Four years ago this month my son, Liam, was born. I was already a lucky and loving dad, but the lead-up to my son’s birth had me thinking about my place in the world. I was trying to carve out an idea of what kind of educator, dad, and person, I wanted to be, so that the message I would raise him with was clear through my actions. The stakes felt high, meaningful, adult-like for once.
When my wife went into labor, we rushed to the hospital and counted her breaths in the car ride over. Our bags were packed weeks before with everything we needed. We brought all the stuff countless blogs and books suggested good, caring, parents bring. The anticipation from the months of doctor visits, nights speaking to him through my wife’s growing belly, and hours spent wondering what he’d look like had come to their apex — it was time to finally meet him.
In the tiny waiting room of the Labor Unit a cartoonishly pregnant girl, no older than 17, sat across from us. She paced nervously in pajamas between labor pains, trying to contact people on her phone. With each call, she’d leave a message for people who felt distant, mere acquaintances, folks with abbreviations for names. With each message she left, my heart sank for deeper for her. With each answering machine reacher, she’d talk a mimicked and fading cool into her phone. She’d say something like: I’m in the hospital, can you find him? Call me back if you can. It was early morning now and no one called her back. Her messages became increasingly anxious and frantic and they let me put together some of her story. She was temporarily homeless, far from home, and looking for the guy whose DNA the child would share. Then the messages stopped altogether and the girl sat scared and alone, waiting for the same thing we were waiting for.
Hospitals and schools are both built with the best of intentions — to help the masses get better, to heal each from the confines of our body and mind. In schools the hope is to develop our thoughts. Public education allows people to escape the trap of their limited knowledge, of their class or economic heritage. There’s a promise that if you listen close and do what’s asked, the sky is the limit. Hospitals take in the sick, the scared and scarred, and teams of smart people — the one’s we tell kids in schools to become like — work to fix the problem that plagues each patient. The two institutions are the American project at its best — their doors are open to all people, but we each walk in with different facts and we are faced with others beliefs of who we are. So the scale is always tipped towards those with more.