Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Beautiful Christmas in the Ghetto

My Christmas was pleasant but fairly uneventful, except for one thirty-minute period. That period of time probably would have seemed uneventful to most people but to me, it was a beautiful Christmas miracle.

The kids that my friend and I work with, who have had such a hard, hard year, have been sort of MIA for the last few weeks. We've tried to take them out to eat and set up the times, only to have them flake. One of them changed his cell phone number so he was impossible to get ahold of.  And rude when we did get ahold of him. The other only answered when he wanted. They go through this sometimes, so I didn't think much of it, except to be a little annoyed when I drove across town to get them and they weren't there.  I have no idea if they're going to school or really anything else about what's going on right now.  I'm pretty constantly worried about them but try not to because there's nothing I can do.

We thought for a while about what to get them for Christmas.  They're 11 and 14 now, which is a hard age to buy for if you don't have much money to spend  (which I don't) and they're kind of in between toys and adult.  I wasn't sure that anything we got them would be received well.  We finally decided on McDonald's and In-N-Out gift certificates, because although that is not helpful to their health, it will make them happy.  And we take happiness where we can find it with these kids.  At the last minute, my friend got ahold of two remote-controlled cars and brought them along.  I was skeptical that the cars would be received well because I thought the boys would be in their "we're too grown and cool for that baby stuff" mode.  I was even more nervous because the younger kid kept texting us asking where his presents were so I thought it would be way overblown and he'd be disappointed.

We picked up one kid and drove him a few blocks to his auntie's house.  The older boy was there.  They are so tall now - the older one is almost as tall as me (and I'm 5'8") and the younger one is growing tall and slimming down.  They are also both heart-breakingly beautiful (I'd never say that to their faces!) with deep brown eyes that are hard to look away from.  It's easy to forget sometimes - especially with the older kid - when their faces look so hard, but they are beautiful children. 

The older kid came out of his auntie's house and said everyone was asleep.  We decided to do the presents right there in front of the apartment building in the ghetto in the dark.  The kids got the remote control cars and did what any brothers would do - started driving the cars into each other.  The cars went in the road  and fell off the curb and crashed into each other - and eventually the older kid realized he was trying to control the wrong car which led to all sorts of hilarity.  Then we gave them the Christmas cards with the gift certificates.  The kids read every word of the Christmas cards - I could see them moving their lips - and asked if they really got to get food from McDonald's and In-N-Out.  The younger one said "How'd you know I like McDonald's?!?" like we had just read his mind.  The kid's only been asking for McDonald's every time we saw him for the last four years...

Then, we gave the kids the gingerbread houses.  A friend had made them and bought the decorations, having a bunch of people over for a decorating party.  We had a couple of extras to bring to the boys but a dog (not mine!) ate those.  So, I decided to bring the decorated houses to the boys along with extra frosting and candy so they could make another layer if they wanted.

They took all the loot inside and a few minutes later, we got a text from the older boy asking if we could make a gingerbread mansion.  A gingerbread mansion!  That is not a tough mean kid from the ghetto waiting to go to juvie talking.  That is the kid I know and have known for 7 years.  That is the kid getting to be a kid - wanting candy and wanting to make a giant gingerbread house.  This kid - who has left me voice mails cursing me out more than once, who has hung up on me, who has told me to get out of his life, who has been arrested probably more times than I know about, who stole his mom's car and went drunk driving - texted me and said "Thank you for the gifts."  That thank you - which definitely didn't come because his mom told him to - meant more to me than any thank you note I've ever gotten.

Then he told me he was eating the gingerbread houses and could we please make a mansion gingerbread house.  I wish there was a good way to explain how happy that made me, and how beautiful it was to see him crashing his toy car into his brother's car and looking honestly content, happy, and at peace, just for a minute.

When he gets up tomorrow, he probably won't be thinking about gingerbread mansions.  He'll probably be worrying about how his mom will make enough money for food and if she's going to get drunk and if he's going to go to juvie and if his girlfriend is pregnant.  None of which a 14-year old should worry about, but all of which they very commonly do worry about, at least in this neighborhood.  But now I've seen the loving side of him again, even if just for a minute.  I think that will get me through another six months of his heartbreaking, justified anger and despair, because I know that he has good memories too, and that he knows that there are people who love him.

And I'll plan on helping him with that gingerbread mansion.


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