He was wildly smart and witty but also picked fights and stole.
The classroom pulsed with the energy of 11-year-olds, smelling of a thick blend of wet sneakers, pencil shavings, hormones, and angst. To my first-trimester sensitivities it was a daily assault, but aside from that the students who entered my classroom that year were a pleasant and agreeable group of fifth-graders. Except one.
John (his name has been changed to protect his privacy) stood a head shorter than most of his classmates, his thick, dark hair expertly groomed and his clothes just the right amount of casual. He was wildly smart, regularly finding solutions to questions I had yet to pose. He uttered witty one-liners that led his classmates to erupt in laughter. He also stole, picked fights, argued with adults, and distracted everyone with spontaneous outbursts. He fell out of his chair with striking predictability. He had been suspended and threatened with expulsion for property damage. And he didn't seem to care.
I liked him a lot.
As a teacher, I always gravitate toward the challenging students. John's case was painful because I recognized his behavior as a reaction to his home life. I believe he felt that he had already been written off, that the worst was being assumed of him and therefore he might as well sink to meet everyone's expectations. I tried to be gentle with him.
But everyone has a limit to their patience. Especially when one is pregnant.
By February, my husband and I knew we were having a boy. "John," my husband said as we looked at the image on the ultrasound monitor. "Yes," I said weakly. "John."
From early on we knew that if we had a son, his name would be John, an abbreviation of my maiden name. It resonated inside my heart, a maternal instinct manifested long before I committed to starting a family. It showed that I had risen above the hurt of my father's abandonment and honored the grandparents who rested in wing-back chairs of perfection in my memory. It connected the dots.
As my belly expanded and sleep became an elusive memory, my patience with John's antics grew thin. Every day my son heard me through the walls of my uterus, speaking his name out of frustration rather than love. I became convinced he would think I was talking to him instead of the boy standing in front of me.