Asking a parent to describe his or her kids in a few hundred words is like reading the Cliff Notes to Shakespeare—it can work, but you lose a lot in the translation. Nonetheless, since they are the raison d’etre of this book, I will attempt to give a snapshot of each kid. Hopefully I can convey at least a bit of the kids’ truly colorful natures, however muted they might come across.
We start this week with Daveon.
Several years ago, I once told Daveon he was my prince. He looked at me as though I had called him my warthog. But I meant it. Lots of kids go through adversity, and lots of them rise above to become leaders, creators, and inspirers.
But only Daveon is Daveon.
When the boys and I met in December 2002, Daveon was a month shy of his 7th birthday. He had been placed in his current foster home two years prior—it was, at the time, his 7th home. (You read that correctly: seven homes in less than seven years). County records for foster kids are notoriously sketchy (prospective fost-adopt parents, take note), and Daveon’s were no exception. They contained almost no information about why he had to move so often, other than to state that there were “problems with the placement.” In this phrasing, “placement” is code for “supposed caretakers.”
Here is a representative case from one of Daveon’s placements: The foster father took Daveon with him to the gym. Daveon—we’ll assume he was in the child care, not on the weight floor—was making a fuss, so the father brought him home. And left him there. Alone. Daveon wandered outside through the garage, and locked himself out.
He was three years old at the time.
Daveon has always been small for his age—his birth mother stands 4’ 9”. He is (deep breath) a runner, dancer, DJ, saxophonist, and rapper. He may also be in the running for world’s greatest Harry Potter fan, having read all the books, watched all the DVDs (in additon to movies 4-8 in theaters), and listened to all the stories on CD, most of them twice. For years he played little league, and baseball was his sport. He was, by his own admission*, a mediocre player at best, and when everyone got older and the stakes were higher, he decided it just wasn’t fun anymore. So he quit—in the middle of a season, in the middle of a game.
(* Full disclosure: Daveon only made this admission when he got a little older. In his early years he fashioned himself an all-star, which would make him the only all-star never to get a hit in a season.)
A lot has changed over the past couple of years, but for most of our time together, Daveon’s most notable trait was that he tried. Very, very hard. Often too hard. He wanted good grades, lots of friends, people to like him. He—for reasons that are pretty easy to understand—hated when anyone was mad at him, and when younger would run to the corner of the classroom and cry if a teacher reprimanded him, however gently. Ironically, or maybe not, while for many parents the goal is continually to encourage their kids to be more responsible, self-disciplined, and goal-focused, for Daveon it has been in many ways the opposite: trying to get him to relax, to understand it’s OK to mess up, to believe that there’s someone (really, a lot of someones) here who will carry the load, and all anyone asks is that he do his best—but not his TRYING VERY HARD best.
Other things have changed over the years, generally for the better. When Daveon moved in, he had a slew of food and environmental allergies, and now he has none. Though still small, adolescence helped him catch up from “tiny” to “low normal.” When we scuffle—you know, once every other year—it’s about dumb teenage stuff that’s “appropriate” for his age and stage. Which, ironically, is a healthy sign. His behavior is that of a “normal” teenager.
Daveon has, as you might guess, had a number of challenges over the years, many based on negative self-image and self-directed anger. He is the classic example of the kid who figured it was his fault he got moved around so much, so there must be something wrong with him. I will write more about this later—for now, suffice it to say he sometimes expressed his negative feelings in ways that ended up harming him and making his path more challenging.
But through it all, Daveon has always been a kid willing to listen, to accept responsibility, to work at change. That’s where the “prince” comes in. There have been times we’ve needed a break from one another for the sake of everyone’s sanity, but I’ve never been more impressed by anyone tackling—and, fingers crossed, overcoming—their demons as I have by my little big man Daveon.