Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Feeling at home … together

Listen to this post:

Beat-up orange lockers made them VERY happy. So much so, they began to argue over who got the top and who would be by Elizabeth’s. Who knew?

Then again, the theme for my first session of Artsy Fartsy Saturdays was “Creating a sense of place” and it began painfully apparent these girls – from a large subsidized apartment complex in my neighborhood – don’t have much to call their own.

After a caring neighbor safely delivered them via a local church van and we settled, I asked them to keep three questions in mind during the afternoon. Questions they could answer for themselves:
• Where do we feel at home?
• What makes a place special?
• How can Artsy Fartsy feel like home?

In the midst of a scavenger hunt designed to help them navigate the space, rules and what’s off limits, they clustered in the hallway, ten beats ahead of me, asking if they could each have a locker. That was on my list for after the hunt, when I would briefly mention they could keep things there during Artsy Fartsy, but take them home each time as they were not secure.

Can I bring a mirror from home? What about a lock? Oh, let me put this magnet (intended for the AFS schedule and their home refrigerator) on, it sticks. But I want a top one. This one doesn’t work. No, I don’t want those short ones. I don’t want to have one by myself. Can I have one down at the other end of the hall?

I almost dismissed it as pre-teeny female flightiness, but then I would have missed what it really was: these girls begging for a space. Just a tiny one. A 10”-by’12”-by-36” dusty, metal cubby. A private space they could call their own and fill with whatever they wanted to fill it with. How could I say anything but a resounding YES and tell them they would be provided with locks next time, unanimously consented to by my exceptional adult volunteer advisors, all teachers.

Layla was so intent on getting hers ship-shape that she quickly finished our main project, then toiled away with Windex and paper towels. It shone … probably more in her eyes than on the metal surface.

I am certain no set of lockers has ever been as fussed over as these vintage 1970s specimens in harvest gold and sunset orange in a 100-year-old school. Perhaps because they weren’t assigned or that they were chosen, maybe they called to these girls. I like to think it’s because these girls were making themselves at home.

I know how important it has been to have my space … a room of one’s own as Virginia Woolf termed it. Mine started as a small stand-up desk (an old hostess station from a shut-down restaurant) in a kitchen window, progressed to an eight-by-ten studio in my garage, and, now, a 400-plus square foot former classroom lined by lockers outside.

These spaces have been places I have tended to my soul. Private spaces where I could feel safe and escape when I chose or invite a selected few in …  all on my terms. What would it have been like to have my own locker, aside from at school, when I was in fourth, fifth or sixth grade? May not have made a huge difference in my life because I had things of my own. But, what if I hadn’t?

I would have been scrubbing away at a dusty old locker claiming it!

• Where do we feel at home?
• What makes a place special?
• How can I make where I am now feel like home?
• How can I do that for someone else?
• What difference has having a room of my own made in my life?

All smiles
bounding off
the van and

I had
their enthusiasm
two nights

as I delivered

a quick
task that
became a
at the hand
of my

I don’t think
she wanted
to let me

she knew
special awaited

the secret

that an
even more
gift would
help us all
feel at home


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