It hurts my soul that our children have to see the negativity in this world. Tragedy and hate surround them like carrion birds, waiting to swoop down to feast on their innocent little hearts. Sometimes, for a biological reason, or because of abuse, children develope emotional issues so that the demons they fight are inside them, too. Those are the scariest because they can’t see them. Yet, no matter what darkness may have stolen a part of their selves, the innocence and delight of childhood does still glimmer through.
When I taught special education elementary students we had a few children with emotional issues either from abuse, or because they were born addicted to the drugs that their mothers selfishly flooded their bodies with. Our school was not equipped or certified for EH, ED, or SED students, and these children had to be transferred to a different school set up to provide these classes- once we could get through the mounds of testing and paperwork, and make their uncaring parents understand the need for a special program for them. Funny how those parents would frequently ignore their children, or even abuse them, yet take great offense when someone told them there was something wrong with the kid.
The most severe case in our class was a student who was born severely addicted to drugs. On top of it, his home life was terrible. He had a number of men in his life over his 11 short years, but never of the type who could be beneficial to him. He saw hate and violence first-hand, and lots of other things a child should never see. “James” could not read or write in the 4th grade. He couldn’t even write his own name. But he could draw. James loved to draw, especially when someone would express appreciation for his talent and would accept his work as a gift. Giving gifts made him feel good.
There were a number of occasions when James’ behaviour would become violent, flipping desks over and such, and we’d have to evacuate the other students from the classroom, but there were even more times when he would draw a picture for one of the first graders in the room across from ours, or help a littler kid that had fallen on the playground.
One of the other students still believed in Santa Claus in 4th grade, and being another kid with a messed up life, I wanted to make sure that he didn’t lose that wonderful piece of childhood. Well before Christmastime, I had a talk with the students while we’d sent “Darian” on an errand to the office. I explained that it was a nice thing that Darian still believed and we didn’t want to ruin his Christmas, so they were not to say anything to him or in front of him about there not really being a Santa. I told them I would be really sad if someone told him the truth. I told them that Santa may not be a real person, but that the idea of Santa was the spirit of kindness, and that we could all be Santa by being kind to others at Christmastime. They liked this idea.
Even James understood. Once in a while over the weeks between Halloween and Thanksgiving, when the stores start to fill with Christmas, James would come to whisper to me that he hadn’t told Darian and that Darian still believed. It seemed important to James. He never told Darian the truth, and by the time winter break came, I think all the kids believed in Santa. I was so proud of them. I love thinking about it because it makes me feel good that, despite the issues they had, they grabbed onto that spirit of kindness and hope.
It took 2 1/2 semesters, but we finally got James transferred to a school where they had an SED class. He’d learned to write his name by the time he left us, a thing he practised very hard once I told him to think of it like drawing.
When I think of James, yes, I do remember the bad things, but I still see his smile when he did something good, and I remember his diligence in making sure no one ruined his friend Darian’s Christmas. Through it all, that spark of light remained. I don’t know what has happened to him in these past 18 years since I last saw him. But I hope for him.
I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately about children of all ages doing things to comfort those who have been touched by the tragedies that our country has experienced recently. In the shadow of tragedy, children shine through to remind us that there is still the light of Peace and Good Will, even in the darkest of places.