I got a new student one year right after labor day. Have you ever heard the phrase "he has a chip on his shoulder?" Well, this kid came in carrying the entire tree on hers. She was mad at the world and didn't mind letting anyone know it. She wanted no part of the other children in the classroom and did everything she could to let them know it. Even though she wore mismatched clothes and her shoes were too big, nobody and I mean nobody, messed with her. She was like a pit bull in a china shop when she got angry.

One morning she came in and I thought it was a different child at first, not because her demeanor had changed, but because her attitude had. She was so happy and talkative. When we went out for recess, she came to sit beside me on a bench and excitedly told me that her mother would be coming to see her that day. I knew she lived with an elderly grandmother, but I had very little details other than that. The child could barely contain her excitement. She told me that not only would her mother be coming to see her but that she was bringing her a bicycle. She went on and on about all of the things they would do that afternoon. I was genuinely excited for the child and could not wait to see her the next day.

The next morning, it was as if the happy child I had witnessed the day before had retreated to some far away place. She looked more sullen and angry than ever. When we went out to the playground, the child ran up to me and buried her face in my chest and cried her heart out. I asked her if she wanted to talk about it but she did not. I decided not to press her and just continued to hold her and let her get her feelings out.  I did  call the emergency number listed for her when we got back in the classroom. This woman in turn told me she would have the grandmother call me.

I finally got a return call from the grandmother late that afternoon. The grandmother suffered from a lot of health problems and was in her late 70's. The child's mother had been in and out of rehab and according to the grandmother, this child had experienced more upheavel in her five short years of life than many do in a lifetime. The child and her two siblings had been removed from the home and been placed with the grandmother who did not want them separated. She told me that her daughter just could not pry herself away from drugs and the courts refused to let her have the children back until she did.

The grandmother described to me how the child had waited all afternoon the day before for her mother's visit. She refused to budge from a window at the front of the house and stayed there until bedtime. Her mother never came. It broke my heart as the grandmother described how the next morning, the children found an old rusted bicycle thrown in the yard sometime during the night.

I decided not to broach this with the child. I did contact the counselor who in turn contacted a social worker. Eventually, the child began receiving regular counseling.  What I did do was try every way I could think of that I could to reach out to this precious little soul. Her sweet little spirit that had been hiding under all those hurt feelings slowly began to emerge. She would delight in the small treats I would bring her and started opening up to me. I went to some thrift stores and found some new clothes that had been discarded but still had tags on them. When I got them to her through the social worker, she was so proud of her new outfits. She started playing with the other children and appeared to really enjoy school. Her temper would flare from time to time but her tantrums weren't nearly what they had been when she first entered our classroom.

The only time I would see a setback was when her mother would come to see her. It caused so much turmoil for the child afterward that I finally called her social worker and reported this.

By  early January, the grandmother's health had deteriorated to the point that the child had to go and live with another relative out of state. I cried and cried the afternoon that she left and prayed that God would watch out for her.

That little girl would be in high school now. I wonder if she even remembers me or realizes how much she touched my heart.

7 comments

  1. Theresa Milstein // February 12, 2010 at 6:18 PM  

    I'm sure a piece of you, whether big or small, lives within her. More importantly, you looked out for her, making sure she received much-needed help.

    All this focus on testing and literacy. There's no benchmark for the positive influence you were on her young life, even if later influences may not have been so kind. I hope they have been as well.

  2. VKT // February 12, 2010 at 10:19 PM  

    So do I Theresa!

  3. Edie Parrott // February 12, 2010 at 11:10 PM  

    I have no doubt that she remembers you. We all remember the kind souls who reach out to us. I am just so thankful that you were there for her when she needed you, and I pray that she found a few other compassionate souls as she worked her way through school.

  4. Anonymous // February 14, 2010 at 12:48 AM  

    She will absolutely remember you. My childhood experience was similar (alcoholic parents, upheaval, drama etc.) and my third grade teacher, Mrs. Bennett, inquired after my behavioral issues, learned of the problem and did exactly what you did. I am 42 years old now, and still remember her with tremendous gratitude & warmth in my heart. The value & self-worth you instilled in that angry little girl is an invaluable seed. You are a gem, and made more difference to that little girl than you can ever imagine. I thank you for her. ;-)

  5. marcime // February 14, 2010 at 3:08 PM  

    she will remember. just as you will neer forget.

  6. VKT // February 16, 2010 at 7:14 PM  

    I hope so Marcime!

  7. VKT // February 16, 2010 at 7:15 PM  

    Thanks anonymous! I appreciate your response!