Allergies and nightmares

I’ve been thinking for weeks now, what to say.  And last night, when I couldn’t sleep YET again, I figured out my thoughts.  I’ve been reluctant, even afraid, to say anything at all because I didn’t think it was my moment to talk.  It’s NOT my voice that needs to be heard.  But today I can’t be silent any more.

Let me start by saying that I HATE politics.  HATE it.  I grew up in a household that discussed politics regularly and publicly.  There were strong opinions and God help you if you disagreed with them.  Then there were debates that would go on and on.  I hated all of it.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions.  I do.  BUT I tend to keep them to myself.  I don’t feel the need to discuss and debate and publicize.  I also don’t feel the need to receive praise for my beliefs or for voting or anything like that.  I try to keep all politics out of my blog or social feed.  But what I want to talk about today is NOT politics.  It’s a matter of LIFE.

Let me back up a bit and explain that I haven’t been sleeping well for the past few months for a number of reasons.  I have spring allergies from trees blooming.  It can affect the way I breathe.  I’ve woken up a few nights struggling to breathe and then had panic attacks because I was worried I had somehow gotten the COVID virus.

I also dream a LOT.  I never realized just how much a “lot” was until I got married.  Nor did I realize how active I was in my sleep (hitting, kicking, talking, crying, laughing, etc.).  And usually my dreams are nightmares.  I don’t know why.  This is why I refuse to watch horror films.  My brain takes the littlest bit of fodder and RUNS with it.  I do NOT need to feed that thing.

Last night I dreamed one of those dreams that goes on and on.  You know, the kind where I’m trying to get ready for school/work/some big event and just never seem to get there. Usually because things keep going wrong.  Time is so slow for me and my actions, but time is super fast everywhere else.  And the event is going to be OVER before I can get there!

I’ve had a lot of school dreams lately.  They don’t usually happen for me this time of year.  I usually have them right before school is going to start or right before the end of a break (spring break, Christmas break, etc.).  Maybe it’s because I didn’t get to really say goodbye to my students or I didn’t get to end the school year the way I wanted to.  I don’t know.

I dreamed I was inside a building (but supposed to be outside doing playground duty), looking through a window, watching all the students playing on a pond that had frozen over.  But there were three girls playing by a hole in the ice.  I was pounding on the window telling them to get away and that the ice was weak, when it broke, and every child fell in.  I ran outside and I was the only person helping to save all the kids, but so many of them were drowning.  I could NOT save them all.  I woke up crying.

Now, I know in reality that this would never happen.  Not only because there’s no pond by my school, but because I work with awesome teachers who would be jumping in that lake to save those kids right along with me.

But that didn’t stop me from crying for a while.  I laid there trying to figure out why that dream had hit me so hard.  And it occurred to me that it was because I was watching all those kids I cared about–watching them drown, watching them NOT be able to breathe.

It’s all about breathing.  It’s an innate ability we all have and we all take it for granted.  Until we cannot do it any more.  Not being able to breathe just freaks me out.  It’s terrifying.  I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.  I think you see where I’m going here, but maybe you don’t.

I’ve been reflecting on my privilege of living without that fear.  I’ve never lived under that shadow.  I have a healthy respect of authority and others, and I like to think they have the same for me.  And for others.  But it’s not true.

With power can come abuse of power.  That isn’t to say that all that have it, abuse it.  I’ve seen men and women in blue taking to their knees across the nation too.  But it isn’t enough.  There need to be checks and balances.  Isn’t that what we set this country up for when we revolted against our oppressors in the revolution?  Isn’t that what we demand for ourselves?  Freedom.  Living in fear is NOT freedom.

Let me get off my soapbox and tell you where my brain went after I realized why my nightmare bothered me so much.  I thought of a little boy in my class last year.  He is 5 years old and he is a precious young man in the making.  He is smart (SO smart!), but also proud.  If he feels you’re dumbing down the learning for him, he gets super frustrated and shuts down.  He’s a hard worker and I think he will go far.  He has two younger siblings (twins) and when his mom (a single parent) is sick, he is the one who helps to take care of them.  He’s 5.  He’s also black.  (And yes, I’m choosing to use the term “black” instead of African American in this post for a reason.)

I didn’t really understand systemic racism until I saw this video.  It opened my eyes in a way I hadn’t thought of before.

I work in a Title 1 school.  One of the poorest in my city (and I’ve worked in many of them before I landed here for the last 9 years).  The kids get 100% free breakfast and lunch.  We have high amounts of transiency.  Our population is also quite diverse and many of them don’t speak English as their first language.  And I love every single student who has walked through my door.  Truly.

I choose to keep working in this extremely difficult environment (even when it has a bullseye on the teachers’ backs because our test scores are so low, no matter how hard we work to improve them).  I work hard to help every student achieve success and learn to read.  I love seeing the joy on their little 6-year-old faces when they make those connections with sounds and letters and can start to read on their own.  This is something they CAN do.  I work as hard as I can to make sure every child succeeds, but I cannot control what happens for them once they are gone from my class.

That young man?  That now 6 year old black student?  His family is poor.  He’s smart, but his attendance suffers.  He struggles and I wonder if society will fail him.  I wonder if he will be able to get past all the barriers we have set up for him in colleges, in jobs, in banks, in real estate, etc.  I wonder what his life is like, living in fear because of the color of his skin.  What age exactly, do you learn that?  I wonder if he will survive to old age, because the statistics in our country for black children are tragic.

If you live in fear for your life just driving down the street in a fancy car in certain neighborhoods?  If you live in fear for your life just living in the neighborhoods you’re trapped in?  If you live in fear for your life everywhere you go in certain states?  HOW is that freedom?!

I’ve been reading about the history of American law after the civil war.  I had NO idea that once slavery was “abolished,” there were still laws put into effect to keep black people in servitude (just another name for slavery).  I was appalled to learn about the decades of shenanigans in California alone.  I can only imagine what it was like in other states (and I’m sure I will find out the further I dig into my research).

I think about the Teacher’s Assistant I had last year.  She was a single mom, raising black boys.  What fears does she have for them?  What fears did she have for the surgery she just had to have?  Did she have to worry about appropriate medical care because she was black?

My ignorance is no excuse.  I stand with my friends, my students, and all that I know to say BLACK LIVES MATTER.  And I seriously question whether or not segregation was really truly abolished.

So I asked myself: how would I feel if I struggled to breathe for 8 minutes under the knee of someone I knew only saw my skin color?  The terror that poor man must have felt.  Should I have a fear of being able to breathe in America?  Breathing is second nature to everyone.  Or is it?

Breathing has been an unconscious act, but now?  Now I find myself evaluating every breathe and wondering.  Is it right to live in the shadow of fear for every natural act?  It cannot be.  Every human should be able to breathe, no matter the color of their skin.  To breathe and live and dance and sing.  To drive down any street, to check your mail, to create art, without fear.  BLACK LIVES MATTER.

So how do we change all these broken systems?  We cannot let them continue.  I want that little boy in my class and my teacher’s assistant and so many more to live without fear.  I want them to be able to breathe.

About jenabenton

I'm an elementary school teacher, writer, illustrator and storyteller.

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