This past Friday, I attended the 5th grade HERO presentation for Ben’s class. I mentioned in my previous post that Ben had chosen Ms. Brenda as his hero, who was his home/hospital teacher for third and part of his fourth grade years. Please see my PENGUIN post to see what an awesome lady Ms. Brenda is. The presentation was very touching and I loved reading Ben’s story. She is a very important part of our lives.
During this presentation, I saw another young man reading his story to the school social worker and I nearly burst into tears. First of all, I have a good relationship with the school social worker because we’ve worked together on ensuring that Ben and Madeline succeed in their academic environment. They’ve both been through considerable emotional struggles and Ms. Nikki (the social worker) has a great relationship with both kids. She is an amazing woman. I like her a lot. But this young man, I’ll call him “E”, has had an incredibly rough way to go and I was touched to see that he chose Ms. Nikki as his hero.
A bit of a backstory on E: he and his younger sister are exactly the same ages as Ben and Madeline. Mad and his sister were buddies and used to spend considerable time together the years they shared the same teacher. At one of Madeline’s birthday parties, I called to make sure E’s sister knew what time the party was and ended up in quite a discussion with their grandfather. He explained that their mother had disappeared shortly after E’s sister was born and the dad was a recovering drug addict. They were all living with the grandparents while the dad was trying to get his life back together.
Unfortunately, he never did. He died of a drug overdose about a year later. After a short stint in foster care, E and his sister ended up with the grandparents. They continued to attend the same school as Ben and Madeline. A couple of years ago, I was volunteering at the school library when E came in to check out a book. He got a big smile on his face before coming up to me and hugging me really hard. I just held him for a few seconds before he rejoined his classmates to search for a new book to read. One of the ladies working in the library actually said “I can’t imagine how that kid can possibly turn out to be any good.” It took all I had to not lay into her and berate her for discarding him as if he were nothing. I looked at her and told her it was our responsibility to care for him. It was our job to love him. That it’s nearly impossible to thrive when believing that nobody loves you. She wasn’t even giving him a chance.
So, when I saw him on Friday delivering his story to Ms. Nikki, my heart nearly burst. She does such a great job with these kids and it was evident that she was making an impact on young E’s life. I kept making eye contact with E as he was reading his story to her. I couldn’t hear what he was saying because all the kids were talking to their heroes at once, so it was pretty loud. But my eyes watered a little bit and he kept glancing at me through his thick, dark eyelashes that hid big brown eyes that harbored so much pain. I was so grateful to see that little spark of happiness shining in his eyes as we stole brief glances at each other. The mother in me wanting to let him know that he was loved. That I was proud of him. That he’d chosen a worthy hero in Ms. Nikki.
After all the presentations were over, I walked over to E and gave him a big hug. He held on a little longer, a little tighter, as I smoothed down his hair and told him how proud I was of him. And, for whatever reason, I was prompted to say a little more: that he was an amazing boy who had so much life before him. He smiled like I’ve never seen him smile before and looked me right in the eyes as he told me he hoped I would have a great rest of the day. My eyes teared again as he turned away to rejoin his classmates.
I walked over to Nikki and hugged her, thanking her for caring enough about E to be his hero. She stated with great pain that she wasn’t his choice at all. His hero didn’t show up for the presentation. His hero was aware, but chose to not come. So, Nikki sat in for E’s hero. This little boy was let down again. Instead of having to give his presentation to an empty chair, Ms. Nikki stepped in. I’m grateful she was there, but my heart broke into a million pieces.
I smiled once more at E before I left the classroom. I walked out to my car and I cried for a good 15 minutes. Does he have a chance at being a good boy? Is he going to fall through the cracks? Will his pain prevent him from being the amazing boy I can see inside those soulful eyes? I think he can as long as he feels like someone cares even a little bit.
Pay attention, friends. These children are all over the place. It is our job to take care of them. We can’t save everyone but a little kindness goes a very long way. Let’s be heroes to those who have been forgotten. Let’s show them that they are more than capable, and tell the naysayers who don’t believe where they can stick it.