The Time I Lived In a Residential Boys’ Home
Filed under, I’m not sure you knew this about me:
In the mid-90’s and directly out of the Teacher’s College, I worked as a Teaching Parent at The Farm, Inc. This means I worked in a Level 5 group home setting with both boys and girls, aged 11-18 who were either designated as Children In Need of Care, or as Juvenile Offenders going into, or coming out of lockup. These kids were the best wake-up call to education I could have ever asked for. I worked as day school teacher (out of our dining room), public school liaison (IEP advocate), doctor liaison (and there were many), and social services liaison, making sure the boys met all their appointments and had their needs met there. I also helped cook meals, clean the house (with the boys), and basically tried to nurture and teach them life lessons and coping skills in the time we were living together in the group home.
Meanwhile, at every single turn, the kids were teaching me patience, love, passion, caring, and tenderness, forgiveness, tolerance, and culture. There are kids there whose faces, names, and stories are permanently etched upon my heart. Some for their gentleness. Some for their troubles. Some for their growth. Some for their struggle to simply survive in a world that kept demonstrating to them that they didn’t matter. All these kids were brilliant, in their own ways. Most just were bad at making decisions. And some were there because they had parents who made bad decisions.
My Farm kids are now aged 31 to 40 years old — those who’ve survived. If I had a magic super-power, I’d peek into who they are now. Heck, I’d have been peeking all along, helping each I could at each moment I could. I know there are laws, but I also regret not being able to keep in touch with so many of them.
With Blue, who was a red-headed kid whose real name was blue and not a gang-related name, as we first assumed. With Phillip who tried mightily one day to get me to break. But I knew he was and just let it slide off me as I loved him more. With Andre who lashed out at me in pain, momentarily breaking me, and to the boys who rallied around me getting me water and a paper bag to breathe into. With the giant 14 year old who had size 14 shoes and the kindest heart who we sent to Alma with a watermelon under his arm. With Bruce who was struggling minute-by-minute to get back to his grandmother. With Ray who, at age 16 had 4 year old gang tattoos across his knuckles who worked so hard for his GED and a job so he could afford the laser tattoo removal process. Robert who worked hard doing whatever it took to keep others out of his personal space. With the 17 year old who had huffed enough inhalants to effectively melt his frontal lobe and so between bouts of extreme anger, we’d have to help him tie his shoes. And 50 other faces and names that flash by.
Funny. Right now I am 43 years old. Thinking back on the boys and girls, now come full-grown women and men, it turns out I was helping kids who were not much younger than myself at the time, but the gulf back then seemed so far apart. I’d finished my Bachelor’s degree and had experienced college life. They’d barely had a childhood at that point. It’s not that they were older. It’s as if they were frozen beyond being children and yet so very far away from adulthood. And I now realize that during all my own childhood, I was one phone call away from being one of these kids in a residential home.
Working here was the best 2 year training I ever received in being both a teacher and a real human being. When I left that job, I knew the “bad” kids were still just scared and confused kids trying to create some control and stability in their lives and that I could handle whatever a classroom teacher might see in her lifetime. And I thank these kids for more than they would ever know.