Mother’s Day at boarding school

poem is in the shadows under the portico

God Says Yes To Me

Kaylin Haught

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic

and she said yes

I asked her if it was okay to be short

and she said it sure is

I asked her if I could wear nail polish

or not wear nail polish

and she said honey

she calls me that sometimes

she said you can do just exactly

what you want to

Thanks God I said

And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph

my letters

Sweetcakes God said

who knows where she picked that up

what I’m telling you is

Yes Yes Yes

I’m sure boarding schools today are not the same as they have been in popular imagination.  The privations, sickness, and humiliations suffered by Jane Eyre at the hands of Mr. Brocklehurst at Lowood School; the beatings for bedwetting at Crossgates which George Orwell describes in his ironically titled essay “Such Such Were the Joys,” must be things of the past. Probably students at boarding schools thrive to the same degree other adolescents do. After all, Harry Potter is never so happy as he is at Hogwarts.  Still.  It’s not my idea of a loving environment.  Which is why on Mother’s Day I taped this poem to the dormitory of an exclusive private school.  I wanted to send out a little motherly love to kids separated from their parents nine months of the year.

This playful poem is not a religious dissertation, but let’s get the obvious theological controversy out of the way.  Most theologians agree that God is spirit, and having no body, also has no gender.  So it’s no more incorrect to call God “she” than it is “he.”  If I didn’t find the word so silly, I’d suggest “ze”  (a word my daughter brought home from her freshman women’s studies class).

On to the poem.  “God Says Yes to Me” dismisses any convention that binds, whether it’s the dictates of fashion, behavioral expectations or grammatical rules like comma and quotation mark use.  The poem carries that heady taste of a new-found freedom, so delightful to teenagers. Haught is the daughter of an Oklahoma preacher, so this poem may be her version of dancing with Kevin Bacon at the Footloose senior prom.

Given that most teens these days grow up in a world of loose structures and extreme carpe diem, the poem could feel as dated as that movie. Yet this poem feels current to me.  God knows (doesn’t Ze) that teenagers don’t need encouragement to break rules.  And they’ve been schooled in the I-am-wonderful movement since diaper days. But scratch that varnish of self-esteem and you find that their sense of self-worth is conditional and fragile.  Kids hit 17 and realize they’re not smart enough to get into the best schools, they didn’t score high enough on the ACT or in the basketball games to make their parents proud, their nose is ridged, their bottoms are too small or too big, they have man-breasts or back acne, sweaty hands or lack of focus, no leadership skills, no personality, no resume, no hope for success. Kids have become products to be marketed to colleges on applications and to other parents in casual conversation.  And products should not have defects.

I put this poem where I did to send a message to every teen that they are loved.  Every hair on their bodies, every blemish, every scab, every cell is precious.

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