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little bright dots like pearls

Yesterday was Fisher’s birthday. He is 11.

I pulled out the old camcorder my parents gave his dad and I when Fisher was born. I pulled off all of the existing videos – cleared the memory so he and his buddies could make a nerf war video last night at his big birthday sleepover.

All of the remaining videos were from Spring 2014. Fisher was 2 ½ . He had long, bright blonde hair and the most endearing raspy voice. We spent all day every day together in the house where his dad still lives. I was married then and a stay-at-home mom. Kaya Dog was still alive and nosed into the corner of every frame. She’s the only one I know in those old videos. I don’t know Fisher; I don’t know his Dad; and I don’t know myself. That’s what happens, I guess, when you move on far enough or quickly enough, or when enough things rupture and drift. You look back and can’t quite place any of it. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. In fact, at the right angle, it has some good juice.

What I mean: How does time pass, collectively?

I’m the field supervisor for a school psychology intern this year, T. We meet for a couple of hours every week and talk through her cases. She’s a big-picture thinker and asks good questions. Big pictures can sometimes bring you down, though, depending on how far out you zoom (or whether you zoom out far enough). This week, she was in the thick weeds of a sad zoom (enough zoom to feel bad, but not enough zoom to exhale). The system is in such disrepair.

I like the metaphor about people drowning in a fast-moving river – that we stand downstream and pull them out one after the other, over and over again; but at some point, we need to trek upstream to see why they keep falling in – or who’s pushing them. (Or why they can’t swim.)

We have a lot of kids in the river.

I was having my own day with it in my last meeting with T. I’d spent an hour observing a child whose behaviors isolate him. I watched him flail and splash and gurgle. I collected my data in carefully coded rows and columns in neat 30-second intervals. But when they went to art class, and he pointed to the chair across from him at the otherwise empty table and asked me to sit, I did. I put down my rows and columns, turned off my timer, and ooh’d and ahh’d at the lines he drew: Blue, green, red, and yellow. He said he was drawing robots. I didn’t tell him they looked like ladders.

He earned all of his stars during that class period. We pumped our fists after each one. And then I left. The principal texted me and said that shortly after, he got into a fight at recess.

When I met with T, the intern, we talked about the river, and how enormous it feels. How overwhelming. How “what’s even the point?” – ish. And I told her about the boy who drew robots. That sometimes when you’re in the weeds, it’s okay to put down the clipboard and draw robots that look like ladders. It’s not pulling the kid out of the river or teaching him to swim or keeping him out of the river in the first place. Maybe it’s just floating next to him for a while so neither of us are so alone with it.

I don’t know what that moment will look like for the boy 5, 10, 15 years from now, or if it will look like anything at all. Maybe before our brains can hold the words of a memory, warm moments are just little bright dots like pearls strung together. I think that’s worth something.

T and I talked about the long game. How to keep going in a system that feels sludgy and stuck in disrepair. I said it’s good to trust that even if we can’t see it or feel it, it’s moving. It's changing. Maybe not quickly enough that we’ll see the shiny, well-oiled new thing before we retire or die. But it’s best to keep doing right and good things, anyway. It's best to trust that (a) we’re part of the momentum; and (b) we can leave a trail of little bright dots, and that both of those things are worth something.

What is my point here?

My point is that time keeps moving, individually and collectively, sometimes imperceptibly, and everything changes always at all times. Sometimes we can’t feel it at all until we look back.


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