Today I was at the courthouse, waiting for a hearing. As I sat in the hall, a line of about 40 nine to ten-year-olds formed and then filed past me.
A girl next to me, who was aging out of the system, said, “That’s the line of new foster kids. They just got taken from their families and are waiting for a judge to find out what to do with them. I remember being in that line. You have no idea what is going to happen to you.”
I looked at her, and she looked me right in the eye and said, “That feeling is the worst feeling in the world.”
As I watched that line move through the courtrooms, and I watched those kids be processed into the system, I believed her.
These were kids. Little kids. They looked sick with worry. Some of them were holding hands. They were strangers, but they were alone and needed a hand to hold.
I wanted to promise each one that things were going to be okay and that they were going to make it through everything about to come. But I know the odds are stacked against them. And I know when you’re ten, you don’t have a lot of control, and can’t protect yourself.
A different part of the morning, I stood in Juvenile Hall with Maybe. We were waiting for a meeting and were looking at the art on the walls. All of it was made by the kids there, and almost every piece had the word “pain” incorporated into it. There was a picture a boy had drawn of his head. The top was flipped open and you could look down into his brain. Inside it was a maze, filled with traumatic images, and above it all was the word “Confused.”
A girl had drawn a gorgeous portrait of herself crying; she’d made herself look old. Another boy had drawn only half his face. Another kid drew a heart pumping out yellow toxins.
I had been toting Maybe around for a couple hours already, so took a seat while I waited. A twelve-year-old boy with casts on his body and a GPS attached to his ankle sat down next to me. I swear, this kid looked like any other twelve-year-old. He smiled at me and I smiled at him and we sat there together watching Maybe wander back and forth pointing to things and babbling.
A lot of boys that age see a baby and couldn’t care less. But this one seemed really really glad to be sitting down watching a baby toddle around. He kept smiling at her and waving. He told me she was super cute. I don’t think you get to see a lot of babies when living in Juvenile Hall. I was glad we happened to be there at the same time as him, because he was a kid, and he should smile every once in awhile.
I overheard a lot of things today as I waited for meetings and court rooms. Things the outside world would never talk about are thrown out in the Juvenile Court hallway like it’s nothing. I saw a lot of troubled faces.
I had been waiting for this court date for months, and the lawyers and judges made what I thought was the best decision for Maybe. As we drove home I felt guilty for not being happy and relieved. I wanted to feel a nervous weight taken off my chest, but instead I could only feel sore and helpless.
I wanted to be cheerful, but I cried.
Because I know that those nine-year-old boys I saw waiting in line, who looked tiny and scared and lost, are going to be the twelve-year-old boy I meet three years later in Juvenile Hall, still looking tiny and scared and lost.
And I’m just me. I can’t do anything about it. I can’t take 40 kids home and make sure they all eat vegetables and watch clean movies and get a homemade treat every day.
And as dumb as it sounds, that hurts.
And there is no beautiful way for me to describe how powerless I feel in the face of all the terrible things that happen.
I feel like that crack — the one that runs through my heart — broke open a little wider today.
And I just want to tell all those kids that I am sorry I can’t fix this for them.