Today, I asked one of my students how their weekend had gone. I expected the usual, “Fine, Ms. Williams, how was yours?” But I got this, “I got off the bus Friday and found my mom on the living room floor.” This was all said with an overly enthusiastic smile and a nervous giggle. Now, I’ve taught for almost 25 years, but still I’m never prepared for this situation (and this is not my first or second time tiptoeing through this zone). It sent a chill through my core.
So, I looked at this little sweet blonde-haired girl, whose glasses hid a beautiful face and said, “Baby, I’m sorry”, and I hugged her, “I’ll pray for your mom and you.” She accepted my hug and looked at me, and I saw fear in her eyes, and I knew that this conversation had to go on just a little bit longer. So, I asked, “Is your mom in the hospital?” and with the room around us, buzzing with adolescent nonsense, she replied, “She hasn’t regained consciousness yet…”, overly enthusiastic smile still in place, nervous giggle on repeat like a sound track. I knew she wasn’t, but I asked any way, “Leslie, are you OK? Do you want to talk to the counselor or somebody about this?” She turned back to her computer that she’d been working on and emotionally blocked me out, and said, “No, I’m fine!”
Again, I’ve taught middle school for about 25 years, and I know when a kid can’t take any more, and I know not to take it personally, so I let it go. But I did slip off and tell the counselor and my student’s other teachers. I knew she needed extra support. I also prayed for this sweet girl’s mother and family. I prayed for her too. And I believe in God’s plan with all my heart, so four days later when Jessica, Leslie’s best friend, bounced into homeroom with and overly enthusiastic smile and told me, “Ms. Williams, Leslie’s mom died.” I knew God’s plan was in place and that this wasn’t a mistake. I looked at Jessica and my heart ached for Leslie. I’d lost my mom less than a year before and I knew that it had swept me off my feet and that I had thought I’d die of grief at the age of 47. I couldn’t imagine how a 14-year-old could handle it. I said to Jessica, “Oh no…” and just like nothing had happened, Jessica floated off, leaving me hurting and sad.
Leslie came back to school the next day, not wanting to be bothered with grief and mourning, just wanting to get on with the puberty thing she was firmly entrenched in. I hugged her, but she basically pushed me away and I understood.
And we continued 8th grade science and all things 8th grade and she never showed a sign of grief… until… her father realized he couldn’t pay the mortgage on just his income. That day was bad. The counselor came that day. Her dad had to be called that day. And I learned that her mother had no life insurance. And I knew that this sweet girl’s life was about to change.Leslie moved away.
Her family had to move in with grandma and grandma lived three hours away. And I thought there’s got to be a better way. At the worse time in a child life, when her whole world was crumbling, this girl had to move away from the comfort of her world. I didn’t know what to do. I hated this part of my job! No correct answers!
Two weeks later, Leslie was gone. I felt her absence. She is a sweet smart girl. I worry about her. I hope she’s ok and settling into her new world. I wish thing were different. But after almost 25 years, I know I may never know how it worked out for her. I just have to trust God’s plan.