I got a new little boy in class a few days ago. Correction, I got my seventh new little boy a few days ago.
First grade boys can sometimes be rubber bands of energy and they don’t always know the appropriate way to release all that energy. So, seven new boys this year is a lot. But to my surprise, the first six settled in nicely, fairly easily in fact. Sure there were a few minor hiccups here and there, but overall they’re pretty great little guys.
So when I found out my seventh new boy was coming, I crossed my fingers and said a prayer. After all, how long could my string of sweet little guys hold out? Surely, I’d pressed my luck and was due for a tough one.
On his first day in our class, my new little boy walked into the room with his mother, his siblings and an interpreter. His mother is deaf and my lucky number seven’s primary language is American Sign Language, followed closely by English. The interpreter and I talked with the mother, the mother patiently put up with my finger spelling and minimal signs. And then it was time for the mother to say goodbye to her son.
Let me tell you, my heart stopped watching that mother and son sign “I love you” to each other. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.
I love words. I love learning new words. I love finding the perfect word to express a particular sentiment. I love the way words feel in my mouth. I love discovering unusual pairings of words. I love the way people string words together to create a stunning turn of phrase.
In my teaching career, I’ve had two other little boys who signed. And when they’d sign, a rush of love filled my heart as they opened their hands and released their words into our classroom.
And when Lucky Number Seven signed goodbye to his mom, I knew, I just knew, that I’d somehow managed to get another great little boy.
What I did not know is that my little ones would feel the same way, that they would be completely smitten with sign language. Sure, we sing and sign every day. Songs about the days of the week, the months of the year, and counting. Rudimentary signs, at best.
But now we had an expert in our midst and at one point on his first day in our class, a crowd of children clustered around Lucky Seven’s desk. I walked over fully expecting to have to “deal with something”, but when I got closer I heard my little ones talking to Lucky Seven saying things like, “My name is ______. Can you teach me to sign my name?” and “How do I sign ‘brother’? I want to say ‘I love you, brother.’ Can you show me?”
Later when we gathered on the carpet to sing and sign, all eyes were on Lucky Seven as he gracefully signed with hands blistered from too many trips across the monkey bars. My little ones were rapt. Their mouths hung open. Their brows furrowed. And to my delight, their hands mimicked his. My little ones filled up the spaces between us with their signs. Their words floated unseen in the very air we breathed.
In that moment, I stood still in my tracks, not wanting to miss a motion, not wanting to miss a single one of their words.
Lucky Seven thinks that I know how to sign. My fumbling signs have fooled him enough that when we are across the room from each other, he signs to me. Sometimes I can understand, but most of the time I have to ask him to sign more slowly or ask him to speak aloud and sign at the same time.
He’s patient and I’m learning.
I’m learning to savor the silent beauty of passing our words back and forth. I’m learning to sign things like, “I’m glad to see you.” and “I’m proud of you.”
I imagine I’ll always think of him as my Lucky Seven, but each day he’s in our class I’m learning that I’m truly the lucky one.