March 8

09aOh, the intersection of trauma and systematic oppression. 

It is hard to hear my students talk about the medications they are on. Increasing levels, loss of appetite, increased appetite, vomiting. Sleeplessness, nightmares, anxiety. The imperative to stay still! To tolerate long hours indoors with many children and few adults; to do what you are told to do: stay focussed, don’t skip class, don’t talk. When people scold you, don’t giggle, don’t run away, don’t talk back. They explain how hard it was to be good, and maybe the medication will make it easier. 

I ask if they have considered the possibility that nothing is wrong with them. 

J tells me about being tackled by this principal at his old school. He talks about the way they used to to talk to him, telling him that he would never graduate, that he was destined to be a bum and a drop out. They asked him, he says, the first time they met him, if he was in a gang. If I didn’t know better, I’d be shocked. He tells me about how ICE came to his door and – disrespectful! – came past him and took his step dad away by the arm – in front of his four year old son! Now his son is all messed up, he says, with autism. They try to talk to the step dad on the phone in Honduras and can hear gun shots. We don’t even talk to him now, Jaden sighs. 

M and the bug in his ear. 

N’s mother laughing about a story I was telling, as N seals himself inside his hoodie, laughing his laugh, almost falling off his chair, oblivious to social cues as to how to handle himself, and she says, “that is just one of those autism things, you know?” And I think: omg. Of course he is autistic. That is the most helpful. How did I not know? How the fuck did we get here?

A and E and D want to go to Wonderland, the penny arcade. Just the three of us, A insists. Who knows what E wants. She wants to be with her boyfriend, laying under her cat. D wants to be with J. But they would go. They could, maybe, have a day of just being young, together. I can see doing that. 

T, cursing at the perfect miniature snow person she’s sculpting out of playdough, says that after we spoke highly of her at parent teacher conferences, her dad cried. Because, yeah. Likely, no one at a school ever had before. 

J and J and T and S and V. They understand Explicit and Implicit. They see themes. I think they believe me (a little) when I say that we can understand ourselves and our world more deeply by thinking this way – by not only looking for meanings, but looking for how we construct meaning, together.


Published by Devon Riley

lately: youth work, parenting, sorcery, books, walks in the woods

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