Here's a strange little phenomenon I've noticed with the kids I have taught over the years - they like to talk about scars. I've had some great, special moments with kids, magic moments where they have the "Aha!' moment or master some skill, or sometimes let me know that the mom and dad are getting a divorce.
But one universal conversation I have every year - a really fun, everyone-gets-to-play sort of conversation - revolves around getting hurt. Maybe the unifier is that no matter how different we are, no matter what age we are, no matter what our parents do for a living, we all wipe out once in awhile. Good solid, emergency room trips for stitches wipe outs. Medical intervention required. I.V. tubes a bonus. Surgery? Golden.
I mean, we all eventually go ass-over-tea kettle on our bikes, right? That's good for a concussion or 9 stitches on the chin. Half the people I know have walked through a glass storm door and need to be sewn up after. I have students or former students who have fallen out of bunk beds and broken arms, had sisters push them wonky and knocked them off a porch, been run over by a out-of-control snowboarder. Man, they love to tell me about a gusher or a compound fracture or some 106 degree fever they survived.
These revelations always start when some kid makes it back to school after a bout of conjunctivitis or pneumonia, or some overnight in the hospital. I tell 'em how glad I am they are back at school, which I mean whole heartedly. And cause I'm a klutz and stupid and love to do dumb things at least once in awhile, I can always commiserate. "Oh, yeah, I had pink eye in 10th grade." Or "My son, he stuck his hand in a bowling ball return machine and almost lost a finger." Or "Yeah, you remember when I left school last year to have neck surgery? We were playing Flinch, 'member? You were there. It was a rainy day recess!"
I have an ace. When some kid tells about his uncle who fell out of a third floor apartment while trying to fix a gutter downspout, I pull out my card. "Yeah, well I got hit in the head with sledge hammer." Kids love that one. I don't know why, but they do. Maybe 'cause I'm still here. Maybe 'cause they like to know their teachers are mortal and bit stupid. Maybe they like gore, who knows. But most times when I roll out the sledge hammer story, the groups gets quiet and there are a few nods of approval. They rub their arm which used to be in a cast, or scratch their scalp where some E-room doc glued a bleeder closed, or maybe think of Uncle Jimmy who was in a wheel chair all last winter.
And we start to scatter to class or carpool or basketball practice, and I think to myself "Be safe, kids." But not too safe. Scars remind us we are living.