The Life cycle of Baby Grass
We are learning, together, about the life cycle of a plant. Me at the whiteboard, facing a semi-circle of my students, and, behind them, my teaching assistants Angela and Steven splitting their energy between a conversation I can’t decipher and redirecting students to their seats.
I write words on the board because I am supposed to do that. My students do not read (yet), and I am still young enough to view this act as simply establishing a best-practice routine. Objective: Students will be able to understand that plants follow a life cycle. Plants are born. Plants grow. Plants stop growing. Plants die. We help plants grow by giving them water and sun and dirt. Teachers write information on the board for their students. Students learn the information and extend their comprehension.
“When the grass is born, it’s baby grass. And then it grows up into adult grass, but you need to give it water and food to keep on living.” I am holding in my laughter—it’s the baby grass. Yes, of course we don’t call it baby grass in real life but isn’t that what it is, in the end? A seedling unable to blossom without the language of its forebears, roots grasping for sustenance and warmth?
Genesis flicks her communication device off her desk. Arturo cries until Angela begins to massage his scalp, seamlessly continuing her conversation with Steven. Emma sleeps through all of this.
“Okay guys, what do you think? Let’s talk about what we need to live.” I bring Arturo his speech device, a QWERTY layout reconstructed on plasterboard that even on the best days he only reluctantly uses. I don’t blame him for disliking it—his arm would wave at each letter like a raven descending, the precision and focus required to touch each letter outpaced what he, what any of us, possessed. “What kind of plants need water and sun and dirt to live like the baby grass?”
His first hand lands on F, and I repeat this to him, both to show that I am paying attention to him and to reinforce that he made a choice, and that choice has a consequence, i.e., me telling him that he chose “f.” I cradle the board in front of him, the length of it spanning my torso. Angela and Steven have stopped speaking and have shifted their focus to see what, if anything, Arturo will spell. He raises his arm again, twirling it like a slow-motion cyclone before dropping it on the letter C. And then on U. And then before he can touch another letter I move the board out of his reach.
“I saw you chose f, c, and u,” I say. “Those are all letters in four-leaf clover. And you’re right, we need to take care of those plants, too!” We all know, however, the letter Arturo had his eyes on. At the end of class, I finally laugh. Fcuk baby grass. Fcuk these boring lessons that I won’t know how to make interesting for another three years. Fcuk me, for making them sit through these boring lessons.
I use this story for years as a model to introduce new coworkers to how age-appropriate our students can be despite being non-verbal or needing diapers or entranced, still, by Elmo and Big Bird. I talk about the life and death of baby grass long after Martín is killed in his classroom.
We won’t know what happens. His only teaching assistant will leave for lunch one day, and she will return to find the students panicked and Martîn on the floor, his skull bloodied. Next to his body will lie the hardcased iPad one of his students uses to communicate. Even though it will never be confirmed, we settle on a story: Martín asked his student a question, and when the student answered incorrectly, Martín showed him an expected answer. And the student became so frustrated (he hated being wrong! Don’t we all?), he lashed out. The student will leave school that day and not return, and we will pray that he doesn’t realize what he had done.
We will collect money in the days leading up to the funeral service, passing the envelope in hushed tones between rooms so the students would not hear us discussing Martín and his broken skull. We will not yet want them to know death this intimately. Even as, year after year, their classmates will slowly disappear due to seizures and infections and allergic reactions and total organ failure, we will try and protect them from the knowledge that death, for them and for all of us, is coming.
On the day of the baby grass, I leave a single message on the board. I want to take a picture of it, to share with my partner, my family, my friends. Isn’t it funny, the topics I teach here? Isn’t it interesting how there are concepts that, when explicitly taught, sound like wild jokes?
When they stop, they are no longer living. They are dead.
Matthew Mastricova is the fiction editor of Third Point Press. His work has appeared in Catapult, Cosmonauts Avenue, Joyland, Redivider, and elsewhere.