Reading With A Lump In My Throat

Clara Lemlich circa 1910 - from the collection of the ILGWU

Clara Lemlich circa 1910 – from the collection of the ILGWU

“Are you crying again?”

I am reading Brave Girl by Michelle Markel to my son, about Clara Lemlich, an immigrant girl who goes to work in a garment factory. My assignment from his karate teacher is to read true stories of people with the warrior spirit.bgcover

Why do these books have to be so damn moving?

I tell him about superheroes who stand up for what is right; that they are real people and some are even children.

But even though I read the book through twice by myself, so I wouldn’t cry, I still lose it.

We talk about the good things Clara Lemlich and the labor unions accomplished: safe working conditions, five-day work-weeks, and an end to child labor, even though, he points out, kids in China make most of our things.

And there I go again…

Brave Girl couldn’t have come into our lives at a better time. Just as he was starting kindergarten and complaining he had to go to school every day. His school has a playground and exercise balls instead of chairs, a big library and tablets with math games.

“There are children all over the world who want to go to school,” I explain, wincing to myself because I know how I sound. (Clean your plate..!)

In the end, it’s not child factory workers who change his mind. It’s a skilled teacher and supportive learning environment.

Nonetheless, I’m glad he’s aware that public education isn’t something that just happens, and given the chance, there are people who would take it away, and circumstances under which it doesn’t exist.

Maybe, when he’s six or nine or fourteen, he will face an injustice and remember Clara’s warrior spirit. Maybe he will call on his own.


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