This was previously published on New Plateaus.
Last night I was walking home when a faint voice got my attention. I looked toward the houses on my left and saw a boy looking at me sitting on the steps of a house.
“What’s that?” I asked back.
“You know what time it is?” he asked.
“8:30″, I responded to the young man with glasses and dreadlocks.
He responded with a down-on-his-luck, “Oh”. And he assumed his closed-body, knees-near-his-face posture.
I took a step toward their gate and asked him if he was waiting for someone. He affirmed, and I approached to see if there was some other way to get him in his house. He said there wasn’t, so I thought, “what now?” I wanted to do the right thing but wondered how/if my involvement might make the situation worse. Do I call the police to supervise the young man until his parents arrive?
Na. I decided to just keep talking to him.
I found out his mom told him to meet him home at 8:00. He said this has happened to him before and that he usually runs to the store to get some food while waiting. This time, though, he didn’t have any money. I asked if he was hungry, and he nodded while simply looking downward.
“That’s not good”, I thought, a great way to prepare for school tomorrow. (Turns out, actually, the school year started last week for this brand new 6th grader.)
I had another set of thoughts: do I take him to the store? Do I take him to my place to get some food? I decided to offer to bring him back some food, him being only two blocks from my home, but he was sure in his refusal. “No, that’s okay,” he said.
I asked where his mom and dad were–with friends? working? He said no, and that he didn’t know. They also had the only key. I asked if he had any brothers or sisters. His brother is with his dad, he said, and added he couldn’t go there. I asked him if he likes living here and if there’s food in the house. He said he does and there is.
After five-ten minutes of chat, I got Javonte’s name, gave him mine, and wished him well. Knowing his age and sizing up the mature young man, I figured he’d be alright.
An hour later I walked back with a granola bar and a ginger ale. Turning the corner, I saw his house steps empty. But there also weren’t any lights on. Maybe his mom and dad came home late from a church council meeting and went right to bed to ready for work and school the next day; maybe they came home, felt bad that they left their 11 year old son alone and locked out, and so took him to Pizza Hut; most likely, though, he got sick of waiting, and decided to walk around or to someplace else.
I know the first thing that came to my mind in this situation was, “What’s the matter with his parents?” But I don’t play the role of finger-pointer very well, so I went to, “How can we prevent this kind of thing from happening down the road?”
Why do parents parent poorly? What kind of lessons did they learn growing up? What substance might they be hooked on? Is there a way to motivate parents to care for their kids more? What motivates them to neglect their children? Is it something society isn’t doing? Is it something society is doing?
Perhaps the biggest question: Will Javonte grow up to repeat this kind of parenting? Maybe he’ll be the opposite because of the disappointment he experienced as a boy.
The other point I pondered as I walked home with my granola bar and ginger ale in my hands was about the power of an experience to open one’s heart. This hearkens to my post a couple weeks back about the Little League parents who donated to the Ugandan team who didn’t have many supplies when they came to compete in the Little League World Series. I found it funny that these parents made all this effort now when these boys from Uganda had been without all this equipment their whole lives.
But similarly, my edible contributions would be greatly appreciated at the food shelf, but not until I interacted with Javonte was I so motivated to act.
When it comes to donating, those who don’t give aren’t always selfish or cheap. Sometimes, we just need a little direct exposure. Once I had that experience, I wanted to help.
Most of all, though, I’d love to know the reasons his mom and dad left their 11 year old stranded on the steps on their house. Then I’d like to figure out the best way—if any—to address these issues.
Read more on Ethics & Values.
Teenager sitting in the night image courtesy of Shutterstock