“I’ve had a good run on this kidney, but it’s about up.”
Really? Who says that kind of thing?
The school building lies low in the afternoon shadow of the golden Capitol. The Iowa State Fair is over. The legislature is long gone. The parking lots for the nearby government buildings are hushed after the late-summer hustle and bustle. But all is not quiet for the school in the shadows. New decorations are on the walls. Desks and chairs are carefully aligned. And over there are boxes and crayons and paper and class plans. Check, check, check, and a final check. At last! The first day of school is about to begin at Capitol View Elementary School in Des Moines. Today, everything is possible.
“I won’t lie, the first three days of kindergarten are the roughest.”
Tim Robinson shakes his head and rolls his eyes and then groans for my comic relief.
“It’s not that they don’t know their letters or they can’t count, they just don’t know school. Things like — this is how we line up, this is how we sit still, this is how you raise your hand if you have a question, this is how you wait your turn, this is bathroom expectations.”
Perhaps you didn’t talk about bathroom expectations last week at Principal or John Deere or the Public Defender’s Office, but, for Mr. Robinson, this is meat and potatoes.
“I think the two biggest academic transitions that students make are kindergarten and college. Kindergarten is a huge step. You’re stepping into another world. You’ve been with mom, or dad, or whomever, for five years. Then you’re expected to spend a whole day with not only a complete stranger adult — who might be a big, loud man — but also with a bunch of strange kids.”
Mr. Robinson is a big, loud man. Slim and muscled, with a tightly trimmed beard, short red hair, arched eyebrows, and a wide smiling mouth. A man that is certainly up for fun. You gotta a story? Let’s hear it.
“One of the kids the other day, a really sweet kid, was talking to me. I said, ‘Do you know what this color is?’ He didn’t. I tell him, ‘Well this is a yellow crayon and it’s yellow. What else is yellow?’ He said, ‘Bananas.’ Great. ‘Okay, find the flower that is this color.’ He pointed to some yellow flowers. ‘Wonderful,’ I said. ‘What’s the color of the flower?’ He said, ‘Banana.’”
Laughter all around.
Ah, but there is also a more solemn side to this young teacher.
“I had a little boy that screamed for the first half hour of every day for eight solid days. We could not figure out what it was. Come to find out he had a terrible past with his dad and was deathly afraid of men and that’s what the issue was. We put him with a female teacher. That was really hard for me. It broke my heart. That was one of my kids. I’ve had rough kids every year. You’re never going to have an easy class. This job would be boring otherwise.”
Mr. Robinson has goals and plans and projects and fun and play for all his kids. Teaching is a love.
“This is going to be my 8th year teaching kindergarten and my 9th year at Capital View — I taught one year of 2nd grade. I’ve loved it all. This is my career. This is what I want to do.” Mr. Robinson pauses. “And there won’t be any social security left anyway, so I’ll be doing this until I die.” Mr. Robinson smiles. “That’s okay.”
But there is a little bump on his road to glory. A small one. In the shape of a kidney.
“The kidney thing started about five years ago. I woke up one morning and had a low-grade fever and both my ankles were swollen. I knew that wasn’t good. I didn’t know why. They informed me I was in end-stage renal failure. I didn’t know what renal failure was. I asked him what that meant. He said your kidneys have shut down. That wasn’t fun.”
Both of his kidneys failed. But he had some good fortune. After a painful five-plus months, Mr. Robinson got a new kidney. A cousin was a close match and she agreed to give up a kidney. An angel on earth.
“I would not have said yes to talking to you unless there was a chance it could get word out for organ donation. I will do anything to get word out. I was part of the 17% of people who needed kidneys that year that got them. People wait years to get even a cadaver kidney. It is so important to be an organ donor. To even consider saving a life.”
But now his new kidney is going south. He is thrilled with the five years from his cousin’s kidney and feels it was a wonderful gift. But at 33 years old, he’s not done and wonders about the next step.
“I don’t think about this all the time. Whenever I do have a thought about what I potentially have to face, these kids are a huge part of what I have. A day without the kids is a day wasted. Every day I get up knowing that these kids expect to see me here. And if I have expectations of them, I should be here for that.”
He looks down. Quiet. Thinking.
“The kids and I have stuff to do.”
Of course. The day’s a-wasting.