Happy Thanksgiving, folks. Thanks for letting me live in one of the most beautiful places in the world; thanks for
entrusting your kids to me.
A couple of those kids were sitting on a couch in my classroom last week. One was a freshman who's having a pretty
rough go of it - all 'F's' at midterm, a substance-abusing parent, a couple of younger siblings she feels responsible
for. She'd come in to see me to see if there really was an adult at the high school she could talk to. It didn't take
long before she was projectile-confessing.
And then serendipity intervened and another student showed up - a senior, who, as a freshman, had all 'F's' at midterm,a substance-abusing parent and a younger sibling she felt responsible for.
My thanksgiving came in October this year.
I introduced them to one another, telling the younger girl, 'Here's who you ought to be talking to."
"What's up?" said the senior, tucking her legs under her and settling on the couch facing the girl.
God, I love these kids. The more that you allow and encourage them to help each other, the more they accept
responsibility of helping themselves.
So I settled back in my easy chair in the corner and opened up a book, and over the next hour didn't even turn a page.
I just listened. And they both knew I was listening, because every so often I'd interrupt them with a question or
comment or exclamation. Then I'd lower my eyes to a page that meant nothing to me and damn these girls' parents and
praise these girls' resiliency. Their stories were the same, just three years apart. They could have traded parents and
never known the difference.
Do you know how a meth addict prepares for Christmas? They dress themselves and their children in their baggiest winter
clothes and go to Target or Sam's Club or Walmart, and shoplifting off the shelves, secrete their Christmas presents in
their clothes, placing things like Ramen and paper towels and 10-cans-for-$5 vegetables in their cart. Then they write
a bad $25 check and leave with $500 worth of electronics and CDs and video games and clothes on them.
Merry Christmas. Happy Birthday, Jesus. Wanna play 'Sin City'?
Do you know how important private phone calls are to substance-abusing parents? Very, very important. As a matter of
fact, that's the exact word that they use. "I've got an important phone call to make," they'll say, closing themselves
in their bedroom, leaving their high-schooler in charge of not only the younger kids but anything that might or could
or does happen over the next four hours. You know, like sweating tattooed bald guys in tank tops knocking on the door
demanding money - or your body. Like a La Plata Electric Co. truck pulling up and shutting off the electricity. Like
grandma dropping by - "Where's your mom?" - "She's got a migraine" - and watching her leave with tears rolling down her
cheeks because she loves you and knows exactly what's going on and would gladly take you in but can't afford all of you
and knows that you won't leave your younger brother or sister no matter how bad it gets.
Do you know how hard it is to have friends when your parent's a substance abuser? If they happen to drop by when your
parent is making that phone call, you can't let them in because of the sheer embarrassment of empty cans and Ramen
wrappings littering the house, of your younger brother or sister's dirty diaper, of the overflowing ashtrays, of all
the things that you work on constantly only to have the place look exactly the same way the next day when you get home
When you do get out, you party. You drink and smoke to get as far away from your reality as possible. And when you wake
up, the overwhelming guilt of, "Am I gonna wind up just like my mom or dad?" makes you want to scream, to hurt
yourself, to hurt somebody else, to drink and smoke some more. To run away.
Do you know how important school is to the child of a substance abuser? Very important, because it's relatively safe
and clean and constant and supportive. There are people there who care, but they want you learn things about 13th
century Europe and isosceles triangles and atomic particles, and those things don't mean anything to you. Maybe in the
future, but right now you want your teachers to acknowledge the fact that for the next 7½ hours you're going to be safe
and clean and steady and supported. That you've climbed out of an emotional and physical cesspool and are there; that
the learning will come, but please, first acknowledge me. Please.
It was time for fourth period. I closed my book. "OK, ladies, time for class," I intoned, and they dutifully gathered
their backpacks and purses and confidently left, each knowing that now somebody knew.
"Hey," I said, and they both stopped. "I love you."
They flashed peace signs and went to class.
Thank you for your children.
Greg Loheit is coordinator of The Center, a program for at-risk children at Durango High School. Reach him