you & me

What I Saw Unlocked And Rocked My Heart.


I was supposed to arrive early and unlock the doors. What I saw unlocked and rocked my heart.

A small gathering of young children, sitting and waiting quietly on the back stoop of the daycare’s crumbling cement steps.

Tired. Hungry. Shoeless. Some with saggy full diapers.

I was white, young, and scared.

It was my first teaching internship, located in a rough little town of New Jersey where I grew up. Most of the children were shades of brown and black, much younger and even more scared.

The scared part brought us quickly together. Shyness helped too. We could talk with our eyes.

Within a few days, I started to bring a loaf of bread. Nothing special. Probably Wonderbread.

The kids were so grateful.

The older ones (five or six years of age) would tear their pieces of bread apart and share them with the younger ones.

I brought two loaves one day, and a jar of peanut butter.

What they taught me was more than I could ever teach them. I learned about being real and understanding the soul of appreciation.

“Sometimes the people whom we’ve known for only a short amount of time have a bigger impact on us than those we’ve known forever.” ~ Maya Angelou

Here in the Northwest, summer is rapidly approaching. Schools will soon be out for summer break. Days will be freeform and long.

Sometimes I take for granted how much I have. My children’s basic needs are met. Their friends are always welcomed. Love is consistent and our home is safe. The students I currently teach come from similar homes. I wrote a simple poem for those families.

Although it is my summer dream for all children, I know it probably won’t come true for many.

And that saddens me greatly.

As I wrote my Summer Homework Poem, my thoughts drifted, and I remembered the parents who must work and the children who are left home alone. I still think about the kids who depend on the warm meal served at school. And how many will go to bed hungry.

Or how many need the structure and safety of a school’s routine.

It won’t be freeform and loving.

I wish I could wrap each child in a safe blanket. I wish I could reach more.

My poem began to feel trite, and yet it isn’t. I have two themes at war, and both are equally precious to me. The underprivileged and neglected child versus the typical child with most needs met.

I’ve taught both kinds, and every one of them needs love.

I’m trying to weave it all together because I don’t want to leave either kind of child out.


Summer Homework

Read, read, and read some more. Follow the sun through sprinklers and pools, beaches and daydreams. Enjoy popsicles and freshly squeezed anything. Savor ice cream on warm lazy days.

Listen to the drone of buzzing bees. Blow bubbles. Skip, hop, jump. Ride a bike. Plant a herb garden. Watch an ant crawl. Create a secret language.

Turn off TV. Play in the neighborhood. Gently catch tiny tree frogs (but please set them free). Toss a Frisbee. Throw a ball. Swing till your toes touch the clouds.

Spin until dizzy. Rest against a tree and just be. Eat S’Mores. Catch a breeze and run freely. Write a story. Take a snooze. Walk along a beach. Wear a cape. Bake cookies. Skip rocks in a stream.

Drink a sunset. Sing loudly. Collect pine cones. Watch and wish upon a falling star. Visit the library, often. Make a blanket fort. Spend hours building inside a daydream. Write a poem.

Be silly. Be goofy. Laugh until you pee. Burp the ABCs. Visit the ocean. Listen to the waves. Sleep under the stars. Hold the moon. Watch a play. Be in a play. Listen to lots and lots of music.

Stroll through a museum. Go to a park. Sniff a flower. Hike in the woods. Watch a butterfly, and listen to it sing. Sleep in, or not. Stay in PJs. Enjoy bare feet. Run backwards. Walk sideways.

Sing softly. Roll down a hill. Create art. Paint a picture. Be art.

Most of all, enjoy, and please, read.


Throughout the years of working with children and families, I feel fortunate for all they have taught me. Learning is a reciprocal process, and gifts can be found in each shade of light and dark. I am a teacher and a counselor and a leader, but more often a follower of the needs of others.

I let the child and family teach me where we can help each other. And once we are able to establish a small bridge of trust, we can walk together through the nasty stuff.

It is my dream for all children to have food and shelter. To receive the deepest respect and no harm.

Above all, to be seen and heard and loved.


Carolyn Riker
Carolyn Riker, M.A., LMHC, is a counselor, teacher, writer and poet. She currently writes for several online journals such as Women’s Spiritual Poetry blog and formerly Elephant Journal. A collection of her work is on her blog, Magic of Stardust and Words. Her poetry and prose have been featured in three books. Between sips of coffee and navigating life via the stars and moon, Carolyn leads journal-writing workshops and has a private counseling practice. Additionally, she’s in the process of completing her first collection of poetry and prose, available in the fall of 2016. Followed with a bit of magic, there's a children’s book too.
Carolyn Riker
Carolyn Riker

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