How to Let Go of I Can’t


The Little Engine That Could echoes in my mind. I read it to my son, and I wonder if the I-think-I-cans will end before I run out of breath.

As a child, my parents and friends’ parents read the same book, especially if one of us said those famous words, “I can’t do it.”

I came across a third grade student in one of the classes in which I was a substitute. The class had to write a fourth line for a poetry rhyme pattern. He asked for my help. The student whispered and mumbled, and I could not understand anything except, “I can’t, I can’t. It’s not good.”

Those words from any child of my son’s age, one, to eighteen tugs my heart. I went around the room to help other children, many of whom struggled on the same part of the worksheet. The student sat there pulling his wheat colored hair.

Long ago I was at the same kind of desk.

A little girl with blonde hair, soon to turn brown, looked outside. Her first elementary school sat on a hill. She looked down it, to the track, and the playground off to the side. A row of trees hid a barbwire fence guarding a farm, and the place where she would later kiss her third grade boyfriend.

The little girl in that desk did not complete her worksheets. She wanted to play outside. Maybe write something with the words she already had in her vocabulary bank. She probably could finish Mrs. Rewis’ worksheets, but she never did until they put her on medication to help her focus. Soon she completed the worksheets handed out every day.

When I convinced the student to show me his work, he made me promise I would not let any of his classmates see it. I curled the worksheet just enough so no one else could read. I smiled and my heart melted. In front of me sat a boy who was eight going on thirty. In respect of his work, I will not share what he wrote. It was a line that might have caused other boys to pick on him. With a smile on his face from my approval, he completed the rest of the worksheet.

Courage, as a writer of any age, is difficult to acquire. I still have trouble with it whether I write an article, new chapter, edit, or stand in front of a classroom and teach a lesson. Somewhere I see the child who is like me.

Please share your earliest memories of something that scared you as a student or child.

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