Monday, June 13, 2016

Home #3: I Just Want to go Home

So I'll stop yapping about it after this blog post.  I promise.

The real reason I’ve been thinking about the word "home" is this: I’ve noticed that when children are in a place of vulnerability—they’re sick, tired, scared, in trouble—they openly express that they just want to go home. 

Home can be the top floor of an apartment, or a small cabin on a country road, or a big ol' house in a crazy-rich neighborhood.  It could be a farm or a city or a nondescript suburban allotment.  Doesn't matter, really.  Home can be anything.  Regardless, it's where warmth and safety can be found.  Where you feel right when you walk home.  Where you'll recognize the smell; where you breathe into your pillowcase and the sheets feel right.  Where you feel better, somehow.

A few months ago, a third grader was sent to my office for using foul language on the playground.  He was calling people nasty names and throwing out some pretty filthy words.  He thought he'd get away with it because he was cussing in Spanish, but there were a couple of other fluent Spanish-speakers in the class, so it didn’t take long for him to get himself tattled on and sent to see me. 

But when he came in my office, his demeanor surprised me; rather than regretful or remorseful, he looked furious.  He threw his little body into the chair and crossed his arms defiantly over his chest.  His chin quivered; his face was a bright, blotchy red. 

“Um…” I looked at him.  “What's going on here?  You’re in trouble.  Why are you acting mad at me?”

“I want to go home,” he spit out.

Of course he did.

Home.

But where was home?  This boy had been in our school for less than two weeks.  I knew from his enrollment papers that he’d been born in Mexico and lived there with his parents several years before moving to India. In Dubai, he attended an international school for three years, growing fluent in both Spanish and Arabic.  "He doesn't want to be here," his father had explained when I first met them.  "When I told him we had to move to Ohio for my work, he was angry.  But he'll be okay.  In time."

Watching him now, sitting in my office, my heart melted for him as I watched him do all the things little boys do when they don’t want to cry.  He bit his lip; he glared; he squinted; he jiggled his knees; he shifted back and forth in his chair.  He glowered at me.

Yeah.  He was angry.  Really, really angry.   

I made a quick call to our Spanish interpreter, a lovely woman who understood the anxiety and fear that comes with being placed in a culture that is entirely new.  We sat down next to our new student.  We talked to him:  we told him we knew he was angry and that we understood that he was feeling alone.  I rubbed his back, feeling his  muscles slowly unclench.  He cried in a deep, gaspy way for awhile.  Finally he began to speak, switching back and forth between English and Spanish, as if he was trying to pick the best way to make us understand.

And we did.  We understood that he had no idea what he was doing in Ohio, for Heaven’s sake, and especially in the principal’s office in Ohio.  He wasn’t home.  He was where I felt at home, sure, but this wasn’t his.  He felt as far from it as one could possibly ever feel.

We didn't talk about his foul language that day.  I didn't give him consequences or ultimatums. To me, the foul-language problem was secondary to the real one—that he felt unmoored and misplaced.  So, instead, we let him talk and cry and be angry.   I hooked him up with our guidance counselor, and they spent a few hours making plans for how he would build some friendships and become part of our school community.  His teacher gave him some special jobs in the classroom and let him talk to his new classmates about his experiences in Mexico City and Dubai.  In time, he began to feel proud of where he'd come instead of angry about where he had arrived.

This is just one story of a time a kid told me he just wanted to go home.  But it happens at any other type of vulnerable time, too.  When they have a fever or when they are missing their mama or when their father has been away for awhile.  Or when they forget something important.  Or when they are in trouble, or scared, or their throat really hurts.  All those times, they say, "I want to go home."

Home can be anywhere, really, and it can mean anything.  For a little person, though, home mostly means the place they want to go when they need things to be okay.



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