," she answers. I tell her that my Spanish is not terrific, but that I will do my best. I tell K I will probably need a little help.

K, is probably one of the brightest kids in the seventh grade. Definitely one of the funniest. Articulate far beyond a typical 13 year old. And fully bilingual, moving seamlessly between Spanish and English.

And he has a lousy report card. A in Math. C in Language Arts. C in Social Studies. D in Science. An F in Spanish. F in Reading/Study Hall.

His mom looks over the report card and shakes her head. K's best friend, J, who is getting a ride home, looks over her shoulder. "Dude, an F in Spanish? You speak Spanish. Why an F in Spanish?"

I am K's homeroom teacher. All of the other teachers have contributed comments on a google doc. I read them aloud. Most sound similar. Very bright. Missing assignments. Needs to know when its time to turn off the silliness and be serious. His sense of humor sometimes crosses the line to smart-alecky. 

Yep, definitely the K I know. And yet the K I know is also a really, really likeable kid. Cheerful. Always says hello. Makes me laugh on a pretty regular basis. More than once, I have had to turn away from disciplining him to hide the fact that I am laughing. A kind and caring big brother, sitting across from me, little brother in lap, fiddling with K's fingers.

I address him as best as I know how. "K, you are one of the smartest kids I know. You are one of the leaders in the seventh grade. You are fully bilingual. Colleges are waiting to give scholarships to kids like you. But not with these grades. So how are we going to fix this next trimester?"

K's mom goes next. I expect that she will be angry, but she really isn't. Instead, she is sad. "Every night," she tells him in Spanish, "your father and I leave you and your brothers to go to work at the restaurant. It's hard work. When I come home I am tired.  My legs ache. I am so tired. We do that so you can have more. I want you to go to the university. I want you to have a better life"

K protests. "But I like the restaurant. I want to work there."

His mom continues. "We never have a holiday with the family. Holidays are the busiest day at the restaurant. We never get Christmas. Or New Year's Eve. Or Easter. Or Turkey Day. We work all of those days.  I don't want that for you." A tear slides down her cheek.

Kevin protests again. "But I like the restaurant. I want to work there with you and dad."

And again, his mom resists. "No, mi corazon, I want more for you. Parents do their work because they want more for their kids."

As she speaks, I think about how many times I have given this speech to my own sons.

And I am struck by the similarities between our lives.

She, an uneducated Spanish-speaking immigrant from Mexico, working poor, probably living in a two bedroom apartment in NW Denver.

Me, a highly privileged white woman, living in a nice neighborhood, occasionally eating at the restaurant where she works.

And yet we are so much alike.

Two mamas, working hard, wanting the best for our babies.

A lump rises in my throat, and I have to take a deep breath before I can speak again.

We make some plans for the next trimester. End the conference. They leave and I do five or six more conferences.  Call a mom to explain that her daughter will have detention because of her poor choices in reading class that afternoon. Straighten up the room. Make plans for tomorrow.

I cannot stop thinking about K's conference.

About two mamas, working hard, wanting the best for our babies.

We are so much alike.


Kyle said...

I am so glad you are slicing. I love to read your stories. This one is one that the district should share. It is a powerful reminder that our students do not always go home to parents. Often they take on the roles.

Deb Day said...

I love this story. If people only learned we are more alike than different, I think this world would be a better place. This line will resonate with me all day ."...two mamas, working hard, wanting the best for our babies."

elsie said...

You have a gift of storytelling. You always bring heart into it. I hope K will realize what his parents are sacrificing for him.

Karen said...

Carol - First of all, so glad to be touching base with you this month through our blogs!
Second, your slice really hit home. And while we work hard to make sure our children will succeed in life, I sometimes forget that measuring success is not by my standards, but rather by what makes my daughters happy. Thanks for this slice.

Julie Johnson said...

Oh my goodness, how I love the line, "...two mamas, working hard, wanting the best for our babies." It's so matter who we are, where we live, what we do for a living, our hearts are always centered on our children and wanting the best for them. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story.

Cathy said...

I always love conferences with parents. Your post is such a reminder that students are more than the work they do for their grades and more than the time they spend in class. I'm guessing K helps his family with his siblings and in the restaurant. His gift of being bilingual will certainly help him to shine in the years to come. Whether he stays in the restaurant or works achieve bigger dreams (maybe his - or maybe his family's), his education will certainly help him to be successful.

There's so much to daily life for families. Your post is such a beautiful reminder.