They're not really mine, but I've come to affectionately refer to any teenage user of the library as one of "my kids." They come from all backgrounds, but the majority of them are from low socioeconomic statuses and many are recent immigrants to America. Some are homeless. Most fit in multiple minority and marginalized groups. All of them are priceless.
Each day I struggle to engage them, to find ways to relate to them, to find activities they enjoy. Each day they test my patience, push boundaries, act out, bounce up, stand strong. Each day they frustrate me and enlighten me.
Yesterday was my birthday, and when one of my friends at the library told a few individual students in the homework help lab, the kids apparently went into a frenzy. Several of them took the lead and decorated a poster board with a giant "Happy Birthday Molly!" message and proceeded to take the larger-than-life sized card around to everyone in homework help. I was oblivious, and was helping an English language learner stumble through some complicated passages of Barbara Kingsolver's "The Bean Trees" when a group of my kids snuck up behind me in a semi-circle. They were (shockingly!) quiet for once and the only thing that gave them away was a slight giggle from one of the younger girls. As I turned around, expecting to deliver a soft "hushhh" to the giggler, my eyes popped with surprise as 20 kids shouted "HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOLLY!" with the absolute sunniest smiles on their faces, collaboratively holding the large card out in front.
I could not stop smiling. My day turned from a lovely day to an extraordinarily perfect day. I gave them all hugs and thanked them individually for making the card and surprising me, but I couldn't even begin to express the happiness in my heart. The only reason the tears didn't run down my face is because the sunshine bursting from within caused the tears to evaporate before they could fully form, and left a rainbow in their place.
What I wish I had said to them:
Thank you for giving me the privilege to be part of your lives. You have all taught me so much. Thank you. Thank you.