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A Few More

I am here in Fairbanks, chaperoning all of our students from Circle as they dance at the Festival of Native Arts. This has become a tradition and a highlight of the year for us. We take all of our students, even the youngest, and it is quite an adventure for them. And for the adults who chaperone them as well.

Now, at the end of the long first day, we’re at the hotel and all of the little kids are in bed. The older kids are still roaming around a little bit and winding down. I am taking care of three of the littlest boys, making sure they are in bed by about ten.

Daniel is one of the boys in my care tonight. He was removed from his mother’s custody this past year and is now living with a distant relative in Circle. I was previously warned not to let this boy’s mom take him away from the group while we were in Fairbanks, and if she did see him, not to let it turn into a protracted thing. So of course tonight as I am trying to get the kids to go to sleep, the phone rings. His mother is in the lobby and she wants to see him.

My defenses are up, because I know this boy is my responsibility, and I am prepared to protect him from whatever monstrous parent is about to come down the hallway. But as soon as I see her reaction when she sees her son, I know I can’t – and don’t want to – come in the way of this mom seeing her son again. I don’t know why they are separated. One of the usual suspects, no doubt: alcohol abuse, drug abuse, physical abuse, neglect. These stories are all too common. But this mom is happy to see her boy, and all I have to do is think for one instant how much I’d miss any of my kids if they were apart from me, and how happy I’d be to see them, even for only a few minutes, after a protracted separation.

She sits down on the floor in the hotel hallway and holds him to herself. She cries and holds him, looking at his hands and arms and stroking his hair. Twenty minutes pass, and I sit in the hallway, twenty feet away from them, trying to act as chaperone, but also trying to give them their privacy. As I write this, they are still sitting together, rocking gently.

As the high school students parade endlessly from one room to the other, they see and are practically walking over Daniel and his mother. I am sure they know her, as all the kids from these villages know their extended family. They probably know the story of why these two are separated in a way that I do not, and could never fully understand. I wonder what they think, because they know all of the stories. They know why kids get taken from their parents. They know the destruction wrought by alcohol and defeat and rage. They themselves, in many cases, are living apart from their parents.

My heart breaks for this family, and the many other children and families in similar situations. It’s been over and hour now, and perhaps I should go down there and tell her it’s time for him to go to bed. And it really is. But who am I, this chaperone and caregiver for two nights, to tell this mother that it’s time for her to move on? I think I’ll give them a few more minutes. 

Posted on Thursday, March 19, 2009 at 11:51PM by Registered CommenterBrian Rozell | CommentsPost a Comment

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