A Poem in the Making

My small poet is lost in the world of text citations, a phrase I never heard until I was a junior in high school… Not as a fourth grader. And while my fifth grader keeps the world laughing with her dry humor and is at or above par in every subject, I can only imagine how Rio feels when she hears from the fourth teacher in her life, “She is so shy.”

It is the label of introversion. The stamp on her personality. And as she sits there in the hard plastic chair, her whole body shrinks underneath the shawl Heather made all those years back. She presses her knees tight against her chest and her eyes redden in her quiet attempt to hold back tears.

How did they end up with the same teachers, and why did we have to bring the kids with us? These are things that go through my mind as I see the 1’s and 0’s on her paper. As the English teacher lowers her voice to just above a whisper, almost mocking the small voice of my youngest; as the math teacher blatantly tells her she needs to speak up in science since there aren’t tests and that’s the way she can prove what she knows.

“It’s not as bad as you’re making it out to be,” he assures me when we arrive home.

Not two minutes later, Rio asks me to cuddle with her in bed. I read her part of her book, then close it and wait. She has that pouty I-want-to-tell-you-something look. “Is it the conferences? Is it someone at school? Is it something you don’t understand? Is it your daddy?” (Because dark thoughts enter when I am so, so scared for her.) She negates all questions, and finally, in a barely-audible whisper, tells me, “I’m scared to go to sleep. I have scary dreams.”

It took her twenty minutes to divulge this to me, so I don’t press her for more. I talk about the weekend, about carving pumpkins, about me taking her trick-or-treating all by herself, just with me, as her older sisters have outgrown going with Mama and Daddy and have friend plans. Her red eyes soften when I ask her to think about these things, to dream about them.

But I will never know what’s really going on inside her mind. She will never tell me. It could be the disgruntled drive over to conferences when I discussed with her daddy an allowance-and-all-other-activity cutoff after so much backtalk about chores this evening. It could be the teacher’s tiny voice mocking her small soul. It could be Isabella’s snide remark when she asked her if she wanted to listen to her read her poems aloud last night, and the teary rush into the other room when it looked like she’d offered a voice to someone who didn’t want to hear it. (Isabella made up for it later when Mythili asked for a full reading and Izzy complimented–and was quite impressed by–every last one of her poems). And it could be… that she’s just having scary dreams.

But I will never know. Just like her teachers will only know her as the “shy girl.” Her sisters will always think of her as the “easygoing one.” And her mother? Everything about her–her dark hazel eyes, her small smile, her desperate need to wrap her entire body around mine when she wakes in the morning–will always be an endless mystery to me. One with clues I will pick up as she grows–from those sweet lines of poetry to late-night whispers of fear–as I try to find the meaning behind the poetry that is my small, shy, loving angel.

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