It’s no less frustrating for being universal: when there’s a lot to say, there’s no time left to say it.
I’m back in Arkansas working on (procrastinating) cleaning out the house. In the last two weeks I have recovered from prom prep, taken/facilitated a hunter safety course (this is also known as supervising kids with guns), moved everything out of my apartment and into my classroom, turned in final grades, returned to the lower-48, and floated the upper Buffalo. And I may have bought a boat. More on that all of that later.
For now, I present to you the great and brilliant beauties of Venetie, Alaska, dressed in their finest and wearing their happiest smiles.
In the hours leading up to the big event, my door was open. Everyone needed the phone or the shower or the mirror or just some help zipping up. Terri had her curling iron going full steam (can you tell I have no idea what a curling iron is or how it works?) for hours. Some girls had found dresses elsewhere by the time our box o finery arrived, and some hadn’t. In the end, everyone found something to wear and looked beautiful, and I had a stash of dresses hanging in my classroom closet, patiently waiting for next year.
Prom was awesome. The girls melted my heart: “Ms O! It’s the last song, you have to get on the dance floor!” “Ms O! Come take a picture with us!” “Ms O, you have to play laser tag!” I found myself in a lot of selfies, grinning ear-to-ear next to a kid vibrating with glee.
I got to see people who are usually very restrained cut loose and dance to bruno mars with cardboard cutouts (Paperboy turned out to be a real player). There were activities like laser tag and board games and baking and movies, and we had an unlimited supply of pizza. B brought a fish he’d just caught, because what’s prom without uninvited guests hanging by the door?
The Night Full of Stars was a huge success! I can’t post many of my pictures until I get photo releases from the kids, but they’re trickling in, and I’ll have more soon.
In the bathroom before graduation, T stood with her sisters in front of the mirror and fixed her hair and put shoes on her two-year-old daughter. The little gal sat on the counter and smiled and laughed in her sparkly dress as her mom got ready to stand in front of her family and community and accept a hard-earned honor. There was something powerful and totally alien to me in that moment: I am not a mother, I never had a high school graduation, and if I had it would have meant little to me. I didn’t have to sweat for my diploma and juggle a job and two kids like T. What was going through her head as she looked at herself in that mirror?
T sobbed nearly her whole speech through. I shed some tears, too, when she spoke about her family and I glanced at her mom, just radiating pride, and again when she thanked me for my daily notes (encouragement, relationship advice, grammar) in her writing journal. There couldn’t have been an eye in that gym that stayed dry as T spoke with raw feeling about her children and her hopes for the future. She worked hard to earn the right to stand there, and she glowed with pride. I’ve been to some fun graduations and some boring ones, but never one that felt significant the way that this one did.
This week has been totally exhausting and more than worth it already. Tomorrow night is going to be a blast, and I’m looking forward to sharing the girls’ joy. They’ve worked hard and they’re ready to play hard. My only regret is that I can’t sneak over there right now and unlock the door to throw a midnight mini dance party for a friend or two. I feel like I used to feel in college when I had some great event planned and ready to execute. I have the keys to a totally awesome empty prom-gym in my pocket: there’s a set of bangin’ speakers in there, and some great lighting and a big dance floor covered in balloons. The problem is that I have nobody to unlock the door for, nobody to crank up the tunes so that I can try dancing with the mannequins, nobody to mug with in front of the photo backdrop. I miss you guys. I wish I could share this kickassery with y’all.
So it’s funny because, haha, we are north of the arctic circle where there is no real night anymore. Fortunately, our school gym is big and blue and windowless, so we should be able to carry off our Night Full of Stars on Saturday.
This week has been madness. We planned our colors and theme to match the one graduating senior’s color scheme for tomorrow’s graduation ceremony, so we will be able to piggyback on her decorations and get everything set up in time for the big night. It’s hard to believe it’s only two days away.
On Tuesday Jake padlocked the gym doors and gave me a key. Only the prom committee and the volunteer decorators have been allowed inside since. The girls and I have stayed after school and not made it home for dinner before 8 any night this week.
As we glued still more cardboard stars and inadvertently glittered the floor and the walls and the table and ourselves, C said to me “Ms. O, I can’t believe prom is only two days away. Like, you know when you’re so excited you can’t sleep? Like maybe on your birthday? It’s gonna be like that. We’re gonna have the best night ever.” I swear she said those exact words to me.
Laser tag has arrived, and so have the cakes and the illegal-to-fly-in-a-small-plane tanks of helium (how did they get here? I really don’t know!). The girls have made cardboard silhouettes and covered them with black paper to create shields for laser tag that will double as extras for the dancing. A gave one a bowtie, a collar, buttons and a red flower. He’s going to be her date. The hours that they’ve put in are going to pay out big time: we didn’t have much money, but we’ve had incredible support from all over the country, and the kids have made a lot from scratch that is going to look great.
I’m completely exhausted, but I can’t keep from smiling. This week has been an all-in adventure: I’ve hardly slept, I haven’t managed to do much school work, and even now, at 9:30 pm, my kids are still a part of my day. I have two in the bathroom right now, trying on dresses. The one gal came over for a shower, and asked if it would be okay if she brought the dresses over from the school and tried them on. How could I refuse? She called her pal and now they’re giggling in the bathroom. “Definitely not this one, huh?”
That’s the thing about the bush, I think. Once you open the door, you’re all-in. My class is like my family now, and they are welcome at any time of the day or night to use the bathroom (woo running water!) or to make cookies or study math or just to talk. It’s not just my class, either. My door is closest to the playground, so little kids sometimes knock for water and band-aids and just to visit. It’s impossible to say no. Last night, cousins A and C came over for math help and managed to learn a few phrases in french on the side. “Le chat est noir,” A repeated to herself as she put away her book and pulled on her shoes. “Le chat est noir” she said, as she and her cousin tumbled out the door, chasing and pushing and laughing like they always do. I will teach them “les étoiles brillent dans la nuit” on Saturday.