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Gin Besser

© 2000


Just the name causes me to smile in my heart.
The sound of her voice sends me into spasms of delight.
I see her face as the sun on gray days,
her frown as a call for help.
Ever focused and vigilant, I mother.

Then she had her first birthday and my fears for her increased exponentially.
I wanted to protect and make all things right and bright for her.
She smiled and endured all the mothering I could muster.
Then she had her eighteenth birthday, graduated from high school and left.

I was proud and happy and so unmothered.
How could she leave and yet how could she stay?

Four years of long distance mothering.
I wanted to protect her and yell at the bad roommates and lousy professors.
She vented and recanted and she endured.
Then she had her twenty - first birthday , graduated from college and left.

I was prouder yet, and happier yet and so unmothered.
How can a real mother wish for her to stay?

She is a woman of the world.
Wanting - needing to try her life.
She will always be mothered
and loved
and boasted over.

She knows it.
She lives it.
She shares it.



The phone jars me
from the edge of my
like fingernails across the blackboard.

"Yes," i hiss.
"Hi Gin. How are you?"
i am totally bathed in a glow.

That glow of a sunrise;
the precise color of amber
that warms and holds all the secrets of the past,
the amber glow
that starts at my core
and flows out to every molecule of my being-
like chicken soup after snowy Minnesota mornings.

We speak of
sister things

and mother things

and family things.

i listen into her voice:

there is sanity

there is safety

there is solace.

i have heard it all my life.

The glow engulfs me.
i once again return to reality,
light heart
quick smile.

what truly matters.



Joe is one of those waifs that show up at your classroom door every once in a while. A wide grin and a false sense of assurance enter into the room as he strides through the door. It’s the first day of second grade for Joe and for me.

He sits in the back of the room in an empty desk and I long to join him there. But my station is at the helm making everyone feel comfortable and ready to learn. First task is to “move” into our desks. Joe is done in a flash, it doesn’t take long to arrange one pencil and your lunch inside the desk. He gets up to wander around the room. Long looks at other kids” stuff, longing glances out the window and a long face as he returns to his seat. Second grade has begun.

Second graders are open, they love to share everything with the teacher. They tell things that would curl their parent’s toes. Joe is quiet. He needs to be encouraged to be a part of the discussion. Yeah, he has 2 brothers and a mom. He likes to watch TV and play outside.

After a few weeks I realize that Joe likes to play outside , never bathe, not talk about himself and struggle while trying to crack the codes of learning. Second grade is tough so I try harder.

Back to school night and I meet his mom. She seems to be about 25 going on 50 and she brings the baby brother with her. He wails throughout the presentation but she doesn’t seem to hear him. The following day a male friend comes to my room to share his exciting tales of the previous evening. Joe’s mom stopped into his room and cornered him, talking endlessly. She even invited him to go out for a drink.

I begin to see other hints that things are worse than I thought. Statements about getting to be the babysitter, falling asleep at his desk, falling farther behind in class, becoming more hostile and aggressive. Then comes the day when we are lining up for lunch and Joe has a packet of dehydrated stew for his lunch.
My involvement with the class, but especially Joe, increases. Each week there is a star student and when it is Joe’s week and we go to McDonald’s for lunch he asks if he could please order 4 hamburgers so that he can take 3 home for dinner. The door is open and by now he trusts me enough to answer my questions. His mom doesn’t have a job but she does have a new boyfriend. Joe, at seven, is the main care-giver for his family and he is worried about issues that most seven year olds never think about much less try to fix.

I do the teacher thing and report the situation but things don’t seem to change. I can’t figure out why. Then Joe tells me that his mom married that guy. This makes husband number four and I think to myself soon there will be baby number four.

I support Joe as much as I can. I talk about him at home all the time. I am obsessed with trying to keep this little guy going.

May rolls around and Joe has his eighth birthday. He comes to school with great excitement and wonderful news. His grandmother has sent Joe $10.00 as a birthday gift. He is elated but he breaks my heart when he announces that he is going to buy diapers for the baby and some gum for him and his brother.

I ran into Joe a few years later at Target. I recognized him immediately. He however, couldn’t place me.

Oh that I had done more.
Where are you now Joe?


Gin Besser was a 2000 Selective fellow. She is the Language Arts resource teacher for the Moundsview school district. She is a member of the state's Best Practices Network in Writing and has been a grad standards facilitator. She loves Alcott's Little Women, and her claim to fame is her inability to say no. (Her darkest secret is her guilty pleasure in watching Survivor.)