Some Children Have Secrets
I Wish I Had Known Then What I Know Now
The twins were in the third grade when I met them. Karie had a learning disability, her sister Kacie was not diagnosed with one. Both girls were bright and almost always had smiles on their faces. Their family didn't have a lot of money...you could tell by the clothes the girls wore to school. Although clean, they looked like they had been passed down from relative to relative for many years. You could also tell by the lunches they brought to school - almost always peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Sometimes it was just peanut butter or just jelly.
Karie always worked hard and almost always finished her work. She always earned enough points to participate in the weekly Friday Funtime. And she always asked if her sister could join her, and of course, I always said yes. Because of this, I got to be close to both girls.
Karie and Kacie almost always were together outside of class. Up until that year they had always been in the same classroom, but the people in the know thought they should be separated that year.I don't think it hurt them to be apart...but I don't think it would have hurt them to be together, either.
When the girls were at recess, they kept to themselves, only occasionally did they allow others to join them. I watched them often when I was out during recess. They usually went under the slide and sat and talked most of the time. One day I walked up to see what they were doing and to talk to them. As soon as they saw me coming, they got really quiet. I teased them, saying something about them trying to hide their conversation from me.
"Talking about boys again, huh?" I asked. They looked at each other - with almost a look of relief on their faces. Then they laughed and said "Yeah...talking about how stinky and dumb they are!" We talked for a few more minutes and then I started walking around again, trying to keep an eye on all the children.
One day a few weeks later, Karie came up to me in class. "Can I talk to you at lunch today?" she asked. I thought about all the things I needed to do at lunch that day- being a special education teacher meant that you almost always worked through breaks and lunches. Then I looked at Karie and there was a look in her eyes that just made me say yes.
At lunch that day, I went and got a lunch tray from the kitchen, found Karie and brought her back to our classroom. We chatted about everything, and nothing. I mentioned that I was surprised that Kacie wasn't with us. Karie said she had asked Kacie to come, but she hadn't wanted to. "She doesn't like to talk a lot to grown-ups."
I reminded her that she had wanted to talk to me. I asked if there was something bothering her. Karie put her head down, deep in thought. When she raised her head again, she was smiling shyly. "We are talking! I just wanted out of the lunch room." Then she looked away again. It was almost as if she had something to say but was afraid to say it. I didn't push and changed the subject to other things.
It became a kind of habit, eating lunch with Karie. She just seemed that she needed an adult to talk to her and to listen to. I enjoyed our lunches. Sometimes Kacie would join us, and sometimes some of my other students would join us. Usually, though, it was just us.
As it got close to Christmas that year, I decided that I would give gifts to all my students. I decided on little gift baskets with personal items such as deodorant and lotions and such. We had spent quite a bit of time discussing personal hygiene this year.
I had a party a week before Christmas to pass out the gifts. The children all seemed to be impressed with the gifts. They told me that I had given them "grown-up" gifts. Kacie and Karie came over and gave me a huge hug and told me thank you.
The next week, my students brought me some gifts. My other students that year had wealthy parents, so I received gift cards from fancy restaurants, the teacher store, and even for a bath and body store at the mall. One student gave me a table fountain that spilled water over mountains.
Karie and Kacie saw all of these gifts and almost cried. After the other students had left, they came to me and said "We can't get you things like they did." I told them not to worry, and mentioned that some of my favorite gifts were ones that kids had made for me. This seemed to cheer them up a bit and soon all was forgotten.
The next day, Karie came in and gave me a bag from a local supermarket. It had been decorated with candy canes and snowflakes and looked beautiful. I could tell that Karie had worked very hard on it.
"Look inside," she said. So I did.
In the bag was a beat up little stuffed dog. You could tell it had seen better days. "This is Dog-Dog, " Karie said. "He was mine when I was little."
"Are you sure you want me to have him? He seems pretty special to you."
"He is special...but so are you! That's why I'm giving him to you!" I hugged the dog, and then hugged her. "This is the best gift I have ever received," I told her...and I meant it.
The rest of the school year went on, our days becoming routine. Soon the girls moved to fourth grade, then fifth and they went on to middle school. I never forgot them. Every time I saw the stuffed dog, I would think about them and wonder how they were doing.
Many years later, I read a special article in the local newspaper. It was about two girls who were speaking up about all of the abuse they had gone through when they were younger. They said that their father and their brothers had badly abused them. That there mother had known what was going on and had never stopped it from happening. How it took a neighbor to finally help them break out of that awful house. They were speaking out because they wanted other kids who were going through the same kind of abuse to know that they needed to talk to someone. Someone they trusted, like a teacher at school. They said kids shouldn't be afraid to talk.
It made me sad to think that these young girls had spent many hours in my classroom. They had put on a brave face and a smile, all the while scared to talk about what was going on at home. It made me think of that first day that Karie had come to me and wanted to talk at lunch. I wondered why she couldn't tell me...
I feel that I let these girls down...I should have known...I should have been able to do something...
The twins and their younger sister were in our local paper and a local magazine again this week. They had received a makeover and looked beautiful! (Not that they weren't beautiful before!) All are doing much better...they have even appeared on Oprah! They are still spreading their message to others who may be going through the same thing they had to endure...I am very proud to have known these wonderful young ladies!
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