I was eleven when my mom took a break from coming home. The summer air dried my throat as my mom dragged me towards the iron blue doors of my new school.
“It’s not that bad,” she said.
My mom had wholeheartedly accepted this move as a fresh start. I was more reluctant. With a quick stumble across the threshold I accepted defeat. I was in. There was no escaping this educational hell until 3:00 p.m. I imagined the windows as prison bars and the teachers as wardens.
“Look, there is the Main Office,” I whispered reluctantly.
As we made our way towards the tall wooden door and windows that formed the walls of the Main Office, my mom let go of my hand.
“Excuse me, my daughter’s a new student here and needs help finding her classroom,” my mom said courteously,
“What’s her name?”
“Taylor Mathews, she’s in the fourth grade.”
“Ah, your teacher is Ms. Rosey. Go down the Main Hall, and take the first left,” Secretary Pam said.
Secretary Pam had short graying hair and was rather thin. Her eyes fell upon me and I felt her piercing gaze go through me like an X-ray machine. I shuddered at the look.
“Come on, Taylor,” my mom said nudging me out of the office.
I will admit, my first day was likely the easiest first day any kid has had in their entire school career. I was mostly welcomed by my class, and though often as children are, some jealousy was expressed for little things that no longer matter. I like to believe in the idea that all teachers become teachers to connect and guide children into who they will become as adults. If this is true for any teacher it was true for Ms. Rosey. She had long brown hair, pale skin and loved mixing fabrics in her wardrobe. Her classroom was as different from the other teacher’s classrooms at my school, Creative Science, as much as she was. The carpeted floor was often littered with papers and novels only a child would read.
Bi-weekly, Ms. Rosey’s class would hold a group meeting. During these meetings students were given a sock monkey and asked to talk about the problems they’ve had at recess or issues they want solved. This was my favorite activity in class.
I was unimaginably angry at my parents. Living eleven years in the same small town of Seaside, Oregon, then moving to a city environment like Portland, Oregon, was a hard transition. My older brother Jacob, who was sixteen at the time, was not so easily impressed by the big city. He had spent his childhood with the same friends inside the same community for sixteen years. His performance in school suffered alongside himself. As the years went by, it became a common sight to see my brother exiting our home to go out with his friends. Eventually, his discomforts came to light, and all went back to normal. Not for long, though. My mom is a lot of things: an artist, printmaker, mom, friend, sister, and an advocate for the rights of all people who have suffered oppression. She gives the voice to those who do not have one.
Most of all, she is grateful. We often take for granted small things. For example, when you drink clean cold, running water from your kitchen sink, you may not think of the families suffering around the world who do not have clean water. When you wake up to fresh eggs or pancakes on a Sunday morning, with your mom’s melodic voice filling your house, you may not think of the orphans in our country whom do not have a family to wake up to or the foster kids who wake up in Juvie cells because they do not yet know how to help themselves. There is not a single person to blame for these people’s suffering, but it is our fault for not always recognizing or doing something about it. This was not a thought I developed overnight.
My mom had developed asthma during her pregnancy with my brother Jacob. If a baby wasn’t enough, on Christmas Eve my mom stopped breathing. I had woken up to the sounds of hushed crying and shuffling outside my room. Given my young age, my first thought was to believe Santa was there, but the voices were familiar and something was wrong. A loud thump had me scurrying with my little feet toward my bed. I’m unsure why, but I was so frightened that I began to sob. I sobbed until I had exhausted my body and fallen asleep. When I woke up again, the room was heavy. The air was stale and smelled of sweat. I was apprehensive to open my bedroom door. The lightly-chipped, gold-plated door knob gleamed in the moonlight seeping through my nearby window. The current quiet was eerie. Quiet was somewhat of a rare commodity when living with seven people in one house, so I knew something was wrong when I saw my two older brothers on the living room couch in a hushed conversation. The room was different. Darker maybe, or something was off in the air. Either way the house was on edge, I could almost feel it as if the creaks in the walls and the floorboards were screaming out to me.
“Go back to bed, Taylor,” my brother Jacob said.
“But where’s mama and dad?” I asked.
“Please Taylor, they will be back soon, promise,” my eldest brother Jamie said to me.
I was frustrated and confused, but I went to bed. The following day my dad came home. His face was grim. The house was freezing this morning. I shut my bedroom window as I exited. The following week consisted of Subway sandwiches for dinner. My dad was too distracted to cook a home cooked meal in between his visits to my comatose mom. During one dinner my father broke down. He began to sob. The look in his eyes caused me to begin sobbing.
“They’re doing their best,” my dad said to himself.
The following week my mom arrived home too weak to stand without help and unable to navigate stairs. She was no longer able to make my lunch for school or make me oatmeal in the morning like she used too. My school had volunteered to make them. During the following week of my mom’s homecoming, Ms. Rosey pulled me aside and handed me a new lunch bag filled with food. She explained to me that herself, the school counselor Lynne, and the school secretary Pam were going to make my lunches until my mom was better. The lunches were made up of chocolate chip cookies and pb&j sandwiches (something I enjoyed very much). School was the only time I didn’t succumb to the sadness I was feeling. I was surrounded by friends and always had someone to play with during recess.
It is clear to me that this is when my relationship for home cooked meals shifted. I had obtained an appreciation for the smell of fresh masa and chorizo. The smell of tangy and juicy pork that had been roasting overnight never leaves my nose. At this moment, I realized I would never take for granted a home cooked meal.