I met him when he was six years old. I had accepted a teaching position in this new school – in a program where I hoped that I could make a difference. He was wearing little blue jeans, a blue t-shirt with a yellow stripe. He sported a short little buzz – shaved head. Our first encounter was not your typical one: he kicked me. Hard. And then he ran away and hid in a corner, waiting to see what my reaction would be.
Little did I know that this little kid – I’ll call him Todd Liam – would change my whole teaching experience? Up until then, I had been a private teacher in my own music studio. I had also become a languages teacher at the local high school. Some kids had liked me. A ton probably hadn’t. But one thing remained clear: I needed a change and this was it. So when I got that first reaction from Todd – I nearly broke down. For one thing: it hurt – really bad (he had short little pointy feet) and also – he had broken my self-assured – I can do this attitude. In a matter of seconds, I had reconsidered my whole career and wondered what the heck I would, (or how the heck) I would make it through one day. I cried that night and told William that I wanted to quit. I didn’t. The next day, I got up, got dressed and showed up. He kicked me again. Twice. I cried again that very night. We had a rocky start – but within the next few days, we grew ‘tolerant’ of each other. He was a perfectionist with beautiful handwriting. He read. He knew everything about dinosaurs. He craved routines and loved stickers. He explained to me how to properly cook salmon. We spent whole recesses inside, playing Yahtzee. I held him when he cried. I called his mom for what felt like a million times a day and together – we navigated uncharted waters. As time moved forward so did he. Todd grew like a weed (and so I inherited tons of clothes for my own son). His mom (one of my very best friends now…) kept him so adorable. She used a specific laundry detergent to wash his clothes and to this day, when I miss him, I open up a bottle of the detergent in a grocery store – I sniff and it makes me smile. Looking back at how and when he showed up in my life, I realize how I was the one that was so lost – and he was the one who taught me everything that I know about advocating for individuals who need their voices amplified. He was that kid that caused aggravation to most – but whom in my heart, I knew had the most potential. After a year, I lost touch with him – I had returned to the safety and predictability of my music room – yet I always kept in touch with his mom. She kept me informed. Asked for advice and gave me some in return. I always kept an eye on him, from afar, and hoped that he was doing ok. Destiny brought Todd Liam back on my journey when I got a new position and my office was in the school that he was now studying at. Often, he’d be in the hallways frustrated – and he’d make it to one of my office chairs. I hid granola bars and apples for him and we got him through the intermediate school stage. One day at a time. Boxes of food at a time. He was as smart as they came. He still despised school and kept me on my toes. I started to really advocate with him in mind. I met walls. Huge obstacles. I opened doors. He had the most potential I had ever seen in a kid – it was just to make others (including himself) believe that. People don’t always see what is on the inside of a person. Attitudes are still very rigid and fit inside the expected societal box. I, through my years of interacting with many, have come to realize that there is no box.
We’ll skip the high school years in this dialogue for they were the most difficult ones of his existence and he’s rather that I didn’t share them with you. Suffice it to say that he completed his first year of college last April … after moments that were not always so easy for him. I met him for coffee a few months ago. He was leaving for College the next day. He has been accepted in the Paramedics course and he is very excited. The little pointy-toed kid is now a handsome young man. He is polite. Strong. Well-spoken and so ready for these new adventures. He bought himself a car. Pays for his own insurance – and has kept a full time job. He told me that because of his course, he’d be saving lives: little does he know that he’s already saved mine, in many ways. He has my phone number. My email address. My utmost respect. I wish him every bit of luck and success that he deserves. He is that kid that after overcoming all adversity – will end up showing up and achieving success. I hope that when he graduates, I never get to see him in action. I know that he’ll be the one that they can count on. His determination is undeniable, his knowledge truly incredible. He’s got this – it won’t be easy – but he’s got this.
So go out there Todd Liam. Show them what you’re made of. Smile. Breathe. Don’t panic and stay true to your words, your discipline and your values. You’re out there – doing it – the world is yours – so you go get it…. and ps – PLEASE hand in your English essays on time … you need that mark to pass your course…. 🙂
I’m proud to count you amongst my closest friends. I’m glad I showed up again and again and that I now understand that I was the student.
** Reproduced with permission from The Old Man on the Bench – Or What I Learned from Our Conversations When I Decided to Listen – Anne Gingras – Balboa Press – 2018.