I have very few friends from my childhood, which I mostly blame on my family's frequent moves, combined with an underdeveloped desire to write letters as a teenager.
One of my oldest friends is an American girl I met in high school, who eventually settled in Norway. Throughout my time abroad, we've stayed in regular contact, and I'd counted on seeing her frequently during my year here. But after a month of visitors in August, followed by slightly stressful weeks of helping the boys settle into Norwegian school and life, time just passed by without me picking up the phone to reconnect.
Then I began to feel awkward about calling her, unsure of how to explain why I hadn't called sooner. More time passed, laced with more guilt and anguish. Eventually, I pushed my guilt to the back of my mind, and tried to ignore the occasional nagging.
Wait a minute...[thinking, thinking...]. Let's start this post over again:
I only have a few friends from childhood, because I do a crappy job of staying in touch with them. Until last Sunday when the phone rang, and a chirpy voice sounded: "Hey, chicky, where've you been?"
There's a good friend for you! Ingrid finally made the decision for me, without any harsh words about my utter pathetic-ness. We ended up spending a lovely afternoon and evening together yesterday, languishing for hours over plates of steaming noodles and curried mushrooms, catching up on what was new in each other's lives. She hadn't seen our boys for a few years and was politely impressed by their growth. Which just goes to show what a kind heart she has, since B boy is, well, vertically challenged.
But mostly, we talked about Ingrid's job. She works for the municipality of Drammen as a social worker in a daycare with a high percentage of foreigners. The demographics in this daycare make her job both rewarding and extremely difficult, since children of new immigrants and refugees are often lost in their own little worlds as they try to adjust to a Norwegian daycare miles away from what they've been used to. Everything from the games that are played, to the food that's eaten, to the language spoken is new for them.
Their own families are under extreme pressure as they try to establish a new life with very little money and a non-existent social network, juggling new societal expectations with values from their homeland. Sometimes a parent has been left behind, occasionally with unknown whereabouts. In other cases, one or both parents struggle with mental illnesses caused by horrific experiences in the country they came from.
And out from these families, and into Ingrid's daycare, come new little boys and girls on a daily basis, trying to cope as only children can.
My friend's job consists of identifying children with special needs within the daycare, and instructing and aiding employees in their care of these children. Given the population makeup, the percentage of special needs cases in her daycare is much higher than what you'd see elsewhere. And while her success stories are beautiful to hear, she has tales that will keep you up at night with an aching heart.
Like the one about the 3-year-old boy who started at the daycare a year ago, joining his 4-year-old brother. The older brother had already been pegged as a troublemaker who'd get into physical altercations with other children, but once his little brother joined him, these sessions turned into outright group bully behaviour against other children. On more than one occasion, they were caught standing on either side of a playmate, kicking that child as hard as they could.
I can't imagine a 3 or 4-year-old with that much rage in his heart.
The older brother left to start school this fall, leaving the youngster alone at the daycare. A few weeks ago, the boy asked the one daycare teacher whom he'd grown ever so slightly attached to, and who also had a son at the centre, if she ever hit her child,
"Like my dad hits me?"
After replying that she did not, she noticed an immediate and striking change in his attitude, as if she no longer warranted his respect.
"You can just leave. I don't want you here."
Only a few days later, Ingrid played a linguistic game with the boy to improve his weak language skills. This particular exercise consisted of picking out matching cards, such as a doll and a stroller, or a ball and a net. As he picked out the bucket and spade cards, Ingrid, in an attempt to promote more advanced language usage, asked if he could use the spade with something else as well.
"I can use it to throw sand in other kids' eyes."
She prodded him, asking why he'd want to do such a thing.
"To make them cry."
And the reason he wanted the kids to cry?
"So they'll be afraid of me."
The boy came to Norway with his family from a war-torn country, and the father has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. The mother looks like she is about to fall apart from exhaustion every time she drops off or picks up her children. And every day, her son - her baby boy - desperately tries to cope with his own fears by transferring them onto others.
Ingrid told me that Children's Aid have been notified, and that the children will likely be removed from the family. My heart breaks for these boys, who are seething with anger at the world. I wonder what foster care can do for them. What foster care might do to them.
But my heart also aches for their parents. For what they've become, and for all those broken dreams.