After that first tutoring session, I was a confirmed tutor. Every Wednesday afternoon, regular as clockwork, there I was, helping MissJ set up for the children and then waiting for their arrival. Sometimes I had KidThree by herself, sometimes I had another little girl or two or three, but always I had KidThree. We would read, or work on assignments sent from school, and play games and chitchat. It took some of the children a little time to get used to me, as most of them were black and I was one of the first, if not the first, white person they interacted closely with. It was a lot of fun to get to know them all and watch them get comfortable interacting with me.
There was one family of children who did live with both their parents. They came so their mother could have a break, as she had seven children when I first met them and nine by the time I stopped with the program a few years later. When I first started, her second through fourth children were regulars; I stayed long enough to see five through seven become regulars, and to meet babies eight and nine.
One pair of brothers also lived with both parents, and their mother sometimes came to help out. These two brothers were amazing boys. The little brother, age five when I met him, was a natural artist. He could draw people with actual perspective and dimensions, and for fun would write his name backwards and backwards, a la Leonardo. At the time, I had some books at home about Disney, Bill Peet, and Chuck Jones, so I brought those in one day to give to that little guy. His big brother wasn't artistically gifted, but had a wonderful mind. He was so smart, and so eager to learn and curious about the world; he wanted to learn everything and know everything and he wanted to be president when he grew up. When he was twelve, he was so excited--his school was going to start a Spanish class and he was going to get to take it. I brought him in some Spanish books (from when KidOne and KidTwo were small) and helped him the first couple of weeks of his class. I think he might have had three classes total when he came to tutoring one day almost in tears; his school didn't have the funding and was cutting off his class. He was devastated that that opportunity to learn had been taken from him. This was after I'd been tutoring there for a few years--by then, KidTwo was coming with me, so she tutored him in Spanish. Our school system is so f'ed up--that marvelous boy with that curious, questing, seeking mind could not get the education he so deserved. He had parents who worked so hard and who were raising some of his cousins, along with his brother and him.
One little girl asked me one day what I thought of the death penalty. I answered that I was against it in all cases; that I didn't think it was okay to kill someone as punishment for killing someone; that even in prision, someone could still accomplish important work; and besides there was always the possibility of a mistake but we couldn't give someone his life back. Then I asked her why she wanted to know. She told me her father was on death row in San Quentin and that some kids made fun of her because of that. Then she asked me what important work her daddy could do from death row, so I told her he could be her daddy, he could write to her and help her grow to be a good person who would learn to not make the sort of mistakes he had made. She told me about her collection of letters from him and how a stepbrother had destroyed the decorated envelopes those letters had come in, and how she had to hide the letters themselves so they wouldn't get destroyed.
Another family had four or five children who would attend, mostly only the four but sometimes the oldest brother would come, too. They were all active and friendly and bright, except for the one sister who was slow. After I'd been a tutor for several years and KidThree didn't come as often, I worked with that little girl. She's KidThree's age and has three children now. She never had a chance, and I bet her children won't, either.
The first few times after I started as KidThree's tutor, I don't know if she was the one who made the decision to come or if she was sent, but after a few weeks, it was apparent she was coming to see me. She liked best when she had me to herself and gradually opened up about her life. I learned she was the middle of her mother's three children, all of whom had different fathers, and the youngest of her father's fifteen children by half a dozen or more women. She'd had an older sister murdered in a crack house before she (KidThree) was born, and had been walking down the street with her daddy one day when a man was shot right in front of them; she described to me how his blood came out all over his shirt and how scared she'd been, thinking that she was going to be shot, too. She called her older sister's father Daddy, and knew her younger brother's father well, but didn't see her own father much, usually because he was in prison. She and that older sister and younger brother lived with their maternal grandmother.
When I started as her tutor, KidThree's mother was also in prison. When it came closer to the time her mother was due to be released, she started to get excited; she was so hopeful and would tell me of the wonderful life her mother had planned for them all when she got out. She was going to get an apartment and a job and they were all going to live happily together. Her desperate hope used to make me so sad, because I knew why her mother was locked up and how unlikely it was that she was going to be functional enough to do as she promised. When her mother was released, KidThree didn't come for a couple of weeks, then she showed up one day with her hair all over the place--think Don King on a windy day after he'd stuck his finger in a light socket. One little corner of her hair in the front was beautifully braided--tiny neat braids running down her scalp--but her mother had lost interest and gone out, leaving most of KidThree's hair sticking up all over. The thought of the courage it took for that sensitive little girl to get on the bus and come to tutoring with her hair all cattywampus like that just tore at my heart.
When KidThree was in third or fourth grade, she asked me to come to her back-to-school night. Her teacher was giving a presentation to the parents but KidThree had no one who would go for her. Of course I went, picking up KidThree and taking her along, and sat through the presentation with her and met her teacher.
Sometime around then, KidOne started coming to tutoring with me. She needed some community service hours for her school and this was a good way for her to get them. She ended up enjoying it so much that she came on and off for a couple of years past the time she needed those hours. KidThree would see me interact with KidOne; she watched us almost hungrily, and I knew it was because she lacked that sort of maternal relationship in her life. One day, after KidThree'd gotten to know KidOne pretty well, KidOne didn't come and I had KidThree as my only pupil. At the end of the session that day, KidThree put her arms around me and looked up at me with the saddest, most resigned face I'd ever seen and said, "I wish I was YOUR daughter." I returned the hug and said to her, "well, I'll always be your friend," but inside I was thinking, "I don't know how and I don't know when but someday I'm going to be your mother, if I have to wait until you're eighteen and track you down to do it." Her phrasing struck me--she didn't want me to be different, SHE wanted to be different, to be anyone but who she was.
Over the years, I learned about one uncle who was a rapist, and that her father had been imprisoned for attacking her mother and her mother arrested for stabbing her father with a fork; I heard about a beating from a relative that was discovered when a teacher saw the bruises and pressed KidThree until she finally disclosed she'd been beaten, and how that relative was investigated but convinced the investigators that nothing had happened. I learned that a California law was named for KidThree's father, as he'd set precedent for a particular crime.
KidThree made real efforts to get to tutoring, no matter what else was going on in her life. One day, when she was eleven, it was 106 degrees outside and she showed up in a man's heavy jacket. I kept trying to get her to take it off, telling her it was dangerous to be so covered up in the heat, when she finally told me it was all she was wearing. She didn't have any clothes to wear and when the bus came, the only thing she could find to cover herself up was that jacket, so she put it on and got on the bus.
When KidThree was about twelve, she stopped coming to tutoring so regularly, but she still came sometimes. She'd tell me about girls pressuring her to have sex, not with them but with the boys, telling her that she was nothing special and what did she think she was saving herself for and she had to give it up sometime. When she was thirteen, she told me a friend of hers had been raped by an uncle, but she wouldn't tell me anything else. Years later, KidThree told me of being molested by her uncle the rapist and I thought back to that day, wondering if KidThree had really been talking about herself. I don't think she was, as she got away before she was raped, but oh my.
In seventh grade, KidThree got expelled after goodness knows how many fights. She was considered so dangerous that she had to go a community school that had semi-ordinary classes in the morning but individual sessions in the afternoon. The afternoon kids could not be on campus when other children were there. One kid would have a session in one building with one teacher, then that child would leave and another would arrive to have a session with another teacher. KidThree went to that school all through eighth grade, with me giving her rides to her session. She didn't like and didn't trust her teacher, intuitively understanding that her teacher didn't think she would amount to a hill of beans, but she stuck it out and stuck it out and stuck it out. She would argue back and be confrontational, but she kept sticking it out and kept returning. From an adult's perspective, I could see that her teacher did appreciate the effort KidThree was putting forth, but I also could see that KidThree was right, that the teacher didn't believe she could make it.
That's all for today; more tomorrow, same Mom Time, same Mom Channel.