KidThree was a regular at tutoring from about age eight to age twelve. During that time, I got quite attached to her, as previously described, and tried to do what I could. Sometimes we tutors would bring in books to give to the children, spreading them out on tables so the children could go 'shopping.' We each had our own source of low-cost used books. My best source was the local Friends of the Library sales in the town where I was living: those sales were always on the weekends, with all remaining books $3 a bag on Sundays. I'd go in on the sales Sundays with my tote bags and backpack and start loading up, usually leaving with a hundred or more books for no more than $12. The kids loved those days--they'd arrive to see an extra table laden with books and know that meant books to take home and keep.
After a couple of years working out of the office where the tutoring program was held, I transferred to another office, but only after making sure that my new supervisor supported my Wednesday routine and was okay with me heading back to the old office every week for the tutoring session. My new spot was in a public health clinic surrounded by charities: two homeless shelters and a Salvation Army store. I'd go to the Salvation Army at lunch to browse the bookracks and would sometimes find books to add to the giveaways. Dollar Stores were another good source of goodies for the children; sometimes one or another of us would find a bunch of puzzles or other toy where we could get enough to go around (although sometimes, those gifts would be held until a day when there were fewer children, as there might not be quite enough to go around). And for Christmas, we'd all work to collect pencils and little toys so we could give each child a goodie bag at the session just before we'd break for the holiday.
I admit, sometimes I'd slip KidThree an individual present or two, tucking it right into her bag or backpack, or giving her a grocery bag to disguise it.
Once year (I think when KidThree was ten, or maybe eleven), KidThree's grandmother consented to me taking KidThree to Picnic Day, a major celebration at the local UC. This would be a wonderful chance for KidThree to see a different environment, and on a university, no less. I drove in to her major NorCal city that morning to pick her up, but then we took the bus from my home to the university, as parking would be impossible. On the bus, KidThree stuck close. She asked, "Miss Susan, why do I feel like I'm the only black person on this bus?" I answered, "honey, you ARE the only black person on this bus." A little girl about age three was hanging over the seat in front of us, staring with fascination at KidThree, who asked, "Miss Susan, why is she looking at me like she's never seen a black person before?" I said, "honey, she probably never has, not this close. It's not her fault, so smile at her." KidThree tried, but the best she could come up with under the circumstances was a teeth-baring grimace. Not sure if race relations were advanced that day or not.
At the university itself, KidThree stuck even closer, not letting go of my hand. The tens of thousands of people, mostly white, were beyond her experience and she was a little freaked. She did enjoy the entomology exhibit, and the free ice cream from the nutrition department, and I think we went through the cat breed exhibit and watched some working dog demonstrations. Then it was time for my own particular favorite part of Picnic Day, the doxie derby.
*No, not THAT sort of doxie, the dachshund kind.
KidThree wasn't thrilled about the idea, but grudgingly went along when I insisted on walking all the way over to the Rec Hall for whatever this was that Miss Susan was so pleased about. When we got there, she was more pleased by the vending machines and my ever-present supply of change than anything else, but then we found seats and waited for the show to start.
*If you've never seen a doxie derby, you're missing out. Go on Youtube and look up 'Doxie Derby Picnice Day' and you can watch.
KidThree was enchanted, laughing as much as I did once she got over the lunacy of what white people would do for entertainment. Still, the day itself was mixed; she was uncomfortable almost as much as she was entertained. The entire day, she was counting how many black people she saw, and she didn't even get close to a hundred. It got to be a game, to see which of us could notice someone first and so announce the number we were on.
I thought about her apparent perception that college was for white folks and decided to take her to Black Family Day, another celebration a few weeks later at the same campus but with the focus on Black folks. I thought that might make her feel more like universities were for people who looked like her, instead of categorizing them in her mind even more firmly as "For OTHER, not for her." There weren't quite so many people, thousands as opposed to tens of thousands, which I thought would be better, as the crush of people on Picnic Day had unnerved her.
Was I ever surprised. Black Family Day weirded KidThree out even more than Picnic Day. She stuck by my side even closer, holding my hand even more tightly. She asked, "Miss Susan, WHY did you bring me here?!?" I explained that I wanted her to know that universities were for everyone, black folks as well as white folks, and asked if it didn't make a difference to see so many black folks where she hadn't seen very many on Picnic Day. KidThree gave me an alarmed look and said, "Miss Susan, these black people aren't MY kind of black people!" Poor KidThree. She expected white people to be foreign and so wasn't surprised to be uncomfortable at Picnic Day, but the realization that black people could be alien to her totally blew her mind.
When KidThree was twelve, she stopped coming weekly but would still show up fairly regularly, every two or three weeks for the next year, and then even less. I tried to keep in touch, mailing her a package of books the first of every month, and once in a while would ask if I could take her to a movie with KidOne and KidTwo. KidThree's grandmother wasn't sure of me, not by a long shot, and usually would say no, but when KidThree turned thirteen, I did get permission to take her to "Take Your Daughter to Work" Day. Working for the welfare department helped with that, as we were actively encouraged to bring children of clients if we didn't have children in the right age range ourselves. KidThree's grandmother did receive welfare for her three grandchildren, so KidThree was eligible.
KidThree was a bit standoffish that day; she hadn't seen me in quite a while and adolescence had hit with a vengeance. She seemed to have a good time, and especially enjoyed working the industrial-sized shredder, but wasn't very communicative. We went out for burgers at lunch, where I talked about this and that as we drove, then back to the clinic, where KidThree continued to be pretty quiet. Until about 2:30 or 3:00 that afternoon, when she relaxed enough that the dam burst.
In answer to a question, she started talking and talking and talking and didn't shut up for two hours. It was an verbal outpouring of adolescence confusion and angst and rage where she told me about pressures to do drugs, pressures to have sex, fights with her sister, fights with kids at school, run-ins with the police, her assignment to a program for at-risk children at school (spring of seventh grade), and her parents and their being locked up or not locked up and which situation was more difficult for her. Once she started talking, she couldn't stop; it was as if all those thoughts and all those feelings she was keeping bottled up wouldn't be contained once they started flowing out of her. So much pain, violence, uncertainty, confusion, and fear; she didn't know what to do or who to trust or how to protect herself. KidThree loved her grandmother devotedly, and her grandmother loved her right back, but she was older and so infirm by then that she had trouble rising from her chair to the point where if I called to ask for KidThree, and KidThree didn't wake up when her grandmother yelled down the hall to her, I didn't get to talk to KidThree.
For two hours, I just listened, not doing more than little interjections to show I understood, or to stop KidThree mid-flow for a moment to get a definition or explanation of a word or phrase I didn't understand. At the end of the torrent, KidThree was standing in front of my desk, just looking at me, drained, as if to ask, "now what do I do with all of this?" It was time for us to leave in half an hour or so, but I talked to her for a while about this, that, and the other thing, ending with the assertion that I had her back and when and if she got to the point where she wanted to try staying with me and mine, she was welcome. At that point, she wasn't ready to leave her grandmother, but she did appear to internalize that she really could escape if necessary to this odd woman who wouldn't go away.
Time to get ready for work now, so more tomorrow, Same Mom Time, Same Mom Channel