I anticipated an evening of light humor, applause, and fun.
I wasn’t wrong, because all of that happened.
But something else happened too.
After the show, I stayed after to congratulate all my kids on a job well done. I greeted the kids who performed as actors and actresses, signed my pride to the kids who performed as interpreters, and then I walked up to you.
You interpreted tonight, and you did a beautiful job. You embodied those dwarves perfectly, and when I watched your hands and your expressions making this play take shape for the Deaf in the audience, I was so proud.
I told you so, and I picked up your pretty long braids and twirled them and chatted happily with you.
Suddenly, you looked up at me, and said softly, shyly: “Ms. Sanders, do you want to be my family tonight?”
I dropped your braid in shock and I said “What?”
You hung your head and murmured, “My family didn’t want to come. So will you be my family tonight?”
I could feel emotion swelling up in my chest, but instead of melting into a puddle of goop and tears like I wanted to, I threw my arm around you and paraded you about the auditorium, bossed you around in a ridiculous mom voice, dramatically introduced you as my daughter, and made you laugh.
But when I got in my car to make the journey home, I must tell you that I wept.
I wept for you that you would ever have to hang your head in sorrow under shiny lights because you couldn’t lift yourself out of knowing that your flesh and blood did not watch your beautiful hands move and twist tonight.
I wept for you that you would ever have to use any kind of words to ask someone a question this big and this hard, and that you know what those words taste like.
I wept that you would ask me to fill any kind of void for you, that you would trust me enough to be vulnerable, to be honest about the broken parts of your life.
I am imperfect.
My kitchen is messy and my laundry is strewn across my room and my research papers aren’t graded yet.
My heart can be hard, and my mouth can be unkind, and my words can be harsh.
And this knowing that I am so much less than what I really want to be leaves me wading in disbelief that you would choose me to speak those words to tonight.
As I remember the down-turned corners of your mouth and the sorrow in your eyes, I can only write this:
I will always think about you, encourage you, correct you, dream big for you, plan for you, cheer for you, cry for you, hug you, love you. As long as you are mine to teach, I will be here for you. And when you walk out of my classroom door in May to move on to bigger and better things, I will still be here, hoping bright things for you, watching you, praying for you, writing recommendation letters to colleges for you, clapping for you when you cross that stage.
And yes. I will be your family, too.