Find an Excuse to Love

"Some children just need more love." I don't know how many times I heard Mrs. Tucker say that.

Mrs. Tucker was a 73-year-old woman who worked with me in an after-school daycare program that paid me a much-needed stipend while in graduate school. She rarely missed an opportunity to show warmth and affection to a child.

That part time job was undoubtedly the most difficult position of my life! I felt completely unprepared for the work; I had no training and my temperament was such that it seemed all I could do to simply not to "lose it" with the kids. Exacerbating the problem was the fact that this after school program was operated by a church board that believed that NO CHILD should be turned away. I applauded the sentiment, but soon discovered that children who HAD been turned away by other facilities in the city, primarily because of serious behavioral problems, found their way to us.

I reminded myself that I was hired to watch the children, play with them and lead arts and crafts -- not to fix them. And my only help was Mrs. Tucker, a 73-year-old retired social worker who ran the operation. All that stood between the kids and disaster was me and a 73-year-old woman! And I wasn't a sturdy defense! But Mrs. Tucker was.

"Some children just need more love," she would always say. A case in point was Timmy. This young boy received special help at school for emotional problems. He was developmentally delayed, medicated enough to be able to "hold it together" most of the time, and came to us with a self esteem "lower than a snake's belly" (to borrow a southern American expression from the hills near Timmy's home). He often fought with the other children and was a compulsive hair-puller.

I couldn't get close to Timmy -- he did not trust anyone. Anyone, that is, except Mrs. Tucker. He genuinely loved her and she loved him.

One day Timmy was screaming and fighting with one of the kids. He had the boy on the ground and was pulling his hair with both fists. I separated them and Mrs. Tucker directed Timmy to sit down in a chair. He thought it was unfair that he, and not the other child, should be punished for fighting. He screamed, "I HATE YOU, Mrs. Tucker! You're a mean, old lady! I hate you!"

"I know you hate me right now, Timmy," she said firmly, "but I'm sure not going to let you pull the other children's hair."

After a while, Timmy calmed down and Mrs. Tucker called him over. His cheeks were still dirty and tear-streaked. I could not hear their conversation, but I saw Timmy put his arms around her neck. When I walked by I heard him say softly, "I'm sorry I called you a mean old lady, Mrs. Tucker." I knew he meant it.

A little later Mrs. Tucker said to me, "Timmy just needs more love than the other children." And she was right.

The Bible says, "There is a time to love and a time to hate." I've learned that our world will readily give us an excuse to hate. We will always have a good reason to dislike that difficult person, that political party, that religious group.. But will you find an excuse to love? It changes the world.

Most any excuse will do.

Steve Goodier [email protected]

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