The eyes have it.

When I was a little girl, I learned that I had “nice eyes”.  Like the rest of my Italian family, I was born with eyes that are round, and deep, and chocolatey brown.  I remember our family being stopped by strangers in restaurants who commented on our “beautiful brown eyes.”

When I was in middle school, I realized that having big, dark eyes could get me noticed by the boys. They made comments about my “Italian eyes” or my “owl eyes”.  I soaked it all up, of course. I was never a beauty, but I sure seemed to have pretty eyes.

As I grew up and came into my own sense of myself as a woman, I realized that I had more to offer than my dark eyes, but I still felt a thrill as the students in my Russian class got together to sing the Russian folk song “Dark Eyes“.  I was the girl with the flashing dark eyes, and I liked it.

When I was a young mother, I remember walking into a children’s museum with my baby girl in my arms. I remember a handsome young man smiling at Kate, and saying, “What a beautiful little girl!  She has her mother’s eyes.”

And years and years went by.  My girl grew up, my eyes grew dim.  I began to wear reading glasses, and then bifocals.  I have circles under my eyes now, and wrinkles at the corners. It has been a very long time since anyone commented on my “nice eyes.”

Yesterday I was at school.  It was an hour or so before the official start of the day, but the kids who come in for “extended day” were heading to the gym.  I was on the stairs that lead to my classroom, my mind filled with thoughts of the day to come.  I heard a voice calling my name, a sound filled with joy and desperation that caught my ear and made me turn.

I saw a little boy on the landing, grinning at me and waving his hand.  It was a familiar and very dear face; this little guy was in my class last year, and I know him well.  He is a child who struggles every day with anxiety and fear.  He questions himself at every turn, never feeling quite good enough, quite smart enough.  He is impulsive and hyperactive.  He is terrified to fail, and so he is terrified to try.  Last year he and I did a complex dance of pushing and coaxing and withdrawal and encouragement.  Over the course of the year, although we drove each other crazy, we learned to trust each other, and we learned that we liked each other.  A lot.

Yesterday he saw me on the stairs, and he felt a need to reconnect.  He is four short weeks away from leaving the safety of our little elementary school.  He is only a month away from facing the rigors of the middle school, and he is scared.

So he reached out to a familiar face, needing to connect with an adult who felt safe.  We talked for a few minutes about the weather, the ending school year, the upcoming math placement tests.  We reminisced about the class play where he had taken the stage last year.

And then a little silence fell. We stood face to face, me a step or two above him, both of us holding the iron railing of the main staircase.  He looked at me for a few heartbeats, his face so sweet and still. He gave a little laugh.

“I like your eyes”, he said.

“And I like yours,” was my answer.  He gave a flashing, impish grin, then headed down to meet his class.

And I stood there for a moment, my throat tight.

Of all the compliments I have every received about my eyes, this one was the best.  This was not about the color or the shape or the the beauty.  This one was about the person behind those brown eyes, and the love that must have been shining out through them.


This is why we teach.



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