9: My Students, My Angels

9: My Students, My Angels

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers

My Students, My Angels

We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on earth.

~George Bernard Shaw

I had two aspirations growing up: to be a teacher and a mom. I achieved the first within a year of marrying the love of my life, Joe, but the latter took a while. A long, long, long while.

My plan was to get pregnant with my first child right after graduation, then to go on to have three more children by the time I was thirty years old. I thought this was completely doable since I got married at twenty-two, and big families were my norm. (I’m one of ten children.) In a perfect world, I was going to return to teaching when my youngest child was school-age and live happily ever after on the same work/ school schedule as my children.

But the world is not perfect, and God had other plans.

Month after month (eventually turning into year after year), I didn’t get pregnant. While I immersed myself in teaching, the ugly reality of infertility crept into my daily life. Thank goodness I had my students to help me reset my emotions.

As I launched my teaching career and marriage, I also launched an investigation into my infertility. As a result, I had to miss school periodically for doctors’ appointments. One spring morning, I went to see yet another fertility specialist. His “sage” medical advice was, “Relax and take a vacation because you’re too young to worry about not getting pregnant.” Apparently, I hadn’t relaxed or vacationed enough during the first few years of our marriage.

Driving out of the doctor’s office parking lot, I felt depressed, discouraged, and defeated. How was it possible that I could love children so much, yet not be able to have any? When I arrived at school, I dried my eyes and put on my teacher face. As I entered my second grade classroom, I was embraced, first by the familiar comforting scent, then by multiple short arms squeezing my waist, and finally by a chorus of tiny voices filling my heart with joy.

“We’re so glad you’re back, Ms. Magee! The sub didn’t read the story the right way — the way you do,” Jared chimed. (Unfortunately, the sub was standing right next to me when Jared said this.)

“Please don’t be absent anymore, Ms. Magee. I miss you when you are gone,” Dante pleaded.

On that day in that classroom, surrounded by children who loved me and accepted me exactly how I was, I made a decision. I realized that what I really wanted was to be a parent, not just to get pregnant. I was going to adopt.

Joe and I researched foreign adoptions, domestic adoptions, open adoptions, closed adoptions, adoptions via private agencies, adoptions via county agencies, and foster adoptions. We hadn’t settled on the approach we were going to take when, through a series of unexpected events, we became foster parents to two girls — a three-and-a-half-year-old and a six-month-old — with the promise that we could adopt them.

My students and their families rallied around our newly formed family, lending us strollers and swings, toddler toys and a tricycle. They embraced me as a new mom in my new version of my perfect world.

But, as I mentioned earlier, the world is not perfect, and God had other plans.

The reunification process for our foster daughters’ birthmother was farther along than the social worker originally disclosed. In fact, the reality of adoption laws and the court system caused us to advocate for the birthmother to reunite with her children. Eventually, the girls were returned, and my husband and I were once again childless. Thank goodness I still had my students, my angels, to help me reset my emotions.

One afternoon after dismissal, a few days after we had said goodbye to our foster daughters, one of my second graders found me with my head in my hands, crying at my desk.

“It’s okay, Ms. Magee. My mom said you can keep the toddler toys to play with since you have extra time now,” Chelsea whispered.

This struck me as being so sweet (the joy of playing with toys as a cure for sadness) and so funny (with my extra time?) that I burst out laughing. I was going to be okay.

The following school year, hoping to put my energy into something other than building a family, I changed grade levels. Kindergarten became my focus. In August, when I was setting up my classroom, I received a surprising phone call from a neighboring county’s Department of Social Services Adoption Unit. The social worker asked if we’d like to be put on their adoption waiting list. Immediately, I responded, “No way.” When the social worker asked why I reacted in such a way, I relayed our painful previous experience. She assured me that she wouldn’t call us with a placement unless the situation was a “sure thing.” Even though, intellectually, I knew that nothing was a “sure thing,” I believed her. A small voice deep inside me told me to trust her. Joe and I took another leap of faith in an effort to build our family.

To prepare for our “sure thing,” we took parenting classes, completed our home study, renewed our foster license, and filled out mountains of paperwork — all while I taught my rambunctious kindergarteners.

“Ms. Magee, watch this!” called Tony from the sensory table right before he poured his water bottle into a tub full of rice.

“Ms. Magee, I’m reading!” shouted Mari as she recited the story I read to the class earlier in the day — her words a page or two off the text in the book.

These little people occupied my mind, body, and spirit until the following April. At eight o’clock on a Monday morning, our social worker called my husband and said, “An Asian baby girl was born Saturday night. What do you and Bridget want to do?” That’s all the information he got.

Immediately, he tried to get in touch with me, but my kindergarten class was in a temporary building with an intercom system, but no phone.

After shoes were tied and snacks were found, with two sweaty palms in mine I walked my students out to morning recess. When I got to the office, I found a stack of messages from Joe in my box. He picked up the phone on the first ring and relayed what the social worker had told him.

A sense of calm came over me. “Let’s go pick up our daughter,” I said. And that’s what we did. With four hours’ notice, we picked up our thirty-six-hour-old daughter, Colleen, and never looked back. We were parents. Finally.

And then God had one more surprise for us. Six years later, I got pregnant with our daughter, Maureen. Go figure. Our family was finally complete.

In hindsight, I realized that my world was perfect throughout our journey. God knew what He was doing; I just had to be open to His plans. And have a nice long warm-up with my students — my angels.

~Bridget Magee

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