"Yes, I'd love to have kids."
"Then why don't you have some?" She's fourteen and missing her one-year-old daughter.
"I am going to wait until I'm married to have kids, so they have a daddy who loves them as much as I will."
Her deep eyes met mine. She dropped her gaze, then looked back and nodded. A heavy question seemed to have been answered, and she smiled. She's growing, becoming less demanding and more mature. I cherish the teachable moments.
"Becky, come look out my window! Deer!" Four noses pressed to a window for long minutes while the teacher in me popped out deer habit facts and stories of hunting with my dad. Three girls that a few minutes ago were telling stories of getting hype and drawin' on people gazed at the graceful deer in speechless fascination. I thanked God for the calm that settled over us.
I turned on her light and told her good-morning, and she exploded from under her blankets, cussing me roundly. Normally the words don't stick, but that morning I was tired. A few minutes later, she said she was sick and was going to stay home from school. I believed her. Several other girls had had a mild flu. I like to "mom" my girls a bit, but I didn't feel like babying her. Not after that. My attitude appalled me, and Jesus' eyes steadily stared me down. I went to her room and asked her if I could make her toast. She quietly said she'd like that. As I was buttering the toast, the other girls watched, round-eyed. D. asked incredulously, "You makin' toast for her?" She stretches me, makes me live the way Jesus lived instead of just talking about it.
She made a mistake a few weeks ago. A big mistake. She lost privileges she had worked hard to earn. Her dimple was missing for a week, and her lively conversation was reduced to monosyllables. Finally, she wrote a note to staff. "I just mess up every time I get somewhere. I guess it's just true that I'm nothing and never will amount to anything." And did staff ever write back. I think she had no choice but to keep going, with all of us pulling for her. "It's OK to feel lost and hopeless, but I want you to know that when you don't believe in yourself, someone does. When you hate yourself, you are loved. Just keep walking, girl, and your heart will catch up with your feet." I meant every word I said. I came home and cried for her. I called people and begged them to pray for her. And our prayers were answered. She's back to being her old self, only she's deeper. More thoughtful. I admire her and tell her so. It takes a mad lot of strength to make a life for yourself at age seventeen when you've never really been loved and have no one to go home to upon your release.
I love them, and they reciprocate.
"You my favorite staff. When you moving to day staff so you can be with us more?"
"You know Becky would do anything for anybody. She cares about us, real rap."
They've made so much progress. Our unit's mornings have progressed from restraints, verbal and physical altercations, and time-outs to a secure group of girls that looks out for each other and rarely needs any reminders to do what they should. My two favorite scenes from this morning are four girls using their free time to help each other study for a test at school today, several of them patiently helping the girl they used to pick on mercilessly... and all of the girls sitting in the living room, telling stories of how they used to get beaten for things they did. No, that wasn't cool, but soon we were all rolling in laughter at the recounting of her and her sister beating each other up before they knew they were going to get "whooped" so they'd "be toughened up".
Yep, most mornings I can hardly believe I get paid to love these girls.