Gloria is perhaps the kindest and most beloved member of my class. She has been around for quite some time, and she returned to school this week. The children were… well, a bit unsure at first. After all, Gloria is different. She is terribly shy, and it took some coaxing to get her to look at the children and talk. Once she did, children were wide-eyed. They stared- they had never seen anyone quite like Gloria before. Slowly, each one greeted Gloria by coming forward to shake her hand. One child looked directly into her eyes to ask why she didn’t want to talk. Multiple children had conversations and questions. “Gloria, why is your hair like that?” “Do you have teeth?” “Gloria, are you okay?” Some children gave her a hug and a kiss. Savannah told her she liked her necklace. And Gloria told the children all about herself.
Give Gloria five minutes, and children want to hold her, talk with her and play with her. She has a way with children.
It all started many years ago. I was trying to bring an element of diversity into my classroom; a difficult prospect in my community back then, particularly with young children. When I saw Gloria, there was no doubt she was it– someone who was different and could help children see, or better yet, become blind to her many differences.
I never expected what would evolve.
Gloria would come to visit every week or so. She lived in a picnic basket above the cabinets. With every visit she projected her worries and her shyness and also her big heart. Children just loved that. They understood Gloria, because she was exactly like them. What began to happen? Children were forgetting their own worries and caring more for someone else. Children are egocentric by nature, yet not with Gloria.
Then one day I forgot to put Gloria back into her picnic basket. She was sitting in the big rocking chair when we came back inside from the playground. I didn’t notice, but the children did! A crowd gathered around the rocking chair and began asking her questions and talking away.
Eye-to-eye contact, important conversations, every child. This was big. After that day Gloria lived on the couch.
I took Colin to the bathroom later that week. He looked pensive.
“Jennie, can Gloria come to my house for a sleepover?”
“Oh, Colin. I don’t know. She’s never had a sleepover before.”
“I have a night light. She won’t be scared.”
“I’m really not sure, Colin.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll have a talk with her.”
He did! Gloria had her first of many sleepovers. Since then, she has been everywhere with children; vacationing, trick-or-treating, high school graduations and basketball games, holidays to help decorate a Christmas tree, the movies, and camping. She is a true friend and quite an important member of the class.
This week with Gloria was just as exciting and meaningful and tender as ever. Gloria seems to work magic, bringing out the best in everyone.
Gloria designed the quilt that is my blog photo. She has her own peace quilt, and children wanted to create one, too. It now hangs in a national museum. I have written about the quilt and also about Gloria on my blog. So important!