Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!!

Finally, Christmas is here!! It’s time to celebrate the birth of Jesus and, in keeping with the American tradition, give tons of presents to your kids!

Have you ever considered the gift that your child wants the most? A bike? No. A guitar or drum set? No. A computer or software? No. How about an iPod? No.

Although I have never met a child who has refused to accept the aforementioned gifts, the gift that your child truly wants is ................... YOU!! Yes, despite their daily rants about the restrictions that you place upon them, the multitude of “unfair” accusations that are lobbed your way, and the total disdain with which they look at you sometimes, the most important gift to any child is YOU and your TIME!

Similar to my own story with my own son, a few years ago, a 6th grade student (11 years old) named Robert told me about the harrowing experience that he had encountered with his dad during the previous weekend. His dad was hanging Christmas lights from their gutters on their 2-story home. It was somewhat windy and his dad even mentioned that he was a little concerned climbing up and down the ladder. At one point, he told his son to hold the bottom of the ladder just in case the wind decided to wreak some havoc.

Quite quickly, Robert became worried and he began to visualize the worst - how would his life change if his dad bought the farm while trying to beautify their home for the season? Within moments, Robert implored his dad to forget the lights for the season or try on another day. His dad told him that he would be too busy on all of the future weekends before Christmas. So, it was now or never. Robert voted for never.

Despite the bikes, guitars, drums sets, iPods, etc., that Robert’s mom and dad had provided in the past or might provide in the future, at that very moment he learned that his most important gift was his parents. He realized that, most important of all, he liked having his mom and dad home early from work; he liked their help with homework; he liked knowing that his dad would battle the “bad guys” if they broke in during the night; and he realized that his mom and dad took care of all of his needs because they loved him.

Without his parents and the time that they spent with him, Robert, on that windy Sunday afternoon, suddenly realized that he would have nobody to take care of him. Needless to say, according to Robert, his gift "needs" changed on that day.

When I asked Robert about that incident a few years later, he reiterated that the windy Sunday had changed him forever, from being a greedy kid who wanted tons of presents to a kid who smiled each night before he went to sleep, complete with the knowledge that he had parents who were in the same house and that they loved him!

So, yes, despite their constant blathering about their parents and their foibles and other deficiencies, kids are happiest and most secure when they have parents who love them, spend time with them, provide for their needs, have fun with them, and provide the emotional security blanket that they so richly need.

Merry Christmas and give your child the most needed and most precious Christmas gift of all ...... YOU!

Paul W. Reeves

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Child Abuse - The Signs (Pt.3)

(Continued from December 11, 2010) ........ Since the time of dealing closely with Matt and then hearing his confession later, Mr. Roberts learned of the signs of child abuse. According to the U.S department of Health and Human Services, the signs of child abuse can be the following:

  • Shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance
  • Has not received help for physical or medical problems brought to the parents' attention
  • Has learning problems (or difficulty concentrating) that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes
  • Is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen
  • Lacks adult supervision
  • Is overly compliant, passive, or withdrawn
  • Comes to school or other activities early, stays late, and does not want to go home

Yes, all of the classic symptoms were there, but they were not recognized by anybody on the staff, including the Principal, Counselor, Social Worker or by Mr. Roberts. Sadly, at the tender age of 25-years-old, Mr. Roberts had never known of the signs of child abuse. In his neighborhood as a child, this just did not occur – well, as far as he knew.

But, through Matt’s visit several years later and through studying the signs of child abuse, Mr. Roberts and his staff has saved several children from the horrors of abuse. Sometimes they have dealt with the parents directly and other times they have handed them over the authorities. In all cases (too many to count), the abuse stopped, which, of course, was the main goal.

So, what the purpose of Matt’s visit? Oh, he wanted to invite Mr. Roberts to his wedding (to a young lady who had also been in his Band for 3 years); to tell him of the abuse; and to tell him that he had confronted his mother; she apologized; and he forgave her ……. but he was going to get married and move about 200 miles away from, just to be sure! At least his sense of humor had remained intact!

Yes, Matt’s hanging on to Mr. Roberts for 3 years of his life, and later sharing his story, led to multiple other children being saved from the horrors of child abuse. Because of Matt’s turmoil and subsequent sharing, everybody associated with Mr. Roberts' school learned to recognize the signs of child abuse.

Great job, Matt! You are one, brave, young man and everybody is proud of you!

To all of the parents out there – if you abuse your child, we’ll find you and we’ll report you. DON’T ABUSE YOUR KIDS!

Our kids were given to us as a blessing. Be sure to love them; treat them well; prepare them for the rigors of life; discipline them when you need to; and always treat them with loving care; and, as always, TAKE GREAT CARE OF YOUR KIDS!

Paul W. Reeves

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Child Abuse - The Signs (Pt.2)

(Continued from December 4, 2010) ......... One of Mr. Roberts' biggest disappointments with Matt is that he let all of the students down by missing a concert during his final year, as he did not show for school one day or for the concert later that night. As he provided the bottom of the Band sound, his absence was noticed by all and it changed the level of success for the program.

The next day, Matt bounced in all excited to see his favorite teacher, as though nothing wrong had occurred. Mr. Roberts asked him to have a seat, so that they could discuss his absence. Matt explained that he had been absent from school and, as such, he did not have to attend the concert. By being absent from school, he was guaranteed that his grade would not suffer! For a dedicated Band student, this explanation just did not make any sense.

He was right about his grade, but what about his responsibility to the other students, the overall Band, and to Mr. Roberts – especially after he had just about given him everything that he had over nearly 3 years? Mr. Roberts told him that he was extremely disappointed in him, that life was about more than taking care of one’s own needs, and that, if he had known that he was going to pull this stunt, he would have given the Bass Clarinet to another student.

He laughed a little (not the reaction for which Mr. Roberts was hoping!), before attempting to blow off the whole affair with a shrug. The teacher then verbally, and a little more loudly than normal, chastised him for missing the concert and for his flippant attitude on the day after. FINALLY, he seemed to get through to him, as he Matt FINALLY seemed to realize that he had blown it in a big way with Mr. Roberts!

A few months later, the school year ended and so did Matt’s time with Mr. Roberts. It was time for him to move on to the high school. On the final day, Mr. Roberts told him that he wanted him to keep in touch and to visit often. He hugged Mr. Roberts quite hard (Truth be told, it was possible that Matt could have cleaned Mr. Roberts' clock, had that been his desire!) and Matt told him that he would miss him!

Mr. Roberts saw Matt a few times after that final day. He came to visit him after school and he came to a few concerts. But, eventually, he stopped coming around and Mr. Roberts had moved on with other kids.

However, even after his visits stopped, Mr. Roberts often thought about why he had never been able to figure out why Matt had totally blown off the concert, especially after all of the bonding that the two of them had done. Mr. Roberts could also never quite figure out Matt's massive mood swings. Even though Matt and Mr. Roberts had patched things up at the end of that final year, the teacher never quite got over Matt's behavior ……. until a few years later.

Several years later, long after Mr. Roberts had left teaching and had become a Principal and after Matt had entered adulthood and the working force, Matt suddenly showed up one day! They embraced, told each other that they had missed each other, and began to share stories of days-gone-by!

After about an hour of sharing the good times and several laughs, Mr. Roberts just had to pop the question. He just had to get an answer as to why the now 21-year-old Matt had blown off the concert way back in 8th grade. His response still sends chills up and down Mr. Roberts' spine each time that he thinks of it.

He told Mr. Roberts that his mother regularly and severely beat him when he was a child, always in places that could not be seen while wearing normal clothing. The night before the missed concert, his mother had beaten him so badly, that he had been unable to come to school the next day and he had been afraid to ask his mother to allow him to go to the concert out of fear that he would get beaten again.

Although he seemed to be telling the truth, Mr. Roberts still asked some leading questions, such as why didn’t he tell him when he had been standing by his side for 3 years? Why didn’t he tell anybody? And why didn’t he call protective services?

You can probably already guess the answers. It is the same old story. He didn’t tell Mr. Roberts, because he knew that he would have done something about it. He also knew that, at some point, he would be left alone with his mother to face the music on his confession and he feared more beatings. He didn’t tell other adults for the same reason.

He HAD called protective services on a few occasions, but he had been coached by his mother as to what to say – he said nothing other than that life was fine and that his mother never beat him. This often-repeated lie to the authorities spared him more beatings.

After all of those years, Mr. Roberts had finally learned of the reasons for Matt’s changing moods while in school and he had learned of his reason for missing the concert. This fine, young man, the kid who was always with Mr. Roberts for 3 years and needed the teacher for direction in life, was regularly and severely beaten by his mother …… and nobody ever saw it, as he had mastered the art of hiding the activities.

(Please come back next Saturday for the final part and to learn of the signs of child abuse)

Paul W. Reeves

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Child Abuse - The Signs (Pt.1)

As we are heading into the Christmas season, I was recently reminded that the holidays are often a ripe season for the increased horrors of child abuse. While we don’t want to get everybody down during the Christmas season, over the next 3 weeks, I have a powerful story to share that just might help at least one child avoid, or be rescued from, this disgusting and horrific situation.

Many years ago, a fellow Teacher/Band Director named Mr. Roberts had a student named Matt (not their real names – although they have given permission for me to share this story). Matt used to go to Mr. Roberts' room before school, spent his whole lunch with him (as did many other kids), and visited him after school. Matt did not have a father, so Mr. Roberts did not mind spending the extra time with him. He had no children of his own at the time, so the relationship was good for both of them.

Matt’s classroom behavior was unpredictable, at best. Some days he would be an all-star student; sometimes he would be a royal pain in the elbow; sometimes he would challenge others to fisticuffs; and other times he assumed a leadership role within the class. Often he would seem to be passive and compliant, although he could easily be obstinate, as well. He also seemed to always have a cold or the sniffles and it seemed as though he trusted absolutely nobody! He had an unnatural fear that a student would try to steal a portion of his lunch.

Other kids seemed to like him, but there was also a slight fear of him. Matt was a physically tough kid and it appeared as though he could clean anybody’s clock if so challenged.

After spending 2 years in  his Band class, Matt signed up for a 3rd year of Band AND Mr. Roberts' Spanish class. His behavior in Spanish was the same as Band; sometimes a pleasure to have in class and other times a candidate for pain of the year!

However, through all of his antics, Matt was a likeable kid. He seemed to have some struggles in life, but Mr. Roberts knew that he was capable of working hard and succeeding.

He took on Matt as a special project without telling him. With no father, a less than fully supportive mother, and not many fair shakes in life, Matt seemed to need direction and pushing. Mr. Roberts was happy to provide both.

For 3 years he directed and pushed Matt toward success. Yes, the harder that he pushed, the harder that he pushed back, but the more that he seemed to enjoy the attention and appreciation for his efforts.

Matt went from a sorry sounding clarinet player to an outstanding bass clarinet player – the rock of his Band! He also went from a kid who struggled in English to a kid who mastered Spanish I at the 8th grade level. Yes, for a young man who had always struggled academically, he was showing positive signs!

Matt began to push others toward excellence, as well. His methods, as Mr. Roberts later found out, sometimes included physical intimidation and even some punches on the arm, but Matt usually got his results and his way with the other kids.

During the years that he had him as a student, Mr. Roberts never quite figured out the cause for Matt’s dramatic mood changes, sometimes within the same class period. Happy, sad, mean, nice, leader, physically aggressive, verbally aggressive, and helpful were just some of the emotions that Matt displayed on a regular basis. 

(Please come back next Saturday for Part 2)

Paul W. Reeves