Whatever our backgrounds, most of us were called into this field hoping to make a difference in others’ lives. In my case, the call came from the experience of learning how much of a difference attention and caring can make to a struggling child.
In the middle of the night, when I was eight years old, I woke to find my mother dead in bed beside me. She’d overdosed and rolled on top of my baby sister, who was shrieking. I remember struggling to pull her off my sister and trying to shake her awake. When she didn’t rouse, I pressed my tiny fingers against her grown-up wrist to find a pulse—something a concerned neighbor had just taught me how to do. I knew instantly that she was gone.
My mother, the daughter of a teen mom, had her first of five children at 20. She was just 33 when she took her own life. Her death followed that of her boyfriend, who’d been murdered while she was pregnant with my sister. Before she died, my mother’s depression was deepening, and my siblings and I were in an extreme state of neglect: either not going to school at all or showing up unkempt. The roaches that had taken over our house would sometimes crawl out of my book bag and into the classroom.
After my mother’s funeral, three of my siblings and I moved in with our biological father, a man who’d physically and emotionally abused her. I’d felt utterly alone and isolated—thinking this couldn’t be happening…