Friday, March 16, 2007

Everyone's a Little Bit Irish on St. Patrick's Day!

I wore green to school today along with my shamrock pin. For most people, being Irish is a state of mind. For me it's my heritage. I know there are many of you out there who know about your roots and who celebrate those roots in your families throughout the year. But it always amazes me how many of the children I teach don't know where their people came from. So many students wore green today and many more told me they would wear green tomorrow.

"Are you Irish?" I'd ask.

"No. Well, at least I don't think so," they'd say.

"Then why wear green?"

"Because if I don't, someone will pinch me!"

I think it's odd that children know this St. Patrick's Day "tradition" but can't remember their times tables.

I'm half Irish. I'm also the only redhead in my family. The last redhead was my maternal grandmother - Katherine "Kitty" Kelly - whose spirit defines me almost as much as her hair color.

I know where I came from. I know who I am because of who they were. I can point you to the old homestead in Staten Island, New York and I can show you their headstones in Moravian Cemetary. I can pull out the photos of Peter Kelly in the Civil War when he fought with the Irish Brigade, and I can show you the family resemblance now. But so many of my students don't even know where their own parents are on this St. Patrick's Day, let alone where they came from.

My heart aches for them. Their sense of belonging, as fragile as it was at their birth, has been shattered. They don't know about their past. Their present is questionable. Their future in jeopardy. And yet they wear green for St. Patrick's Day so they won't get pinched.

Is there a way we can be more inclusive and welcoming to those outside of our own families? Can we be "family" to those who have none? Can they be a part of our family today? That sense of identity both roots us and gives us wings. Without it we wander aimlessly and often in harm's way.

After all, everyone is a little bit Irish on St. Patrick's Day. They can wear green and belong.