Hold My Hand

Hold My Hand
Robert Bergman '93

I walked into the grocery store the other day and watched a young father and his son walk in hand in hand. The boy looked about four years old and the dad had a grip on his hand as they walked through the parking lot and grabbed a cart. As I spotted them throughout my wanderings, I saw the father go through the exact exasperation that I went through with my own kids. “Put that down,” “I said no,” “Please don’t put that in the cart,” and “Hold my hand,” echoed through the aisles.

I watched a young mother race after her daughter in the firetruck cart because the little girl had pulled herself and the cart down the ice cream aisle, yanking on the freezer doors, one by one, until she got to the ice cream novelties where she asked for the “Mick Mouse” pops.

Another mother with a girl in grade school—I’d guess second grade Catholic school because of her jumper—asked her daughter to go and run back for something she had forgotten. And without a look back, this second grader took off and ran for the forgotten item.

A middle-school-aged daughter slunk behind her dad and rolled her eyes as they grocery shopped and he’d ask her what she wanted for lunch next week. “Dad, I’ll buy, it is only two days before break,” she exhaustingly explained to her health conscious father.

And then there was me. I was shopping by myself without my kids because they no longer wanted to go with me. I got to see all of these hassles and all the harried moments for these parents, and I longed for my son or daughter to reach up and hold my hand.

We often get so wrapped up in the present problems that we don’t realize those problems become the memories we miss.

Teaching is a strange profession.

We see so many kids every day, and if we have a long career, we encounter thousands throughout our professional lives. Our relationship with these kids is different than any other relationship they and we will ever have. We don’t really know these kids; we know a little about them, we know some of their habits, we know a little of their intelligence, and a little of their emotional lives—but we don’t know them the way their friends, relatives, parents, or even coaches know them. They come in for an hour, leave, and then come back a day later until they don’t, and someone else sits in their seat. Years later, when we see these young adults, we can still see them sitting in their seats and where they were in the classroom every other day.

On parent/teacher nights we show the parents the spots that their student occupies in the room, proof that they actually exist in our little time and space together.

We have had multiple tragedies over the years at our school, and some of our young men left the world before they should have, which leaves us with an empty spot in our classroom. It is a juggling act to manage that class afterwards. The kid who sits behind him may not know him at all except that he sits there in class, the kid across the room may be his best friend and is silently falling apart, the kid in the back of the class may be masking his fear of the unknown in cracking jokes (that is usually me, btw), the kid in the middle of class may have never spoken a word to him but can’t believe in a world without him, and then there is the kid in the front of the room who is completely unaffected.

Teachers have to balance all of these reactions and remind the students that all of their emotional reactions are valid while trying to manage our own reactions to the empty desk in the room.

Now that I’ve been a father for a few years, I almost always default to a parental reaction: How would I handle this situation I hope I never have to deal with? How would I get up in the morning? What could I possibly do with the rest of my life after a tragedy like this?

I hugged my children that Sunday morning, harder than I had in a while. As I cried and hugged my wife, I asked her, “What would I do? How could I live?” She said, “One day at a time, I guess.”

I hope I would remember tightly holding their hands as we walked across a busy and crowded parking lot to go grocery shopping, knowing that someday they wouldn’t need me to hold their hand anymore. I hope and trust they understand that I’m always there to hold it no matter what.

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