I believe that children with broken hearts have the most difficult time learning. I believe that listening and being there for children is the most important gift you can give.
Allicent was a perky 2nd grader who had a chronic case of head lice. She was minus a front tooth, and had a toughness about her I couldn’t really explain. I got the feeling that if she had to live alone, she would make out just fine. She was stocky, had dirty blonde hair, and shabby clothes. She had such a bright, wonderful smile! She had recently transferred from another school. I was told that she was a “fighter” ; a serious discipline problem. I was “keeping an eye” on her. She was ok so far, but I wanted to talk to her just in case. That morning, as the sun beamed into my office window, she sat smiling, hugging the stuffed dog we called “Tucker”. I asked who she lived with. That was all she needed. She began her story, and what a story!! She described in intricate detail about how her dad had tried to kill her mom. How he locked the 2 kids in their room, and began beating their mother. “He beat her with the tire iron from the trunk”, she beamed, smiling and giggling as she spoke.” Then he,” and she made a slashing gesture across her neck. “He slit her throat and stuffed her in the trunk of the car. After that, he drove us all over to our aunt’s house and she called the police.” I was shocked and dumbfounded. I said the first dumb thing that came out of my mouth, “I am so sorry, Allicent. That shouldn’t happen to sweet little girls like you! Is your mom ok?” “Yep, ” she chimed. She made it. We live with her. But she got all her scars that night and they took Daddy to prison.” I checked the Department of Corrections web site, because it all seemed so surreal. I was hoping she had made it all up. But there he was, in prison for assault with a deadly weapon among other charges.
I don’t think Allicent ever got counseling. I think her mom was just trying to be sure they had food, and tried to get rid of lice on an ongoing basis. I don’t think her mom had any support or help, either.
You know, if a child had a broken arm, everyone would make sure that the child received medical attention. We know that bones need to heal, and if they heal crooked, they won’t ever be right. Maybe you would never throw quite right again, or maybe you could only bend it so far. But in our culture, broken hearts are allowed to stay broken. Sometimes we don’t set them so they can heal straight. The trouble is that children with broken hearts grow up to be adults with broken hearts. If they don’t heal, they remain crooked, and don’t ever work quite right again.
I tried to be there for Allicent that year. So, I have to believe that just being there is enough. That making school a happy, fun, safe place to learn and improve your life is the best we can do. Because I am not sure that her broken heart will heal. I hope they do.
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