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Archive for the ‘Fights’ Category

A student told me today that I was almost like an angel or a saint—“One of those people who never do anything wrong.” She listed the traditional “sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll” kinds of activities. At the time, I explained that I had made choices based on a long-term perception of how I wanted my life to be and the conversations I didn’t want to have with my spouse. I then launched into a discussion of how our choices affect our lives, specifically in the areas of sex and drugs.

I realized, however, as I thought about it, that I didn’t make good decisions because I was so wise as a teenager, but because I wasn’t around all the stuff these kids are. I didn’t know anyone who was divorced when I was in junior high or anyone that wasn’t living with both biological parents (unless one of them had died.) I couldn’t have found drugs if I wanted them (except on a family trip to New York when I was offered crack), and I knew very few people who drank in high school—and those only by reputation, never around me. It’s an entirely different world from the place my students live.

To allow others who may have been similarly sheltered to understand what my students deal with, I wanted to type out a portion of their stories in their own words. The writing is in response to an autobiography project that I assigned. They started with a list of five events that had impacted their lives. Then, they could either pick one to tell in detail or all five in summary. Those were the only instructions I gave them. I got a few “When I got my tongue pierced” or “The day I met my best friend” essays, but more were much more tragic. I think for me the greatest tragedy was the realization that for these kids, there was nothing abnormal or weird about sharing these stories—it is their “normal.” I asked them for permission to share their stories with you. So here they are, in their voice, the stories of their lives :

1. When I was young, my mom lost custody of me and my brother. My grandma [name] got custody. They are still fighting for us today. My brother has seizures, so he’s kind of mental. I have two sisters and three brothers. My mom and dad were never married.
Now, my mom is engaged and my dad is now married. My dad has been married for five years almost. My family is kind of hectic. My grandma is married and has been married for six years. I moved here from [location]. I’m hoping that I’ll move down there next month after the ninth. I haven’t lived with my mom for seven years. I moved here in the third grade when I was nine. . . .

2. The first thing I remember is police busting through the door arresting my dad for drug trafficking. I was small. I’m not sure how I remember this, but Tupac’s “Hail Mary” was playing and the stove was on. My mom and I were crying.
Another memory from my childhood is me, about three now, sitting in a tub. My mother was washing my feet. I cried because the water was too hot. I got burned.
I remember when I was thirteen, when my dad was arrested again—on Christmas. My mom went to rehab for alcohol abuse. My brother and I cried together.
I remember being forced to share a house with my grandparents, staying outside all day, playing football and basketball with my brother.
I remember my first fist fight. I won. But, I felt so bad.
I remember the first time I thought I was cool and try a cigarette. I coughed my lungs out. I almost died. Ha-ha. . . .
I remember a lot of things. Negative or not, the memories have made and shaped who I am today.

3. Birth. My parents got divorced. My dad got remarried. My mom got remarried. I ended up with two sisters and three brothers on my mom’s side. My step mom told me she was pregnant on my birthday. Worst birthday ever because I wanted to be Daddy’s little girl. Sixth grade, my little sister was born. I was scared. My mom took my dad to court for custody of me. We lost. My dad wouldn’t talk to me for a few weeks after that. Seventh grade, I got in my first fight. I was afraid my dad was going to kill me, but he just said as long as I didn’t lose, then I wouldn’t be in trouble. And now, here I am.

4. When I was a little kid, my dad was not a good one. He is/was a drug addict. My mom had me at a young age and wasn’t married to my father. My mom had me in April, and they got married in September. She married him because she thought he would change. But, he didn’t change. He would steal my mom’s car and leave. When he left, he would go get high on cocaine or marijuana and stay out until it wore off. When he would come home, he would make up lies about where he was at. My mom dealt with it for a long time. Then, I found out that my mom was pregnant with my sister. She had my sister and still put up with his crap. In August [year], they finally got divorced. I was sad about it, but then I got over it. He couldn’t keep a job and was in jail a couple of times. In March [year], I got a call that my dad wanted to see me. I went home and saw him. He was with my cousin. My cousin and my mom were talking, and my dad took me in my room and said he wanted to talk to me. We sat on my bed and he started to cry. He had been doing drugs and told me that he didn’t want to live anymore. I screamed and started crying. My cousin and my mom ran in the room and asked what happened. Then, they left, and I didn’t see my dad for a while. In October [year], my dad went to jail for a month and a half. It was sad, but then again, oh well. He is now sort of stable and has a job. But, if any of that wouldn’t have happened, my mom probably wouldn’t be the woman she is now and wouldn’t have raised me like she did. I probably wouldn’t be as strong as I am now and independent.

5. I grew up in a house with four rooms two bathrooms. I lived with my mom, dad, and two sisters. This was until I was six. My mom decided to move out and get a divorce. We went to my aunt’s house for a couple of days, then moved out to [location.] I lived there from [time]. I went to first and second grade in [location]. We had moved in with my uncle. Things got bad between me and his daughter, so we went back to my aunt’s. This time, we lived in the back house, which the last time was occupied. We lived there for like two years. In [year], my mom wanted to move again, so we did. We had to move schools again and make new friends. Well, I liked it because it wasn’t that hard. . . .

6. I don’t really remember when I was born, so I’ll skip to when I was five. When I was five, my mom, my mom’s ex, and I used to live in [location.] My dad would always think my mom would cheat on him. He was a truck driver, coming home only some weekends, so he did not know. I know my mom didn’t cheat on him because I’m here from like __to two o’clock. So then my mom and dad divorced. We got kicked out of our house and forced to move here. We lived with our uncle until his wife didn’t want us to live at their house. So we moved into my grandfather’s house. I loved it there because he didn’t care what we did at all. My life has been very well after all of this. My mom has a very good job and she is very well. . . .

7. [Date] is one day I will never forget. One interesting day, I should say. That day I won’t forget because I lost my dad that day. I was at my friend [name]’s house, and early in the morning, my dad got up and decided that he didn’t want to be around anymore. He got up, and he got dressed. He and my mom got into a huge fight. They wouldn’t stop. They argued about everything, until my dad got so far, he grabbed a knife and started going towards my older brother’s room, and my mom had to call the cops. The cops heard the whole thing over the phone and were sent to our house right away. My dad was escorted out and told it would be best if he were to stay gone for a few days. It ended up being more than a few days. When I came home, he was gone. I saw my dad again that July when there was a medical emergency including me where I had to go to the hospital because my little brother shattered a glass window in my face at about three inches away from my face. I was put into the emergency room for eight hours. They took X-rays of my face and hands and then sent me home.
The problems just spiraled out of control from there. My brother was sent to a mental institution, shortly after the incident with my face, and we went in for family counseling. One year later, my little brother was released and sent back home. Before he was released in [time], I had stopped seeing my dad in [time]. I haven’t seen him in a year, nor has he tried to contact me in over a year. I really don’t understand why it seems like my dad didn’t care, and if he did, he had an odd way of showing it. I kind of miss my dad, but I don’t really miss the things he said and he did. On [date], my parents will be getting a divorce, and then me and my two siblings will be put in a custody battle. This will probably be a long, hard process, but it will have to be done. I hope to have all the fighting over with soon, but with all this, something good is sure to come.

8. A few months after living a life of abuse and lies, I broke. I couldn’t handle the stress, and I couldn’t bear living with my mistakes. I found a bottle of pills and took nearly twenty. I was numb. I stumbled into my room. Becoming more and more dizzy, I began to pass out. My sister walked into the room, picked up the pill bottle, and screamed. She quickly told my mom what had happened. She was screaming, crying, and starting the car. I was rushed to the hospital. My family was shocked. I was forced to stay awake until a room had opened. I could hear my mom filling in the rest of the family. I could only make out a few words… “She found Grandma’s pills…she was raped.” I closed my eyes as I was put on a stretcher. My inner thoughts were screaming, “Take me, take me, take me already.” The nurse interrupted them as she impatiently shoved a large white bottle in my right hand and a straw in my left. “Drink quickly, sweetheart.” I took a sip. Charcoal. I should have known. I drank hastily, growing more and more terrified. I heard my step sister inform my mother what had to come next. 72 hours in a padded room. I trembled. “Why hadn’t I just used a quicker method?” My inner voice boomed in my head. By now it was 11:00 pm. I had arrived at around 3:00 pm. I was exhausted. Hauled onto a stretcher, the paramedic socialized and tried to give me advice. I fell asleep, and awoke in a new hospital. A mental hospital. I stayed there for almost a week. I will never forget this experience. And I hope nobody will make the mistakes I have.

These are just a sampling, but I think they paint a clear picture. May we love well and never be fooled by the calm exterior. Additionally, may we realize that not everyone’s dealt the same hand in life, but as so many of my students did, understand that regardless of the hardships, there is still hope.

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Yesterday was a long day. I was supposed to go directly to help with Musical Theatre auditions, but ended up counselling 4 kids along the way.

It all started 8th hour when I had to break up a fight in the hallway. I finally got eye contact with the student I had grabbed (other students had helped with the other boy), and got him calmed down. I took him down to the office (frustrated because 8th hour is my most out of control, and I couldn’t imagine what they’d do without me in there…) On the way, he decided to punch the wall, splitting two knuckles and dripping blood down the wall. He was so mad, he cried in the office. The other kid had called a girl a “B” and when this kid had confronted him about it, he said, “B means girl.” So, the kid wanted to hit him. I explained that the instinct to protect a woman was noble, and I was proud of him, but fighting wasn’t the way to handle it.

When I returned to class (having wiped off his knuckles and the wall), they were all sitting in their seats (mostly quiet…) Miracles DO happen. I made it through the period, went to check on my kid in the office, and returned to class to get ready for auditions. Someone else was already there.

I’d forgotten I’d told a student he could talk to me after school. Sigh…He explained that he had feelings for a friend’s girlfriend (and she for him). He didn’t want to play his friend but really liked this girl. I explained to him how valuable he was and that he didn’t deserve to be anybody’s “What if something else’s better…” person. We discussed his future, and he gave me a hug, and said, “I love you. You totally made me feel better.” Now on to auditions…

Except there were two students in the hall. One just needed a notebook, but the other was dealing with trying to restore a relationship with his best friend who he’d ignored for weeks because of his girlfriend. His girlfriend had said they should stay friends, but now was mad that he was trying to restore the friendship. We talked for a bit, and he walked me down to auditions (for which I was now about 15 minutes late.) While I was telling him goodbye, another student walked up.

“Miss Brailey, can I talk to you?”

“Sure, what’s up?” (I’m expecting him to ask for help with English, since I’d told him I would help him on his work…)

“I need to figure out how to deal with my anger issues, so I don’t end up like my dad.”

Sigh–his dad’s in jail.

“Okay, come on in here.” I took him into the choir room (Which attaches to the stage where I could hear the auditions I was supposed to be helping judge faintly in the background…)

We sat down, and I explained to him that he has a choice. Patterns of behavior are repeated from parent to child unless someone deals with them. If he doesn’t deal with this, it will not only affect him, but his kids as well. He needs to say, “This stops now, and this pattern won’t be repeated in my family.”

Then, I explain that we become like what we focus on. I explain that always dwelling on what his dad has done makes him like that (angry.) I shared with him that he needed to forgive his dad–not that what his dad did was right–but acknowledge the wrong of it, and forgive him for it. I shared the example of Corrie Ten Boom and having to forgive the guard who killed her sister. Forgiveness releases us to not be held captive by another person. I gave him examples of how to forgive his dad. He said, “Wow, how can you know so much about me when I haven’t talked to you about this?”

I had the opportunity to pray with him, and he said, “Man, I feel so much better already. But, now what? What’s the next step?” I reminded him how to forgive and encouraged him to find men in his life who would pour into him, since manhood is bestowed by other men. He asked, “How will I know who’s the right kind of man?” I explained that he should look at the man’s wife and kids. How they respond to him is a good indicator of what kind of man he is. I also explained that he should pick a man he wants to be like and ask that man to spend time with him doing guy things. He had a coach in mind to talk to.

He said, “Man, you should be a therapist.”

“I am,” I replied. “I just don’t get paid the big bucks for it.”

He laughed and gave me a hug. I held his shoulders and looked him in the eye. “You are not your dad. You are not your brother. You are you. And that is enough.”

He thanked me and left. And I finally made it to auditions…45 minutes late, but with changed lives in the meantime.

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“Don’t criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins”
~Native American proverb

Today, I got my first experience as an inner city parent. I suppose a little background information is in order.

Every year, I write letters to all of my students encouraging them with the meaning of their name, telling them what I see in them and challenging them to grow. Their last journal entry (which I keep) allows them to say goodbye to me. Some of them choose to take that opportunity to write what they appreciate about me. Last year, I had a student who came in as a transfer. He was smart and literary, so we discussed books a lot. About a month before school ended, he started calling me “mom.” I thought he was just being the typical goofy junior higher, so I called him “son” when he called me “mom.” This was his end of the year letter to me:

“Dear Miss Brailey,
My mother and I were never close. So, my whole life, I never felt full. Strangely, and then again not so strangely, that hole in my heart welcomed you so fastly and strong. You seemed to favor me as I favored you. “Mom,” you mean very much to me. I feel sometimes that in your presence I feel safest. You will be a mother one day and a fantastic one at that. Now, I’d like to challenge you. I’d like to challenge you to never change. Always stay the kind, smart, holy, and utterly beautiful woman you are. I love you, Ma. My heart hurts when I write this. So I shall do it quickly. Farewell and Godspeed, Ma. Forever yours…(Name)
P.S. “To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.” With this quote, I want to tell you that you were my lantern in the darkest times. Thank you.

What I had assumed was goofiness was a kid’s deep pain looking for connection. I sent him a letter over the summer thanking him, telling him I was committed to his success, and letting him know that if he ever needed a mom for an event, I would be there.

Today, I got to live those words. I saw him in the hall, gave him a hug, and asked how he was doing. “Horrible.” He proceeded to tell how his girlfriend had played him for a new kid and how hurt he was. He wanted to fight the guy, but promised me he wouldn’t do it at school. (The best I could hope for…) I told him, as I always do, to “Be smart.” Eighth hour he came in to talk to me. My class was behind, so I couldn’t spare a moment. “Come see me after school.” I said, and he left. Many kids “drop in” from time to time, so I didn’t really think anything of it until after school.

Another group of kids came into my room and said, “(Name) was in a fight after school.” My heart sank. “No way! What happened?” I asked. The fight had happened near his house (So he technically kept his word about not being in school.) The kids thought he’d been arrested because he was still on school property. Great. I felt horrible because I knew he had come to see me eighth hour trying to calm down, and I hadn’t had time to help him, so he exploded.

I called his dad to see if he was home or still at the police station. His dad hadn’t heard yet. So, I headed to the station. All of a sudden, I was in their shoes. So many of our parents have kids they love who make stupid choices and then they have to go pick up the pieces. “This is what it feels like,” I thought as I walked up the ramp to the station.

It turned out, he hadn’t been arrested, but had gone home. Since he has a history of both suicidal stuff and cutting, I wanted to make sure I saw him so he didn’t do anything stupid. I drove by his house, and he came out: Cut knuckles, busted lip, and feeling like crap. Again the thought, “How would I feel if this were really my kid?” He thanked me for calling his dad and talked a bit about how he was feeling. He said he’ll be smart, and that he’ll be okay. I told him the next time it’s really an emergency, communicate that to me, and I can make arrangements for my class. I gave him a hug and left, with a new understanding and a little less judgement for the parents in our community.

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