Saturday, April 26, 2008

I got told several times what a big kid he was.

"And he's only fourteen."

On the maximum security unit at Juvenile Hall. He didn't have any parents or guardians around to sign off on his Individual Educational Plan (IEP) so C asked me if I would act as his educational surrogate and I went. (C could not do it himself as it would have been a conflict of interest.)

When he shambled into the meeting room, I thought, "He's not that big." Maybe six two, something over two hundred pounds. I have a brother who was that big at that age, and grew to be an even larger man. It's hard to be that big as a teenage boy. Men may measure themselves against you, physically, and feel threatened, when you need them to nurture you. Other guys pick fights, because if they can whup you, they look strong. Women may fear you--the combination of teenage testosterone and physical bulk.

The first time we met he barely met my eyes. He seemed to be wincing when he spoke, just monosyllabic grunts as responses to questions. I was referred to as "Miss Luterman," and I let it stand.

This second time, he was more animated. he laughed and joked with his favorite teachers, math and science, who made a point of attending the meeting so they could say good things about him. After the formalities were over, he came to the point. "Got any cookies?"

"After we're done with the meeting," C told him.

We discussed his strengths and goals. He likes cartooning and yoyos. He wants to grow up to be a professional cartoonist and make a story about his life. I thought of Alison Bechdel and Art Spiegelman and R. Crumb. I wonder if he can do it. He's bright. He's quick. And manipulative. While his caseworker was droning on, he took the papers off her desk and read them himself. He frowned at the health report. "Why it say BP here?" What that mean?"

"Blood pressure," C told him. "Your blood pressure was too high."

"Oh," he said, relieved. "I thought it was Bi-polar or something."

He's smarter and quicker than those of us who have never had to survive on the streets could be, and at the same time more naive and ignorant than a child his age with a family would be, because there are so many ordinary experiences he has never had. What would he be like if he had a father who would shoot baskets with him, or a mother who took him to the art museum? His only blood relative can't visit him because of "substantiated allegations of child abuse." I read it in his report. Of course he'd trade a hundred of us well-meaning pink-faced strangers for a glimpse of her.

When the meeting was over, C tossed him a small bag of chocolate chip cookies. he turned to me. "You got anything for me?"

"One per customer," C said. The kid is diabetic--he shouldn't have sweets anyway, but he craves them.

"I wanted to bring you something sugar-free," I said. He wrinkled his nose in disgust.

"Will you be at my next IEP?" he asked me. He is getting released to a group home soon.

"I hope not," I said. "I never want to see you here again." He looked confused. "I mean, I'll be happy to see you again, but I hope you get out and stay out. I hope you do well at your next school." But who will be his guardian, his surrogate, his advocate? Will it be another one-shot deal stranger, like me? Will he ever be able to permanently attach to someone reliable and stable and safe who has his best interests at heart?

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