How to love a child through the challenges of life

By Rachel Macy Stafford

For Hands Free Mama

Published: Thursday, Sept. 6 2012 9:00 a.m. MDT

Rachel Macy Stafford, Hands Free Mama

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Editor's note: This article by Rachel Macy Stafford originally appeared on her blog, Hands Free Mama. It has been reprinted here with permission.

*Name has been changed

I was two years shy of becoming a mother when I learned my greatest lesson about parenting. This information was not gleaned from a New York Times bestseller, a renowned pediatrician, or an experienced parent. It came from a 10-year-old boy born to a drug-addicted mother, with an Individualized Education Plan thicker than an encyclopedia — a boy with permanent scars along the side of his left arm from a beating with an extension cord when he was 3.

Kyle* taught me the one and only thing I really needed to know about loving a child through the challenges of life.

This is my story ...

It had been a difficult move. I left my family and friends and the beloved mid-western state where I'd lived most of my life. My new home was thousands of miles away from anything I knew. It was hot — all the time. There were no seasons and teaching jobs were hard to come by. Having seven years experience as a behavior specialist, I was up for a challenge. I would accept any job if it meant I could do what I was born to do — teach.

I accepted a teaching position in a classroom for children with an array of educational diagnoses. They were students with severe learning and behavioral difficulties who'd been shuffled from school to school. So far, no program in the district was able to meet their challenging needs.

The first few months of school were difficult. It was not unusual for me to cry as I made my 45-minute commute to the inner city. It required a deep breath to even open the classroom door, but I came back every day praying this would be the day — a breakthrough to one broken soul.

On this particular morning, I was excited. The other lead teacher and I had spent weeks teaching the children appropriate behavior for public outings. We would be going putt-putting and out to lunch. Miraculously, most of the children in class earned this privilege — only a few had not. Alternative arrangements were made for those students while we took the field trip.

We had an extensive plan in place to make the departure as smooth as possible. But due to the explosive behavior of many of the students, even the best laid plans could quickly turn sour.

Kyle was one of the students who had not earned the field trip, and he was determined to make that disappointment be known.

In the corridor between classrooms, he began screaming, cursing, spitting, and swinging at anything within striking distance. Once his outburst subsided, he did what he'd done at all his other schools, at home, even once at a juvenile detention center when he was angry — he ran.

The crowd of onlookers that congregated during the spectacle watched in disbelief as Kyle ran straight into the heavy morning traffic in front of the school.

I heard someone shout, "Call the police."

Based on the information in Kyle's file, I knew the officers would locate him and place him on a 5150 hold for a psychiatric evaluation.

But I could not just stand there. So I ran after him.

Kyle was at least a foot taller than me. And he was fast. His older brothers were track stars at the nearby high school. But I had worn running shoes for the field trip, and I could run long distances without tiring. I would at least be able to keep in him my sight and know he was alive.

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