Back to School and Schooled

Filed under From Marriage to Motherhood Live Well on Aug 28 12 by

This column is a chronicle of my journey from marriage into motherhood, and how I came to terms with all the difficulties in between—from the decision of whether parenthood was for me, to the heartbreak of a failed pregnancy, to the upkeep and continuation of a healthy, Godly marriage. Welcome.

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Back to School and Schooled

After working with my youth group for a semester and realizing how much teenagers had taught me—and how much I had grown to love their casual I-like-you-but-I-won’t-tell-you-that personalities—I started seriously thinking about going back to school for education. I had wrestled with the decision to go back for quite a while, really feeling like I needed to finish a degree for myself, if not also for a future career. After my experience working with mostly under-privilege kids in youth group and at the outdoor center, I thought I knew what I was in for. I was wrong. By the time student teaching was done with me the “hoodlums”—the kids that knock down your mailbox and randomly hang out after dark around town (the ones other teachers warn you about)—were the ones that had my heartstrings. I was hurtling head-over-heels towards becoming a softy. God was leading me ever-onward towards a heart ready for the kids He had chosen for me to love, big or small, saggy jeans or soggy diapers.

After the first two years of school came the hardest year yet—student teaching. I had seniors, and I loved it! It was hard work, but they were my favorite age group. I had seen many issues in my work with the youth group, but student teaching these kids was a whole other ballgame. These kids had real burdens and responsibilities. One was working and basically supporting his family—falling asleep in class because he was working so much. Another was mostly homeless, couch surfing from friend’s house to friend’s house. Several were working on becoming nurses after high school, and they were doing amazing work at the local nursing home.

On my first day of student teaching, I realized I knew a few faces in my classroom. I think a couple of boys especially were wary of me—they knew I would get to see the real them, not just the one that showed up at church occasionally, or said “hi” to me as they skateboarded past on the sidewalk. One boy was of particular interest to me; I knew he was having a rough time of it. He always tried to act like he had it all together, but I knew he didn’t. Drugs had already gotten a hold on him, and I was just hoping against hope that maybe the drugs were losing the battle. He was an amazing kid—charismatic, charming, energetic, and a great skateboarder (all the girls were crazy about him before he started paying more attention to the drugs). I knew his brothers looked up to him too, and I was terrified that if he let the drugs take over, or failed out, they would take their cues from him. After the first week he inspired me to write a poem—he and the reputation of the high school that is (poem at end of post). Unfortunately, he ended up dropping out a few months before graduation. I heard he later went on to get his GED, but I’m not sure. I was so sad to see that happen, to see a kid with his hope drugged out of him. He, and the rest of my students, inspired and astounded me—with their heart, their passion, and sometimes their lack of vision for their own future. I had equal parts ache and awe for these kids.

I first went into English Education because I hoped, rather naively, to “inspire” the kids in some way. But I learned that truly caring about them, encouraging them, and being a “safe place” to them was more important than reading inspirational stories aloud and telling them to go to college. Being real and letting them know that I was human, fallible, and had done my share of bad decision-making (though with no specifics—there does need to be some separation between teacher and student) was what really meant something.

That year I was often brought back to the same thought: “I want to be a rock for someone like this; I don’t want to see more kids lost to drugs and hopelessness.” In most cases, I couldn’t offer my students much other than information or an ear to listen, and I wanted to be someone that really would help a kid build a life to be proud of. To see that look of a new realization, hope, or adventure appear on someone’s face—that is a sight to look forward to. And when I thought of being a parent to one of these kids, I always thought how I would love them, guide them, and help them see the beauty of God’s world. I wanted to take the “lost” ones home—to be their safe place—but that wasn’t a teacher’s job. As I grew to care for those students, again my heart was grown. What was my future with kids, I wondered? My thoughts of adoption as a possibility became more real to me—I did want to give a kid a place to grow up, even if they’d had a rocky start. I wasn’t ready, at that time, to have my own. But maybe I could see myself taking on someone else’s as my own and giving him or her a chance to see things differently.

Repeatedly over the last seven years of marriage, God has broken my heart in just the right places, creating fissures and rearranging my heart to be more in line with his own. My little girl is six weeks old now—I can’t believe it. Deciding to have a baby was one of the hardest, often most painful, processes of my life. It was a long and winding road, with many roadblocks and missteps along the way. Between student teaching and holding this baby in my arms, there were times I wasn’t even sure I would make it to thirty. Don’t worry, I won’t leave you hanging! There’s more to the story and I’ll bring you along—so don’t forget to look me up next month.

Failure IS an Option

He said, how are you losing?
I told him, I wasn’t sure.
You dropped to third, yet you’re challenging second again
..and the babies keep coming. I know you guys know how this happens.

They say they would put money on your failure, plus,
Your dropout rate is phenomenal.
You rarely make it to graduation day.
You fall asleep and no one cares. They don’t think you would have learned anything anyway.

But I know.
I know you struggle with your demons.
I know that you are trying to regain your place amongst the outside world.
–The one that lives, hopes, dreams, goes to school away from home–
You don’t fool me.
I smiled at you that first day you walked through my door.
Everyone said you had gone and become a delinquent.
But I know.
I know you are actually proud of yourself.
Don’t worry, I won’t tell, I’m proud of you too.

So this is my challenge to you.
I challenge you to lose.
I challenge you to lose all those bets.
I challenge you to keep it in your pants, to stay awake at your desk,
To recite Chaucer, to walk the stage, and travel to far away places.
I challenge you to lose all the bets against you, because I know what you’re worth.
Do you?

-To be continued-

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Leigh Eddy Nelson
Leigh is currently a stay-at-home-mom, or SAHM, ministering to the community around her at The Oaks Camp and Conference Center in Lake Hughes, California. Writing has been a passion of hers since she was a little girl, and God has given her a gift to share her experiences in life, love, marriage, and her journey to, and through, motherhood. Follow her journey here every month!