Wordsanctuary Revisited

Musings of a writer-teacher-counselor.

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Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

I am inquisitive and have worked in writing, editing, and teaching. I am a citizen of the USA and also concerned about the world. This is an addendum to my original blog, Wordsanctuary. That's at www.wordsanctuary.blogspot.com Please check out my column at www.insidehighered.com, "A Kinder Campus." Click on Career Advice to find it. Thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Trailblazer (reposted with permission from e-Falcon)

One of Notre Dame’s first males on campus was shy his first day here—in fact, he hid behind a partition. But soon he was romping with his peers and playing with colorful toys in the basement of Harks Hall.

He was often on campus in his denim cap and T-shirts with animal pictures, running up and down the ramp outside the Administration Building with his flock of friends, or chasing sparrows across the grassy field that now includes Quinlivan Circle and Legacy Walkway.

I still have some of the crafts this trailblazer created at NDC, including a replica of a 32-cent stamp and a picture of himself inside a popsicle-stick frame, both attached to my kitchen cabinets with magnets.

He was generously treated by co-eds at the Connelly Center before Halloween, getting candy and lollipops. He liked to visit the children’s section of the Clara Fritzsche Library, especially to look at his favorite book, “Animals of the Bible,” which he checked out over and over.

This precocious student was my son, Andy. NDC is near my home, and I stopped working at a larger, more distant college a few months after he was born. After Andrew’s birth, NDC was a place of refuge for me. The same feel of our campus that has probably attracted many staff and students drew me, too.

For a time, I served on a volunteer committee to help English and communication students prepare for jobs. More often, I would go to the library to write, read and think, Andy in tow. Some days, my son would return home with pockets filled with animal stickers, courtesy of library director Karen Zoller. Kids and books: not a bad combination.

As my son’s kindergarten year approached, I was hired to teach some English classes. Enrolled in Tot Spot, our former daycare center, Andy’s days on campus were happy. It was like a pleasant neighborhood or an indoor playground in an era in which play dates need to be strictly scheduled and even socializing with other young children spontaneously is rare.

One day around this time Andy told me, “I dreamed that the kids on Barney came to life.”

Peggy Bona-Anzo, director of Tot Spot—which then was the smallest college daycare in the state--had also worked at Ohio State University, which had boasted the largest daycare in the state. She and her warm-hearted staff, which included students, simply loved kids.

It’s understandable that campus growth leads to change. But a look back doesn’t hurt--nor does a look ahead. Peggy told me one day that she had put Andy’s picture in the NDC time capsule, to be opened in (then) 75 years. How did that happen?

One day during “Week of the Young Child” in 1997, a Plain Dealer photographer stopped by to take pictures. Andy and he had instant rapport. The photographer captured my son working on a sidewalk drawing right outside the Administration Building. Other kids in rainbow-colored parkas that match the chalk are in the distance.

The story behind the story: That day I had a very hard time dropping Andy off, as much as I liked Tot Spot. He had just gotten over a respiratory illness and had a rocky health history since the day he was born.

But when the picture ran in the paper, showing a contented, absorbed child, I had a tremendous sense of relief. “That’s proof that a child is only entrusted to a parent for a short time,” I thought. “Ultimately, he or she belongs to the universe.”

That short time is already fading. My son is 17 and independent and would probably cringe if I told him I’m writing this. But the early years – his prematurity and sometimes unpredictable health problems—imprinted me. After another crisis, I had a hard time separating from him again but felt that a child with challenges needs his peers even more.

“I’m back!” he shouted as he swung open the Tot Spot door one day after another lengthy illness. Any of us overcoming an obstacle might show similar passion upon resuming daily life.

Several years later, I brought Andy to English 101 to visit; he was in second grade. Students were writing poetry. He wrote: “I see birds on the wing, flying over Burger King,” a line which definitely took the class by surprise. I ran into a former student recently who remembers that day.

My son’s most recent visit to campus was to an event sponsored by the Tolerance Resource Center (now the Abrahamic Center). Now preferring to be called Andrew, he came to observe the creative work of Orange High School students in response to a unit on the Holocaust.

It is a complicated world my son—and my students--will inherit. The pain of the past and the promise of the future…students will need to find ways to bridge both.

Before NDC went co-ed, I used to dream that there were dozens of male students on campus, streaming to and from classes. Maybe I was imagining what Calvin and Hobbes would call a transmogrifier, with images of seekers popping up everywhere.

But then again, some dreams do come true.


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