My Debt to Mick

My grandsons are now the age of Mick when he came storming into my life. Seventeen years old with the body of a man, Mick had been living on his own for a year when someone turned him into social services. And he didn’t take kindly to being deposited in the children’s home where my husband and I were house parents.

I once read that fear can be smelled, that the sweat of terrified person actually emits signals that send the fear out to others. Nobody would have smelled fear on Mick when he showed up at the children’s home. But if fury works the same way, the room would have reeked. And while he was with us, Mick spread this ire—glaring, stomping, banging doors, smashing a hole in the kitchen wall, and threatening to bash in faces.

Back then, I didn’t understand much about teenagers. I hadn’t been the parent of teens or the grandparent. I hadn’t taught school for three decades. I hadn’t listened to inmates talk to me about how adults in their lives had messed up with them.

I wish I could do Mick again. Given a second chance, I’d applaud his ingenuity in making a life for himself. After his mom died and his dad went to prison and his drunk uncle knocked him around one time too many, Mick slept in his clunker of a car until he found a job flipping burgers, earning him enough money to rent a single room with a shared bathroom. On his off hours, Mick’s head was usually under the hood of a car, gathering skills from a street mechanic.

The caseworker had told me all this, but I didn’t sit with Mick, asking questions and paying tribute to his gumption. I was too busy urging him into the routines of a children’s home. I should have concentrated on Mick’s future, not on whether he had made his bed. I should have said no as little as possible and yes at every chance.

Mick didn’t stay with us long. He ran away. And I can see why.

I owe a debt to Mick and the other kids who came to live with us at the children’s home. I learned on these kids, as you can read in my book Yoder School. And the lessons they taught made me a better parent and grandparent and teacher.

But I feel bad. Mick was someone’s grandson.

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