School Tears

I enter the room and hear the thundering chatter
of 20 preschoolers, sitting in a circle.
Several shoelaces untied, tiny heads of unkempt hair
a casualty of the playground, slick with sweat,
Straining to stay in their assigned positions.

Eagerly watching the door for someone who is theirs
their signal to bolt, their piece of home
at last, a hand to hold, a familiar voice to hear
a chance to relay an afternoon of adventure.

They eagerly wait, hefty backpacks in place,
anchoring them to the ground
I see you.
Legs crossed, centered on the giant letter N embroidered in the carpet.
Something is wrong.

You are slumped forward, eyes to the floor
You look up as I enter the room.
Urgently, you spring to your feet
and I watch your face transform as
it crumbles beneath a wall of tears
You melt to the ground and I melt with you
You cling to me.
Long brown curls become entangled in my arms —
protective, steadfast strong but soft
(the markings of a mother).

I bend down to ask what is wrong
Should we talk to your teacher?
“No,” you say. “I will tell you in the car.”

We walk out to a receiving line
of concerned looks and sympathetic smiles.

I close the car doors.
All is quiet and safe.
You hop up front and collapse in the passenger seat,
and confide in me.

You stammer, struggling to sputter words between
an unwavering rhythm of sobs.
I hold you close and listen.

The world is big, sweet girl.

So big.

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