Some people may have seen this recent facebook status of mine…..
“If I talk about it, I might cry…”
“That’s ok. You won’t even be the first kid today crying in here!”
“Other kids come to your class to cry too??”
(I always think it’s cute when it dawns on a kid that they’re not the only one who spills their guts to Ms. Napper.:))
Yesterday was an intense day. Two different kids had been holding onto stuff for a very long time, and I finally broke through their walls. With the student quoted above, this wasn’t our first intense conversation. He’d told me all kinds of heartbreaking stories before, but always with a straight face. I can’t express how disturbing it is to listen to a child tell absolute horror stories, one after another, with nothing but stoicism. He’s told me multiple times, “I don’t cry,” to which I’ve always responded, “I get that, but you can if you need to.” So yesterday, he finally delved into the stuff that does make him cry….
Not me, though. I really don’t cry. At least not in the moment, not with the kid. In the moment, I’m very emotionally present, warm, caring, open, etc…. but I’m also strong, calm, and in control. I learned a long time ago how to avoid freaking out, even when listening to stories that fully merit freaking out.
Later. I cry these things out myself later. In fact, the more intense the emotion, the longer it takes me to process and be able to cry about it. When the second conversation ended yesterday, and I was left feeling drained and vaguely numb, I knew it would all leak out my eyes eventually, but I had a feeling it would take a while.
It almost happened on the bus today. I blinked it back and avoided a scene. But wow, not when or where I was expecting it!
The driver was a talker. He drives me somewhat regularly, and he always has a lot to say. One of his favorite themes is his daughter, now a young adult, who he raised as a single dad. He’s so proud of that girl, says she’s doing everything in her life right. It’s very sweet. Today he went deeper, and among other things, talked about his lifetime of dealing with drug addiction. Now I understand all the times he’s said, “I’ve done so many things wrong in my life… but I raised my daughter right. She’s my one great accomplishment.”
He told me that his daughter calls him out of the blue sometimes just to thank him for being her dad. He says that she called him recently, after watching another drug addicted man completely neglecting his child, and said “Thank you for protecting me from harm.” (The driver got choked up just telling the story…. Seriously, everyone cries around me!)
What a powerful line. “Thank you for protecting me from harm.” That was when I had to put the brakes on my own waterworks…. Because suddenly I was thinking of this kid and all the stories he told me yesterday. All the stories he hasn’t told me yet. All the times he needed someone to protect him from harm, and nobody did…. And my heart hurt. I wish I could go back in time, scoop up that little baby, and take him somewhere safe. I’m doing everything I can to help him avoid unnecessary harm in the future. But there’s so much beyond my control or his….
It’s not just this one kid. It’s so many of them. So many that I desperately want to protect from harm. So much trauma that I wish more than anything I could undo. It kills me that no matter how much I try to give and support and love, my actual realm of influence is pretty small. I know that I do make at least some difference, and that difference matters. But I also feel the weight of all the needs that are beyond me, or that I failed to meet, or even failed to notice…
And it kills me to see it getting worse, not better. I’ve said it a thousand times, but get used to it, because I’ll say it a million more. We live under a regime now that was elected on the promise of adding trauma to my kids’ lives. Our President insulted my kids and their families, and promised to make their lives hell. And a large enough minority of Americans said “yes please!” So now it’s happening. And as promised, it’s hell.
When I decided to pursue my teaching license in ESL, I remember very specifically thinking about all the families that come to the US, seeking a better life. I was watching so many of my friends traveling to third world countries and getting involved in all these make-the-world-better projects. And I was excited to finally figure out the role I could play! When families left these tough situations and came to start a life full of opportunities for themselves and their children in this country, I could be part of that process. I could help with the transition. I could be part of America’s welcome wagon. It felt so right….
I remember trying to express all of that in Spanish during my interview for my education program at BYU. I didn’t know they were going to test my claim on my application that I spoke “some” Spanish, so I wasn’t prepared at all! When the interview team turned to the Latino at the table, and he asked me in Spanish why I wanted to teach ESL, all I could do was speak off the cuff, from the heart, and something like my last paragraph is what came out… It was a linguistic struggle for me, and I’m actually glad I didn’t have time to prepare. I would have overthought it, and not done as well. Instead, I just jumped in, hoping for the best, and it worked out fine.
My Spanish abilities have grown a lot since then. And now instead of expressing idealistic dreams, I’m using those language skills to listen to trauma unlike anything I can remember hearing in English. (Nobody told me this was where all those verb conjugations and vocabulary lists would take me!)
But America’s welcome wagon is looking pretty shabby these days. I can’t make any promises to these hurting kids that they’re safe now, that the worst is behind them. I can’t protect them from harm.
I know that life isn’t meant to be easy. I know that our struggles are what make us strong. I would never want to protect my kids from struggle… But struggle is one thing, and harm is something else.
The limited power and limited time I have with any of my kids is tough. I love them like my own, but they’re not my own…. This is where I have to learn trust, which is not my strong point. I have to trust the kids to grow up and make good choices–preferably sooner, but I’ll settle for later. I have to trust the other adults who will come and go from their lives, to pick up where I leave off. And more than anything, I have to trust God to watch over them and take good care of them. It’s so hard. I know that God is there, and that He loves these kids even more than I do, is more aware of their needs than I am. I can say that confidently, because I feel him giving me just the right nudges and flashes of insight to support kids better than I would on my own. But he also lets harm happen! He lets terrible people make terrible, harmful choices. And maybe someday, in a future lifetime, I’ll understand why these things had to happen without God intervening, but right now it’s well beyond my comprehension.
No matter how many times the answer is “no,” I have to keep asking…. Please, America, and please, God, protect my kids from harm.