Christmastime when I was a kid meant burying my face in the Dream Book with a highlighter in hand, circling every toy I’d ever wanted and imagining my delight when opening them on Christmas day.
It’s strange to see how much I’ve changed over the years, and how my Christmas wish list has adjusted to my maturity.
When I was a kid I wished for the same things as most kids: toys toys toys!
In my teenage years I wished for a car, clothes, CDs and movies.
In my early twenties I wished for my own apartment, furnished and decorated to my individual taste.
In my mid twenties I wished to find the man of my dreams.
In my late twenties, after years of substitute teaching, I wished for a full time job teaching art.
Now that I’m nearing 30, it’s nice to know that I have gotten everything on my wish list since I was a kid. I’m lucky enough to have a car, clothes on my back, a home to live in (that is indeed decorated to my individual taste) and a wonderful, amazing husband who is undoubtedly the man of my dreams. I’ve also been incredibly fortunate to finally find a full time teaching job at an inner city middle/high school.
Which brings me to my next point…
I teach at-risk youth who have been suspended from their home schools, are pregnant or have children, were recently incarcerated, or are in danger of failing out of school. Our program is small and much of our work goes to helping these kids turn their lives around. Not surprisingly, art class is a big source of therapy for them and I’ve developed a close and trusting relationship with my students.
When I started teaching at this school a few months ago, I gave my students a survey. It asked questions like, ‘What do you hope to learn in art this year?’ and ‘What types of materials would you like me to order for you to use?’ I also threw in some fun questions, the most revealing being: ‘If you won the million dollar lottery, what’s the first thing you would do with your winnings?’
When I put this question on the survey, I expected every single one of them to say they would blow the money on shopping sprees. Of course, several of them did say that, but the other answers were what intrigued me. This question, above all the others, showed me what kind of people I was dealing with in this school.
Just so you know, these kids were not trying to impress me with their answers. When we met, they couldn’t care less about me, or my class. They were jaded by education and teachers were the enemy (luckily much of that has changed since we met). These are honest answers relayed exactly as they were written.
If I had a million dollars I would…
Take care of me and my family
Spend it all on my girl and me!
Take my family to Atlanta
I would finish school, move out of Rochester an get a nice home and start my hair salon
Invest my money into a stock
Buy me a car
The first thing I would do is give my grandma half of it because she’s been there for me my whole life
I would help my mom pay her bills
Shopping spree with my boyfriend
Buy my mother a house
I would travel, shop, and invest in my rapping career
Buy my mom a big house for my family
Hit the mall
Give some to my mother
Buy clothes and sneakers
Buy a house
Tithe, move from Rochester
Buy my mom a big house
Rebuild my house
Send money to the poor and help animals
Spend half, save the rest
Buy a house for my family
Invest in something small
Give half to my mom so she can pay off everything and buy herself something
I was shocked at these answers, to say the least. I grew up in the suburbs, very fortunate to have a house and two parents with good jobs that could support their family. We had everything we needed and my parents worked hard to also give us the things we wanted.
The kids that I teach grew up in crowded apartments, where missed meals were all-too-common. One of my students told me he has 17 people living in his 5 bedroom house, and is considering moving out at the age of 16 because he can’t stand the crowding. Some of my students wear the same clothes every single day because that’s what they have. One of my students is pregnant at 13 years old, another is battling breast cancer at 15. Almost half of my students have a child of their own. Most of them don’t see their parents for more than an hour a day because they work 3 jobs just to make ends meet.
The Christmas wish list for most of my students is to live in a decent house and have food on the table.
Reading back through student surveys has inspired me to write a new wish list for this year. Teaching these kids has helped me to understand what really matters in life, and to be grateful for what I do have. My wish list this year isn’t made up so much of material objects, but ideas and aspirations for what I want my life to become.
My Christmas wishes this year:
Health and happiness for myself and my loved ones in the coming year
The gumption to pursue my dreams in writing and photography
The good fortune to find our dream farm
The ability to crush our mountain of student loan debt
The power to keep my job (lay-offs for art teachers in our city are very common)
So now it’s your turn. If money were no object and you could magically have anything you want, what would be on your wish list this year? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
P.S. If you’d like to do something to help inner city kids, consider donating to Operation Warm, a charity that I support and believe in, who provide winter coats to kids in need.