…you sit down and write to try to decide what exactly is going on in your head, in your heart, in your tear ducts that want to cry but decide they aren’t going to, creating a painful pressure in your eyeballs. You sit down and write “long”, because a Tweet only has 240 characters and if you could’ve narrowed the whirlwind down to 240 characters you wouldn’t be feeling unsure about what to do, you would’ve been done with sharing what you needed to share and you’d move on. Right? Right! Right. You wouldn’t still be thinking, 48 hours after finishing, that there’s something to be done about reading Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka. Honestly your summer is filled with non-stop reading, the TBR pile is so tall you know it’s unachievable. Hey, Kiddo wasn’t even supposed to be on the pile yet! You write “long” because you tried short and sweet. Short wasn’t in the cards, and the road to sweet had so many twists and turns…
I finished Hey, Kiddo in two sittings, not because of the length, they weren’t long sittings either. It’s just that at some point in Jarrett Krosoczka’s story I needed distance, I needed to stop the unintentional gaping hole that would etch it’s way into my being after a few pages, followed by a salve for the burn in the form of a veil of hope, but then the etching would return, widening the gape. It went on like this until the very end.
It wasn’t that I was jumping into Mr. Krosoczka’s life (what the author has made public in the past) blindfolded. In April 2016 I heard him speak as part of a panel about connecting with authors virtually and in person at TXLA16. In December 2016, my 2nd year as a librarian, I scheduled an author Skype Visit with Mr. Krosoczka. I chose him as the first paid Skype Author Visit for our third graders, that we could finally afford, because after listening to him at the panel, I had stumbled upon his TedTalk and my ADHD brain went all over the place-
“This guy, this dude, he’s like such a cool guy. Damn, who would’ve thought?”
“This guy, he’s such a great dad, he was so great with his eldest daughter at #TXLA18 with not exactly the best role model at home. She, she’s a happy kid, I could tell.”
“See? It can be done! How’d I’d love for parents at our school listen to this TEDTalk and maybe try to plant the seed that screamed in their ear (the seed, not me) “If he can do it, you can do it! I know you can, you love your kids, you don’t have to be like your parents’!”
“My roughest, hardest kids have to see this and then we can talk about what our options are. Then we can refer back to this guy and figure out if it’s as hopeless as it seems.”
And on and on it went (in my brain). Jarrett Krosoczka could be a beacon of hope for my students. In this author I saw someone I could introduce to my kids through his picture books (My Friend Slug and Bag Head being favorites) and his Lunch Lady Graphic Novels (which were already growing in popularity), that would create a connection, which he would not be exactly part of per se, but it’s what we needed, someone who was one of “us” even if he wasn’t with us.
When I signed the contract for the Virtual Author’s Visit, Mrs. Krosoczka gave us a login to exclusive video content to prep for the visit. But, that wasn’t the first thing eighty 3rd graders watched. What we watched first was his TedTalk, to be honest, they watched Mr. Krosoczka speak and I watched them. If you are reading this and you are in education, you know what I was watching for, but just in case you aren’t, what I was watching for was reactions that told me who I needed to support immediately, those that are quiet and keep family life to themselves, and so we don’t know what we need to. Funny, in a sad way, learning about the author’s mom, the author being raised by his grandparents, was embraced with open arms; the author saying “Hell” was an entirely different reaction.
Of course, we also watched the content that we were privy to before the Virtual Visit, and if Mr. Krosoczka ever wondered where some of the questions were coming from (they were related to the TedTalk and not the exclusive content) he never let on, and he answered with the honesty and respect my children deserved.
All of this to say, I did not jump into Hey, Kiddo unprepared. And yet… here I am. What I gleaned from Mr. Krosoczka’s memoir is that his life is not tragic, although tragic events take place, it did not lack love, although many interactions were less than loving, it inspires because it seems the author found a way to take the best parts of what was offered to him growing up, possibly learned from all that didn’t fall in “best parts”, and became this totally separate story, not in spite of, but… and here’s where, I guess, the crux of my feelings lie. What finishes this thought? When the kids, when we, talk about how Jarrett Krosoczka wrote his own story, not the memoir story, but his actual living story, where do we point to as the place where the magic happened, where it all fell into place?
And yet…here I am, thinking about demographics. The demographics I’ve served, a diverse population. I think back to all the places my thoughts went when I first watched Mr. Krosoczka’s TedTalk and where they went when I read Hey, Kiddo, and one nagging thought happened in both. Little Jarrett, he was a white kid (which is a minority where I teach), his Grandpa Joe had his own business, so their family wasn’t struggling financially like so many who live right on or below the poverty line, he was well kemp, he was articulate, he had mad art skills, and yet…so much was going on, so much he felt he couldn’t share with anyone at school, so much bottled up inside, and yet… he kept himself out of trouble, he worked hard to not raise any red flags for those around him. But so much was going on!, and it was a missed opportunity by every single adult in his school life. How many opportunities have I missed, because the kid isn’t one that screams either literally, or through his behavior, or her words, or his attitude, or her academics, or his constant hunger, or his extreme quietness, or her naps during the school day, or her truancy, or her momma, her daddy, his stepparent, her foster parent, her auntie, his granny, coming up to school and letting us have a slice-in-the-life of what it’s like at this family’s home… how many Little Jarretts have I failed?
So maybe that’s just it. Maybe this mess I’m feeling is the confirmation of what we all know… that not every kid that looks like he has it all together, has it all together, and investing in making sure it is what it seems needs to be a priority. It is also the confirmation of the uncertain knowledge that so much depends upon what each of our kids has inside of them, what we don’t see, what we can’t assess, what cannot be spoken, that all we can do is share stories, stories of heartache, of triumph, of choosing for oneself what the outcome of one’s story will be, and hope…hope that every story turns out at least as great as Hey, Kiddo.