Sunday, February 14, 2010


After Esmeralda, comes Mariah. She is twelve, going on thirteen, is in the fifth grade and has a set of mischievous eyes and an infectious giggle. Like Esmeralda, Mariah hasn’t seen her backpack in a while, doesn’t know what kind of grades she is getting at school and gives me a blank stare when I ask her which classes besides Math and Language she is being taught.

“Nothing, I think,” she says.
“Nothing?” I ask. “How about P.E?’
She giggles and shrugs her shoulders. “Maybe. Don’t know.”

A few minutes into the session, I realize that although Mariah is one grade ahead of Esmeralda, they should be together in the same year: third grade.
One of the cats walks across the table and sits on the folder with my attendance sheets. Mariah giggles some more. I ask her to please put the cat on the floor or somewhere else but she is now distracted cleaning his ears with her index finger. So I nudged the cat out of my way and try, in earnest, to regain her attention.

While she works her way down a math worksheet, I take a good look at her. She is pretty, with high cheek bones and fleshy lips. I can’t decide whether her hair has been recently shampooed or if it’s greasy. Either way, it shines under the 60watt bulb illuminating this table that must have been, at some point, used for dining. Mariah wears expensive clothes: red Abercrombie hoodie with angel wings design, Adidas basketball shorts, and a pair of fashionable Converse shoes.

There are other signs of wealth in the house. A massive flat screen TV, an X-box with several video games, some still in the wrapping, a few laptops, two of which look brand new, and several USB wireless adaptors laying around.

Mariah is struggling, but I tell her not to worry about it, and to do as much as she can without my help so that I can assess her needs. She rolls up the sleeves of her hoodie. I gasp. She has bloody scratches on each arm. Four or five blood trails evenly spaced and too symmetrical to be an accident.

“What’s that?” I ask. Trying to sound casual.
“Don’t know,” she says and rolls the sleeves down.
“The cat?” I press.
“No. It’s grandpa.”
“It sounds like grandpa needs to be declawed,” I say and she giggles again. Mariah blushes and I know she won’t talk about it. I’ll have to wait until the session is over, at which point I’ll ask the mother.



  1. One gets a very clear image of the scene, physically and emotionally, from the lucid writing. Are the names of individuals invented (to protect their real identity)? I wondered what might be done to motivate the child to learn math or reading? Is there anything in her personal world of value related to numbers, words, that could be presented to her so that her efforts at learning are perceived by her to be "for" her, not for NCLB goals of her school? Maybe see if she wants to "tell a story" about something, write it down, then later have her read "her story"?? Or find a story book about an Indian girl who experiences something, at her reading level??

    Very powerful writing!