Early this school year, I learned that one of my students' dads was in the Air Force and deployed overseas. As we approached Veterans' Day and learned about the holiday, I decided that we would write letters to her dad and some of the men and women in his unit.
I checked with her mom, who sent in a picture so that the girl could show the class and tell them about her dad. I also asked her if there was anything that they would appreciate us sending.
The class worked on letters, and brought in some of their Halloween candy to share. (I loved this- because, instead of their parents just giving, the kids were able to give something of their own, too.) I also asked parents if they wanted to donate nice toiletries, especially those like lotion and body wash.
I had amazingly generous families this year. We had three boxes' worth (two large flat rate boxes of toiletries and one medium flat rate box of candy and letters) to send.
We didn't hear back, but I didn't mind. I mean, I would guess that these people are a bit busy, and honestly, I didn't need to hear back to feel good about it.
With her dad deployed, it was sometimes really tough for this little girl to handle. My dad died when I was 11, and so watching this little girl cry over missing her dad broke my heart even a little extra. There was at least one time where she stayed in from a special and she and I cried together. To be able to let her tell us about how proud she was of her dad, and how she missed him but she knew he was a hero, and then for her to see us rally around her family like that... well, let's just say that that alone made it feel more than worthwhile to me.
So as the year went on, occasionally this little girl would give me updates about her dad coming home. He was going to be there for her birthday, and she was so excited. He was supposed to come home in March.
Well, in mid-February, I got an email from her mom. Dad was coming home early, but the girl didn't know, and Mom wondered if they could come in and surprise her at school. They asked me what time would be convenient.
Um, how about any time you want!
So, we came back from a special, and I told the kids there was a surprise waiting inside- but they had to promise to stay quiet until every person was in the classroom and got to see what the surprise was.
She was in the back of the line, and as we started to go inside, she strained to see the surprise like everyone else. When she first saw him, she was in disbelief. Her voice was soft and tentative.
Bless her heart, she was so in shock that she wasn't even cutting in line to get to him faster.
I urged her to go ahead, and she ran to him. He picked her up, and they hugged and kissed and cried, while the mom and brothers looked on and smiled.
Her tears were one thing, but seeing him sobbing at holding his little girl again... I was tearing up.
I was barely managing to hold it together, until they stopped for a moment, and the dad hands me a bag. He said that the guys in his unit had all pitched in. They so appreciated our little supply drive and letters that they got me a personalized, engraved glass apple paperweight.
I was just flabbergasted. I had never in a million years expected him to give me something. Seriously, you are an Airman who was just deployed and you are thanking me?
But- wow. How absolutely incredible.
The things we lead our students to do can mean so much.
I'm not sure that in the rest of my teaching career, I will ever have a day as powerful and amazing as this one. I will never forget the looks on their faces.
As we honor those military men and women who have given their lives, I think of all those who missed out on the chance to have a moment like this.
Someday, they'll get the opportunity.
(Linked up with My (Not So) Elementary Life's Most Memorable Moment linky party.)