The student came in to the cafeteria and sat beside me at the empty table as I waited for the middle school students to arrive for the After-School Program. “I’ve had a h-h-horrible day,” she stuttered. She talked so fast that the words were coming out stuttered and not easily understood. Jennifer continued to recount all of the abuses she was feeling badly about starting with her mother. “She (her mother) always favors my sister over me. She yells at me to get up in the morning. She buys Anna so many things but she won’t let me buy anything. I’m not allowed to have friends…” and on and on she continued with the list of the injustices she suffered through her mother.
She didn’t stop with her mother. She told of this boy in her class who bullies her. “He’s always pushing me and when I tell my teacher, she doesn’t believe me.” I listened as I brushed the hair away from her damp face.
She buried her head in her arms and down went her head on the table, tears streaming down. By this time the supervisor came to the table with a box of tissues which I offered to Jennifer. Her blond curls fell around her face as she lifted her head to grab a tissue. “I’m so sorry, Jennifer, for all the rejection you’ve had to endure,” I offered gently. She grabbed the pen which sat inside the box of tissues. “Now every box of tissue should have a pen in it!” I cajoled. A smile broke out on her round, slightly plump face.
“Honey, I know you’ve had a tough time with things today. Try not to hold on to the wrongs you’ve had to endure. Do you think you can forgive those who have hurt you?” I asked placing my hand on her shoulder. She shrugged. I continued, “You know it really helps to talk about it and if you don’t have anyone to talk to, write it down and keep the paper or throw it away. You’ll feel better as you tell someone or write it out.”
I grabbed a baggie from my folder where I kept some little gifts for the children. There were some pretty little notepads and colored pens. She took a pad and thanked me. “Honey, I want you to know that you have a great smile and don’t let anyone take that away from you. There’s nothing wrong with feeling bad and crying but don’t get stuck there. Get it off your chest and be the best you can be because you are special. You know that, don’t you?” She nodded and smiled again and I could see that the weight of the world was off her shoulders.
After the students all arrived and went on to their particular activities, she was off with her group. At the end of the afternoon, she came running up to me with a big smile on her face and the glow back in her eyes and gave me a really big hug. I knew at that point that it was a privilege to be able to make someone’s day a little better by listening to a child who deep down inside felt so insignificant and unimportant because of the inferiority she felt at home. Oh, trust me, I knew these feelings well growing up in a home where I craved to be noticed and loved for who I was not for what I could do. I never had that kind of affirmation and let me tell you, it was a joy to be able to sit beside this precious child who just needed to be heard and affirmed.
Moms and dads, teachers, whoever you are, whatever role you play in the life of a child, every child has value every child needs someone in their corner to just listen and understand—no judgment—no chastisement—just an ear and a gentle reassurance that you really care.