My Broken Promise

As we waited for the shelter’s computer area to arrive, Victor and I fell into a pattern during our weekly visits. We did a session of the Reading Kingdom, played some educational games and then threw around a ball in the enclosed courtyard. Because he only did the reading program with me once a week (the program is designed to be used 3-5 times per week), his progress was slow.

One day in August, the computers in the common area were finally installed and the shelter got its own Wi-Fi account. Victor and I gleefully sat down in front of one of the computers. There were no speakers or headsets so we couldn’t hear the audio. It was an easy problem to solve, I figured, and besides, most of the time Victor would be doing the program on his mom’s laptop in their living quarters.

Or so I thought. I soon learned that residents of the shelter were not allowed to access the Wi-Fi from their residences. In order to use the computers with internet access, Maria would have to bring her three kids into the common area and watch over them while Victor did the program, a solution that she assured me was not going to work. We were back to square one.

Disheartened, I remarked to Victor during a session in early September that school started next week and we’d be back to doing homework.

He scowled. “I have homework now.”

“You do?”

“Yeah, but I didn’t want to tell you because you’ll make me do the whole thing. I wanted to do it on my own.”

“If you have homework, go get your homework.”

He grumbled, trudged out of the room, and returned a few minutes later with his Spiderman backpack. Reluctantly, he pulled out the yellow notebook with his teacher’s instructions. Not only did Victor have homework for next week, but he had had homework to do for the WHOLE SUMMER. The yellow notebook added up to a page of work for each day. Distraught, I looked at the untouched pages. Victor was a kid who could have really benefited from doing this work. I wanted to kick myself. It hadn’t even occurred to me to ask his mom if he had homework.

Victor looked at the yellow notebook. His face swelled with fury, as he contemplated the nearly impossible task of filling in all the blank pages from a summer’s worth of work.

“I’m not doing this,” he declared. His anger was hard and sure. “You can’t make me,” he snapped, shoveling his supplies back into his backpack.

“Okay,” I said, “Then I’m going to have to talk to your mother.”

We went into the courtyard where Victor joined a group of playing kids and I sat down next to Maria.

“I just found out that he had homework all summer,” I said.

She rolled her eyes and shook her head. “I told him to tell you, but he said he wanted to do it on his own.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“It’s his responsibility.”

But he’s seven, I thought.

I watched Victor play. I could see how he tried to hide his fragility with a veneer of toughness and anger.

I felt angry too. I had promised to help him learn to read better this summer and had failed to keep my promise.

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