Books had a prominent but complicated place on my mother’s side of the family. Books gave you status, proof that you were not ignorant. I always got the impression that part of the reason my grandfather chose to become a preacher like his father was because it was as close as he would get to being able to keep studying after high school. He was at various times a preacher and a travelling encyclopaedia salesman. But growing up my mother remembers being yelled at for reading by her mother, who felt she was being lazy. Books were an escape and that was both something to be desired or feared, depending on who you were.
This past week was pretty hard for me. Even after sixteen years of working with vulnerable kids, kids beaten up by poverty, cultural genocide and addiction, it is still hard to know that a kid who is talking about suicide can’t get a bed in a hospital for a night. To know that when you call for help for a kid what you’re going to get is cops with guns questioning them. Some cops are nice and some are not but everything about them: their handcuffs, their tazers, tell a kid they’re in trouble. And after they talk to the kid they will more than likely leave them behind because they know when they get to the hospital they won’t admit them. “I’m happy to sit in a hospital waiting room for five hours until they send her home,” the cop tells me. “But my boss is not going to like it.” Sometimes even if the hospital takes them they release them a few hours later in a taxi alone.
It’s like a kid coming to you with a broken arm and having to tell them: It’s not broken enough.