When you are making your Christmas lists, don’t forget books!!
When you are making your Christmas lists, don’t forget books!!
Sometimes children are known for exaggerating circumstances, especially those children in middle grades. Hormones and peer pressure can do strange things to a child’s brain. You really have to listen carefully and try to discern what is true and what is not. Even if you have years of experience you can be completely wrong in your assessment. I know I was.
I had a young man about eleven years of age in my class, I will call him Tim. Tim is kind of scruffy looking, often wore the same clothes, really thin. He often made decisions that would get him in trouble. One day I asked if he wanted me to call his mom about his attendance. He said it wouldn’t matter. It would just give her another reason to hit him. I just looked at him, but I didn’t call.
Usually when a child has two homes, mom’s and dad’s, more often they will live with mom. Usually, dad is out of the picture and has another family. In this case, both parents are well educated and they share custody.
On another occasion, Bill told me that he was glad he was able to get lunch at school, because his mom never had any food in his mom’s house. Bill would laugh and cut up about how he couldn’t stand to visit him mom, because she didn’t care about him. Again, he mentioned that she like to hit him in the head.
I don’t get some parents. Children should be something you want, not a by-product of sex. There are many ways to not get pregnant. But, if you have a child and the marriage ends in divorce, it is not the child’s fault. Even if the child reminds you of the other parent, they are not the cause of your problems.
Tim came in this past week and told me that his mom took away his phone and locked him out of the house. He was only wearing a t-shirt and jeans (no shoes). This was December and the temperature was in the low 40s. He finally got a neighbor to contact his dad and his dad came and got him. The police came and arrested his mom. I asked what his dad was going to do and he said that he went to court and was trying to get full custody.
Hooray for dad, but why didn’t he see what was going on before now? Why didn’t I see what was going on? I only see him for forty-five minutes a couple times a week, but why couldn’t I see it?
The more I teach and the more I deal with the foster care system, the less I understand about people. Everything is more important than their children: their addictions, their drugs, their alcohol, their other families. Kids come in last in most cases.
In the foster care system, the average time that a child is in the system has gone from 1 year to 2 years. This is due usually to extra chances for the birth parents to make some right decisions. It doesn’t work
We really need to come up with a system to deal with parents who abuse or neglect their kids. What we have now rewards the parents. When are we going to wake-up? No one seems to realize it, but the kids are our future. They learn to treat people by the way they are treated. We have to do a better job of raising our kids.
***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo, and Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.
I’ve been thinking lately of Eleanor. Even before I was assigned to her I knew her by reputation – reputation and rumor. In those days there were rumors about everyone; unvetted tales of sodomy and lurid perversion saturated the halls of my high school at a rate that can only be achieved by pubescent mythmakers. I should note that most of these tales, with the benefit of hindsight, strike me as logistically or physiologically improbable. Senior year, however, they amounted to the stark and disturbing reality of the secret adult world.
Concerning Eleanor, the rumor mill was tame: supposed sanctions for in-class tarot card reading; unpredictable moodiness, the PTSD from a messy divorce. To the extent of my personal knowledge, these whispers were no more true than were those concerning Earl Johnson, who disappeared from school when his foot was cut off by a train – Earl Johnson whom I later saw as an adult, able-bodied and physically intact.
The last English instructor of my high school career, I developed a crush on Eleanor. She was a Barbara Streisand type but with glasses and interesting opinions on 20th century authors. She spoke loudly and quickly in a voice accented by an ironic self-awareness. This latter trait, I found, was common in veteran public educators, those for whom the bloom of their professional reality had long ago been forcibly plucked from the rose… and then trampled-on by years of careless adolescent shoes.
I don’t recall feeling particularly affected by literature when I entered Eleanor’s classroom. I didn’t approach her required reading materials with relish, as I would later do in college. In the twelfth grade, I considered myself a simple commodity: A strong visual artist, sometimes funny, formerly overweight, who (blessedly) was no longer picked on by my male peers. I didn’t regard myself as a reader, though I was, and I didn’t recognize a personal connection to creative writing, despite an almost compulsive need to fill notebooks and the margins of worksheets with Dr. Seuss-like verse, interpretations of my surroundings.
It was this style of verse that I used when I wrote my first assignment for Eleanor, a piece of free verse creative writing. And it was her response to that assignment that secured her place in the desperately small stable of truly influential figures in my life. When she passed the paper back to me, it contained a single sentence, scrawled in dramatic, florid cursive: “We will get you published this year!!!”
Even at seventeen this seemed like a hyperbolic statement, but that was beside the point. In this instance, and in many instances that followed, Eleanor helped be to see value in something that I did so mechanically, that I almost didn’t recognize that I was doing it at all. It was an innate character trait, like the gate of my walk or the tics that I develop when I’m nervous. In her eyes, though, it was magic.
Lately I’ve been thinking of Eleanor because I’ve spent the last few weeks preparing my first collection of children’s poetry, which will be published later this year by Second Wind. I lost contact with her long ago, and she’s never read any of the work I’ve been preparing, but still she’s responsible. And while it’s unlikely that anyone who reads this post will have ever had the good fortune to meet her, I still wanted you to know that.
In closing, I’ll tell this story: Shortly after graduation I received a call from a girl I knew. When I answered, she began with the words, “Nice poem.” When I inquired, I learned that this girl’s father subscribed to a regional lifestyle magazine, and in the July issue there was a poem I had written for Senior English. Without telling me, Eleanor had submitted it, and she had gotten me published just like she said she would.
I’ve never had a chance to thank her.