I went to a special education IEP meeting last week with a foster kid. I was volunteering as what the law calls a “surrogate parent.” I can show up for kids who don’t have anyone to act as a parent or guardian, which is required for these meetings.
This kid was in high school and not too interested in me at first. I didn’t blame him, I’d never met him before and this was a child who lives in a constantly-changing world with constantly-changing people. This was a kid who had no one, not a single person to show up for him to a federally-mandated school meeting. I was just another face.
I did my job. He had decent services, a caring team, and for better or worse, he was at a school with a lot of kids like him. The school knew that this kid probably wouldn’t be there in two months.
We were close to done with the meeting, but the kid wasn’t cooperating. He was being a little difficult, and I asked him to help out. In response to me, he looked at the ceiling and said, “Whatever. I’ll never see you again.”
I almost said, “Probably not.”
But he reminded me of my son. The way he soothed himself by repeatedly diverting the conversation to familiar, but irrelevant ground, the way he wouldn’t look at me when I looked at him, but stole glances when I looked away, the way he doodled fiercely and intently on the paper as he spoke, as if drawing was the engine that fueled his ability to think and process.
Neglect. I don’t care what the paperwork said, this was neglect. This was years of not having a family, living in and out of group homes, and having to lock up your belongings when you got “home” because your things had a way of disappearing.
So when he said, “I’ll never see you again,” I impulsively said, “Sure you will. If you pipe down, let us finish the meeting and tell us what you need, I’ll be back next year.”
“I won’t be here next year.” It was a challenge, a test to see how serious I was.
“You’re not that hard to find, kid. And we’re going to write on this official paper that goes in your file that in a year, someone needs to call me.”
He started doodling again. “What do I have to do?”
“You have to tell us if anything would help you at school.”
“I want to sit by the window because it’s quieter.”
“It doesn’t matter that I can turn in homework late because my homework gets stolen.”
“From now on, you can do all your homework at school and leave it here.”
“I want to listen to my music when my teachers are talking.”
He didn’t smile, but he stole a look at my eyes.
As we walked out of the room into the outside courtyard, he said, “See you next year…?” It was a question.
“You’ll see me next year. It’s already on my calendar.”
“I might be in Yuma,” he said.
“I like Yuma.”
“Yuma fucking sucks.”
“Yeah, actually it does.”
Head down, kicking the ground, he said, “Thanks for helping me out.”
He turned and walked away, but I heard him mumble, “See you next year.” It was soft, under his breath, but I heard it.
And it was a statement.
See you next year, kid.