What an incredible, twisty-turny week it's been. I'm only here catching my breath now because I'm in bed sick! As it is I'm not sure where to start, so much has happened and it's all been so fast - but I'll do my best. I guess the best place to start is with Ali, because pretty much none of the events of this week would have come about if it wasn't for him. I've written before about how big this kid's heart is and never more than when it comes to his friends. So I wasn't at all surprised when he went screaming off in my car last weekend to rush to the aid of one of his close mates. A lot of kids talk to Ali about their problems. He has an amazing way of looking at the world and always knows the right thing to say. I knew he would be able to help his friend and he did. Even so I was more than a little perturbed when he turned up a couple of hours later with the guy and all his belongings and announced that 'he needs to live with us for a while'.
Don't get me wrong, this guy is a great kid! He has a good heart, enormous responsibilities way beyond his years and a genuine desire to get ahead in life. Unfortunately everyone and everything was standing in his way of being able to achieve that. I wanted nothing more than to help him - but live with us? Embarrassed as I was to admit it, I just couldn't afford to feed and care for another person. All night I lay awake worrying how we were going to manage. Ali and I had just come through the toughest couple of months we had known. We had had barely any income for over two months, yet we were surviving and now with a brand new venture about to begin and hopefully take off, this time was absolutely crucial. Bringing another person into the equation was a huge risk and one that we just couldn't afford to take. Not for anyone.
I explained all this to Ali and he understood totally. But how was he going to tell his friend that he couldn't stay longer than the weekend? It broke his heart but somehow he found the words. I was proud of him, it must have been a very hard thing to do and as he prepared to leave I also did my best to explain that it was nothing personal, that I was working my butt off trying to provide Ali and me with some security but I wasn't quite there yet and I didn't feel able to provide him with the level of care that I normally would and felt he deserved. Just like Ali, he totally understood. 'It's OK, my mum can't feed me either', he shrugged with a smile. Just like that my heart broke. Oh hell. 'Is she getting help?' I asked him. 'I don't know', he replied. I told him that there were a couple of places that they could get help from in the area with food parcels and that he must let me know if they weren't receiving anything and I would put them in touch with him. I looked past him into the bedroom, where the spare bed had been made with almost army-like precision and once again my heart broke. This was a 'bad kid?' What sort of bad kid makes their bed so beautifully? It took all my willpower not to call them back and say 'OK, you can stay' but I told myself he would be better off going back home and working out his problems.
Shortly after Ali came back and lay down on his bed with his head in his hands. 'What's up?' I asked. 'I feel terrible that I couldn't help my mate', he said. 'But you did! You were there for him when he needed you and you gave him a place to stay', I said. 'But it's not enough, I wanted to do so much more!' he replied. 'Whatever I try to do something or someone always gets in the way. I don't have any money because every cent I get has to go on paying off my car. And I can't even drive my car because I don't have any money for petrol! And I wish I hadn't wasted so much money on food and Red Bull, it's just stupid', he growled in frustration. 'Unfortunately that's how we learn the hard way', I smiled in sympathy. 'We all do it. But think of the positives! You're only $150 away from owning your own car. You've been paying it off since February and in a couple of weeks you'll be done and it will be all yours and from then on your money will be your own. It's a good car and you got it for a really good price. And at least you HAVE a car! Think about your friends, when do you think most of them will ever be able to get a car? They don't even have anyone to teach them to drive!' That swiftly put a different perspective on things.
We sat there for ages, putting the world to rights and we talked a lot about his friends and other people we knew and what so many of them had to live with. I remembered a quote I had seen not long before which said 'If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back'. 'Exactly. But that's why I feel so bad, I just don't feel I did enough', Ali said sadly. I told him that he had done a lot more than he realised and that even the smallest act of kindness was never wasted but he still wasn't convinced. One thing I did manage to get through to him is that sometimes, just like in our case, you just had to look after yourself first. Because if you don't look after yourself, you can't look after anyone else. It didn't make him feel any better, but at least it made sense. Even so, for the next couple of days he was still down on himself and continued to beat himself up for 'not doing enough'. The more I heard about his friend, the more I wondered what I could do to help him and others like him. Over the last five years of raising teenagers my boys and I had dealt with a lot. Kids who didn't want to go home because their parents were likely to be drunk and aggressive. Drugs, drugs and more drugs in either the kids or their parents. Kids who were always getting kicked out of home and made to feel unwanted or a 'problem' or 'bad'. Kids who only had to walk in the door from school and were greeted with a tirade of name calling using language too offensive for even this potty mouth. In the past two years alone we had dealt with four suicidal teens and five different kids who had asked if they could live with us. What they all had in common was that they could all talk to Ali, they could all talk to me and that we had been able to help them all. In addition I had also managed to talk three of my adult friends out of suicide on more than one occasion. It wasn't rocket science, just instinct, natural optimism, and a knack for being able to find the right words. And around 4am one morning I had the answer.
When it was eventually time to get up a few hours later, I asked Ali 'Weird question, but does anyone teach you anything like positive thinking at school? Self esteem, how to feel good about yourself, that kind of thing?' 'Um, no?' he said. 'We have these kind of merit card things that we get if we do something good but that's all'. 'Do you think it would be a good idea if it was in schools?' I asked him, 'Would it be valuable?' 'Yeah. Yeah I do', he replied. Now this was coming from someone who does not mince words. If it was a bad or stupid idea he would tell me in an instant but his response was quite the opposite and we both agreed it was from around Year 9 that the wheels start to fall off, along with the warm, fuzzy nurturing that younger students get to enjoy. As it happened I had a meeting at the local school that very morning to talk more about the upcoming money classes so while I was at it I broached the subject and asked if they would be interested in me teaching some positive thinking and self esteem tactics to Years 9 - 13. 'Yes, we would! We should get you in this term!' came the reply.
It was lovely to see I was on the right track and the next day I had another meeting with the principal of another school. I told him of the many situations I had witnessed and dealt with and coming from a small town felt that surely it must be the same for him, being in a larger area with so many more students. He agreed and said in his experience the child's home and family environment made no difference - the cases of low self esteem and depression were just as much there in children who were nothing but loved and supported than those who were abused and neglected. However he didn't want me to do a workshop. He wanted me to be an employee! 'I want financial education to be drip fed to my students throughout their school years', he told me. 'I want you in our school timetable and for students to be able to receive a positive reinforcement lesson every day. They might not get it at home but we can give it to them at school. I can tell you right now, every school in the country is going to want this'. I couldn't wait to get home and tell Ali!
I thought that sending Ali's friend back home to sort out his problems was the best place for him. Sadly it wasn't and a few days later he found himself homeless again. This time however I knew just what to do and the next morning we drove him two hours to Auckland to start a new life with family members who would love and support him. It was that simple, yet nobody had made it happen. 'So thanks to you, your mate is reunited with his family and thousands of kids all over NZ are going to receive classes to help them to feel better about themselves', I told Ali that night. 'Do you feel like you've done enough now? 'Not really', he replied. 'We should have taken him up to Auckland the first time!' Honestly, some people are never satisfied but I couldn't be happier and I can't wait to get started making a difference in schools. The more I think about it, the more it feels like the most perfect job in the world for me. After all, I've been helping adults to see the positives for years through my writing, entirely by accident. Imagine how much I could help people if I actually TRIED!