Harriet Boorhem: Youth Today’s Online Diarist

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Entries 8 and 9: Stressors and Storytelling

March 31

So......I'm sitting at my desk today and see two police cars in front of our building. They were side by side blocking the street, and it looked like they were just chatting with each other.....UNTIL....I see one of the officers get out of her car and walk toward a white van that was parked incorrectly in front of our building. As she started writing the ticket, I jumped up from my desk, ran down the hall to the lobby, asked whose van it was, found out it belonged to a parent who was bringing her son here for help, told her she was getting a ticket, and ran outside to see if I could stop them from writing it. The mother ran out with me, but we were too late.

The police cars had pulled away. I took the ticket from the windshield--$45.00!! I thought the woman was going to faint. Her son came out with her, and she started talking to him in a foreign language. I couldn't understand the language, but I could certainly understand the tone. She was VERY angry. When I asked her what she said, she told me that she told him it was his fault that she got the ticket, because if she hadn't needed to bring him here, none of this would have happened!

NOW......before you judge this woman harshly for what she said to her son, try to remember the amount of stress she is under and what additional stress was added by this $45.00 ticket. She can't pay that ticket! And if she doesn't pay it in 30 days, the amount doubles, and then if she doesn't pay that, they issue a warrant for her arrest. Just what she needs. I did, however, say that maybe she shouldn't go so far as to say the ticket per se was her son's fault. She agreed and iterated what I already knew.....this was one more stressor she did not need.

About this time, the two police cars had stopped up the block at the stop sign. We ran up to the corner and asked if they could reverse the ticket, since she and her son were clients of Promise House and had NO money and didn't know where to park or that parking that way was illegal. Nope. The officer said they can't "undo" tickets once they've been written, but she could call the number on the back of the ticket, give them the circumstances and see if they would dismiss it. I encouraged her to do so and to have the police call me if they needed verification of the story.

This very frustrating story is a perfect metaphor for what our families go through every day. One barrier after another, never enough money, or time, or food, or clothing, or resources to fix what to most of us would have been a minor inconvenience.

Which is exactly why I jumped up and ran outside to try and stop the police. I KNOW what this will do to this mother, her relationship with her son, and the incredible stress it will put on her financially. I just really hope she calls that number on the back of the ticket and that whoever she talks with that day is feeling compassionate, or that they will at least call me. Keep your fingers crossed.

April 11

While I was in Austin last week,  I had the privilege of seeing my daughter Kat’s new play, The Story Seekers.  She wrote the play specifically to fit the grounds of the Elizabet Ney Museum in Hyde Park.  What a fabulous scene!  The museum itself looks like a castle, and it is set on fantastical grounds with foot bridges, creeks, tree swings, and winding paths—PERFECT for the fantasy she wrote. 

The story involves a princess, a Story Teller, and lost children. The princess, Bet, is about to be killed by a mean General who has taken over the kingdom and dictated that NO stories will ever be told again.  The kingdom must live only in the present and future—no history allowed!  The Story Teller saves her by taking her to a magical place where there are only children. The trick, however, is that he takes their life stories and changes them as he pleases; and only HE can tell stories in this land. The longer they stay with him, the more they forget their stories, until they no longer even know who they were, where they came from, or what their names were. 

Of course, two of the children (along with Bet) outsmart the Story Teller, take their stories back, send him running, and restore Bet to her kingdom (very short synopsis of the outcome). 

I was so struck watching this fantastical play at the powerful metaphor of stories.  I’ve said so many times how difficult it is for the teens at Promise House to maintain their history, to know and remember their stories; and how important we are in anchoring them to a GOOD and HOPEFUL story.  I know this is why so many stay in touch with us. We ARE their story. We ARE their history. We ARE the beginning of their GOOD story. 

So many of our kids have had their stories stolen, changed, convoluted, erased, forgotten, or damaged by years in the system, moving from place to place, being abused, being lied to, being forgotten.  Thank god we can reconnect them, or connect them back to themselves. Hallelujah for stories and for the power to influence them in positive ways.

Aside from the fact that I think Kat is a genius and incredibly talented (where DID she get that??), I am so grateful to have been able to see this fun, magical, and powerful play.  It re-confirmed for me how important our work at Promise House is and how fortunate we are to be in the presence of such great young people, my daughter included.

What is YOUR story?  How do you keep it alive? 

Harriet Boorhem is the president of Promise House, which provides a multitude of services to homeless youth in the Dallas area, and Youth Today's first online diarist.