I pulled up to curb just as my friend from church was coming out of his garage. We shook hands and started walking toward the boy’s house. It was in need of repair – a new coat of paint, the fixing of window screens. So much would be needed to prevent further deterioration.
I stepped onto the front porch. The front door was wide open with the screen door shut. The top window was gone. Nothing would prevent bugs or birds from flying into the living room on this hot summer evening. The light and TV were on. I knocked on the screen door. Someone had to be home. I waited. I waited some more. I began to wonder if they were going to ignore me. I was about to knock again when a woman stepped up to the door. She was an older lady, rough around the edges. I introduced myself and said, “I need to visit with you about your son.” She turned away. “Let me get you his mother.”
As she disappeared into the back of the house, I looked back to the street. Two barefoot and shirtless kids were running along the sidewalk. They had the same facial features as the boy I was pursuing. I assumed they were younger siblings. Turning my head back towards the house I saw the mother approaching. Tightening the knot on her house coat, she stepped out onto the porch. She had a ragged, worn out look about her.
I introduce myself and my friend. I apologized for having to bother her about this issue, but I wanted to make sure she knew of her son's behavior. Without waiting for a response, I got straight to the point. I told her about the incident at the pool and the issues at my house. She asked me when the incident happened at my house. “After ten,” I told her. She said it couldn't possibly have been her son. He was on probation and his court-ordered curfew was at . I asked, “Was your son home last night?” She turned her head away.
Her pause gave my friend an opportunity to speak up. He had told her of the trouble he was having with her son. He reminded her of the stolen bike they had visited about early in the summer. His gentleness was evident as he spoke. He emphasized that he wasn't here to condemn her son.
I was not as kind. I continued to pound home the point I come to make. I told her that I wasn't there to get her son in trouble. I simply wanted my house left alone. I told her if it continued the police would be notified. “Surely you can understand my frustration,” I said.
“I don't blame you for being angry,” she said as she pointed to some broken trim on her front porch. “Him and his friends are always tearing up my house.” She didn’t know what to do with him. “He is mean to me and his younger brothers.” A wave of frustration and exasperation crossed her face as she stated, “He is mad that I don’t buy him the clothes that his friends are wearing. And I can't afford those clothes.” I could see that she was struggling to rein in her son and wondered if she had any help. I inquired, “Ma’am if you don't mind me asking, where is his father?” “I don't let my son be around him,” was her matter of fact reply. “He is in prison for raping me.” Suddenly my little problem became very small. My emotions changed. I scolded myself mentally, Okay you need to get a grip and be more gentle. I tried to be supportive. “I don't blame you for not wanting your son to be around his father. I wouldn't want my kids around someone like that either.”
Thank God my friend had come. He started to started to talk with her. “You know your son used to come to our youth group. He is always welcome to come back.” As he was speaking I thought, She’s probably doing the best that she can. I asked her if she would mind if we prayed with her. She didn't mind at all. As neighborhood kids played in the street and families enjoyed the summer evening on their porches, we joined hands and bowed our heads. I asked God to grant her strength and to protect her sons. As she gently squeezed my hand, I concluded my prayer thanking God for his great love for us and her sons.
My friend again offered the opportunity for her and the boys to attend our church. He even went so far to say that they are always welcomed to ride with him mornings. As we started to leave, she let me know that she would talk to her son about staying away from my house. I thanked her as my friend and I turned to leave.
Walking up the street to his house, I told him thank you too. He was kind and said that I did a great job speaking with her. I told him he helped me see through my anger and have compassion on her. We gave each other a hug and parted.
As I drove to my safe, clean home, I thought about the kids at my school. I wondered how many of them have situations at home that cause them to not be successful? I know when I was in the classroom, when kids didn’t perform as I expected, either academically or with their behavior, it was upsetting. I realized the kids with rough home situations needed the safe environment of school. As I pulled into my garage I thought to myself, Did I always make these students feel safe and welcomed in my class?
Since I’m no longer in the classroom, I can't make an immediate impact anymore, but I hope sharing this story will encourage educators to reflect on how they approach each of their students. Are they having empathy when working with students? Do they know all of the circumstances of each student and their family’s struggles? How can they help a struggling student during the school day? With each story in a child’s life, there is a lesson for all of us. Are we willing to listen?