This question has been haunting me all day. For some reason I had the occasion to tell (an edited version of) this story to my first period class at my previous school one morning. Then, I was again reminded of it as I talked with a student who sometimes calls me mom. Again, the question reared its head even while I watched TV with my husband this evening.
Will you adopt me?
She grew up in the islands off of the Bahamas. But what you don’t see on the cruise paths are the houses she grew up in and the men who paid her mom’s drug money so they could be with her, even as young as age seven–prostituted out for her mother’s drug money.
Their version of Child Protective Services eventually caught on. They sent her to the U.S. to live with her dad. He was a garbage man. Things were better. One day he didn’t come home from work; he’d been crushed in a work-related incident.
Her aunt lived in the U.S. as well. She was the only family left. But her aunt didn’t want her, and resented her, and they fought. They fought so much that her aunt turned her over to the state.
Enter foster care. Enter “high needs” placement. Enter a girl with such trauma that her problems and attitude were honestly understandable. Enter my classroom.
I’ve got a way with certain kids that other people have already given up on, or don’t understand, or don’t want to deal with. I’m not a kid whisperer, and not every kid “comes around”. But this young lady, she was one of the ones I was able to reach, even if for a short time.
I remember this moment so vividly. It happened in slow motion. I don’t remember what happened before it, or after it, but everything during this moment was so…. clear. I was teaching something. It was near the end of the school year. She looked at me and spoke up.
“Mrs. W., will you adopt me?”
The world stood still. I pictured a future where she was loved, and safe, and part of my family. I pictured us fighting. And driving to counseling. And hating each other with furious love. I shook myself back to reality, and I knew that I couldn’t. I wanted to, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t drag her back to my 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom house and give her an air mattress while we crammed a fifth person into our home with a mom, a dad, two kids, two dogs, and now her, too. God, I wanted to. I clearly still want to. I went home that night and begged my husband, even though I knew in my heart that it couldn’t happen.
I tell this story partly because I’ll never forget it and partly because she isn’t the only kid I’ve loved this deeply. I love them all this way. I don’t want to take them all home, of course. But some of them break my heart. Some of them make me want to take them home and give them all the things they tell me in their journals that they don’t have.
Sometimes I think about how I can’t save the world. I’m just one person. And other times, I realize that I can save the world one kid, one class, one word or note or listening ear at a time.
I had a chemistry teacher that said:
We are all either infinitely significant or infinitely insignificant. You decide.