My last teaching partner was a pert, self-admitted-OCD math teacher who ran our homeroom on a Pavlovian factory model. All the students had jobs, assigned weekly and rewarded with a snack-size portion of Sour Patch Kids on Friday afternoons if they had earned their paycheck. If not, they were sent to collect trash around the school grounds for ten minutes.
Ms. Wright’s most repeated catch phrase came in reply to students who inevitably questioned her with a “Do I have to???” in that whine that can only screech from the fallible vocal chords of those on the cusp of autonomy.
“No, fill-in-the-name, you don’t HAVE to, you GET to!” Ms. Wright announced, like she had just unveiled a prize on Let’s Make a Deal. “Now, say it for me, kids — I get to!”
I get to. the reticent pupil would reply, sometimes making the statement a little too ironic. Some of the people-pleasers really put on a show. I get to! I get to! Woohoo!
By the end of the school year, we had all learned to sidestep the original complaint and go right to the empowering phrases: I get to! You get to! We get to! We were part of the “get to” cult, in training for whatever life had to throw at us. Of all that rubbed me wrong at St. Fill-in-the-Saint, one thing smoothed my feathers. I GET TO is worlds away from I HAVE TO and feeling the difference is a lesson I’ve carried with me over the past few years as I’ve achieved what in retrospect verges on the impossible.
This month, I am replaying last August one day at a time. Twelve months ago, I couldn’t comprehend then the size of the boom that was lowering, but texts, emails, photos, art, and journal entries should build a story, my story. I GET TO. And so the journey has begun as I puzzle together the artifacts of loss, the stoic bulldozing of musts, the want of a cradle, the handcuffs that kept me from seeking support, the moments of wonder, the insistent promises of science, the reality of lab reports. The loneliness, the denial, the desperate attempts at doing whatever might work a miracle. The grief. The relief. All that I GOT TO see, I GET TO feel.