Day after day, I hear their stories. In the course of a year, hundreds come through the school registration office where I work in order for me to determine whether or not they need ESL. They come from all over to the world, these scared, hopeful students. My first year on the job, some of them spoke languages I had never even hear of. When friends ask me what I do for the school system, I tell them, “I work at Ellis Island.” I fall in love with these kids during the couple of hours that they are with me. I feel strangely protective of them, and as each leaves my office, I say, “Welcome to America. Work hard, and make your mother proud.”
As required by the school system, each student who comes through the registration office is asked to write an essay in English. Of course, some students cannot understand or write a word of English. But many can do so, with varying degrees of proficiency. With several topics to choose from, most choose this one: “Write about the happiest day of your life.” Almost always, they tell about how, after so many years of being apart from their mother, their happiest day came when they were finally reunited with her. Although their English is grammatically flawed, their syntax imperfect, and their spelling off mark, the emotions translate perfectly. I tell the students who write such essays how happy I am that their families are together again.
I am reminded when I read these essays about how powerful the connection is between a mother and her children. I think to myself that neither time nor distance can lessen the love I feel for my own daughter and sons. I want to reach out and hug these kids, who have spent three, seven, sometimes ten years away from their mothers. I want to weep when thinking of the nights that they went to bed lonely for each other, with no kiss goodnight, no song to help them have safe dreams. I think of my own daughter, then a teenager, now 26, who has chosen not to speak to me in the ten years following the bitter and contentious divorce between her father and me. This I must continue to believe; then. I will always believe that she, like the children whose essays I read day after day, will one day find her way back to me.