Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Protector

The boys were rowdy and as I looked out the window of my classroom, I thought I might have to go out to settle them down. Putting up the flags every morning in the front of the school was supposed to be a privilege, but they were not counting it as such. As I watched, though, I saw one boy, Danny, take the U.S. flag away from the other laughing boys who were more intent on horseplay and solemnly clip it to the cable to raise it. He slowly pulled until the flag unfurled itself at the peak, always a stirring sight in the mornings.

I made my way out, and as soon as the other boys saw me, they straightened up. Danny had the Texas flag in his hand and was treating it with the same dignity he gave the U.S. flag. I sent the other boys back to class and smiled at Danny. He fingered the fabric for a moment before completing his duty with it.

I remembered when Danny first came to me in the sixth grade. He was the oldest brother of four younger siblings. He knew no English and was not happy about being uprooted from his beloved Mexico and sent to live with relatives he hardly knew in a strange land. His parents had made the difficult decision to get their children away from the escalating violence after a cousin's headless body was found two blocks from their home.

Danny got into trouble at the beginning because he had a chip on his shoulder and tried to prove that all things Mexican were superior to all things American. Although the football and basketball coaches salivated over his height and athletic abilities, Danny shunned sports because he only wanted to play soccer, the wildly popular sport of his homeland.

I spoke mainly Spanish to him at first, gradually introducing him to more and more English. He started to fit in better with the other kids. Although he wouldn't ever speak of it, he desperately missed his parents, particularly his mom. I saw it in his journal writing. He gravitated toward me because I think he saw me as a mother figure as well as his teacher.

He was very protective of his younger siblings at school and kept a watchful eye on them. That watchful eye eventually extended to me, and it touched my heart when on a field trip earlier this year to a large city, he hopped out of the bus to accompany me back into a fast food place in a bad part of town to get a student's order correct. I noticed in the restaurant he placed himself between me at the counter and some scary homeless/crackhead type folks.

As he pulled the flag up into place, and as the American born kids laughed and roughhoused their way back into the building, I marveled at the change in him, this boy who had so seemingly detested anything not from Mexico just two years ago.

I asked him about it, and he said, " I love Mexico. I always will. But now that I've lived here and seen what this country is about, I love America, too. America is also my country."

I know the house he lives in here is terribly cramped and has only a dirt floor in part of it. "What do you want to do, Danny, when you grow up?"

He looked up at the flags, now flying freely at the tops of the flagpoles.

"Well, I'd like to become a United States Marine. This country is taking care of my family now, and I want to help take care of it, if I can."

It gives me great peace to know that we'll have protectors like Danny watching out for us.


  1. I was watching the TV series Louie recently and comedian Louis C.K. was doing his monologue. The subject was his two young daughters and how they are spoiled and oblivious to the hardships endured by kids their age in other countries. One of his daughters was ill but when Louie tried to get her to take her candy-coated children's meds she bitched and complained saying that she wanted a different flavor. He had to inform her that many kids in other countries have no meds at all, flavored or unflavored.

    I am worried about American children, Shelly. Far too many are obese couch potatoes hooked on video games and other electronic devices. Too few have a well rounded knowledge and understanding of events of the 20th century and earlier. Sportsmanship is becoming a thing of the past, with bench-emptying brawls becoming more common. Class clowns and disruptive bad boys are becoming our new heroes. There is a lack of respect for our country and the office of the presidency. To get back on topic, foreign born citizens, both children and adults, often know more about American history, have more respect for our flag and other symbols, and are more grateful for the abundance that America offers than do American children and adults.

  2. Wow. This story moved me so much. The move to this country must have been so hard for him, yet he looked at the positive side and now loves America. It is wonderful you took him under your wing.

  3. Shady: You've brought up some things that truly bother me, too. I don't know how we lost it along the way, but much is certainly missing that used to be in place.

    Men like Pat Tillman should be heroes to these boys, instead of the gangsta rappers and spoiled celebrities they idolize.

    Still, I see pockets of goodness and kids like Danny make me hopeful that duty, patriotism and bravery haven't gone out of style everywhere.

    I'd love to see some of those gangsta rappers do a couple of years in the military. Let's see how far their pants would sag when they got out...

  4. Belle: I have such a soft place in my heart for him because I see how good he is to his younger siblings and how much he misses his mom and dad. I so hope they will reunite as a family before he gets too much older.

  5. What a special young man!! What a change it had to be to leave all he knew and come to a whole new world literally. So neat to see the growth in him of acceptance for where he is right now. I am sure he will make a great Marine some day.


  6. Betty: He truly has overcome a great deal. I see great things for him in his future. If only we were all as adaptable!

  7. Wow, what a brave young man he is. It's those kind of kids that give us hope for the future.

    Those "American" kids remind me of the people in the 180 movie video I put on my blog last week, most of the young people didn't even know who Hitler was and one even made the comment wondering if he was an actor.

    We need to be reminded of good kids like these who have probably lived more in their lifetime than we ever will in ours.

  8. Jamie: So true- and if they can cope and adjust, then so can we.

    I need to go back and read your post. It must have been when I was gone. It sounds really interesting- wow- not to even know who Hitler was!

    I still believe there are more good kids in our country than not, and he's a great example of it.

  9. This was so heartwarming, Shelly. It's nice to have you back. :)

    That boy is obviously valiant and humble. A wonderful combination. He will make a powerful Marine one day.

    My mother moved here from Mexico when she was in her teens. She was so grateful for this country she joined the US Army. She was a nurse in the Army for 7 years. I was an Army brat.

    I'm still a brat. So proud to be an American though. :)

  10. Crystal: Thank you- I missed all of you! That is so neat about your mom- have you written a post on her history yet? I'd love to read it if you have.

    We have so much to be grateful for. I wish we expressed it as fully as your mom or Danny.

  11. Don't get me started on what's wrong with this country. We've gotten away from so much that is basic. Sad that it so often takes someone from another country to really appreciate the freedom we have here.

  12. Clint: I really do wish all teens could have a chance to live in a place like Mexico, or Pakistan, or Somalia. It would truly make them grateful.

  13. What a wonderful young man that Danny must be. We need more like him. I'm so glad that you wrote about him in his post today. How lovely that he was also protecting you like that :)

  14. Awww, this was beautiful, Shelly! I'm glad that you are able to be there for Danny. It must really hurt not to have his mother. Thanks for sharing his story.

  15. Thisisme: I so hope he continues on this path. And, he is very much a protector, especially with his siblings. It's really nice to see that!

    Kelley: I feel so bad for him, not having his mom here. I don't know that I would have coped very well at his age, in the same situation. I keep hoping they will be able to reunite soon-

  16. Such a bittersweet story. You've obviously helped him so much in his transition - and it must have been such a tough one! It always amazes me to see these kids who have nothing, and yet they have "the stuff." They're just noble souls.

  17. There's really nothing better than seeing students find their way through turmoil and know that they're going to be okay. This one is special.

  18. Karen: I love the "noble soul". I don't know how it's developed into someone, or if adversity plays a part, but I wish more of our US born kids had it.

    Missed Periods: It is so very satisfying, and probably one of the big things that keeps me in teaching.

  19. With an attitude like that, Danny is the type of citizen America
    needs... great story!

    God bless and have a Great Day! :-)

    BTW, thanks for your recent comment on my "Don't Mess With Old People!" post. ~Ron

  20. T.O.: I think Danny makes a wonderful addition to our country. Thank you! And, loved your blog!

  21. Wow, what a story, that is one fantastic young boy.

  22. Toyin: He truly is- I look forward to seeing what he accomplishes as an adult. Thanks for stopping by!

  23. What a touching tribute to that little boy, and what a reminder to the rest of us about how grateful we should be to live here.

    Thank you - Marsha

  24. Marsha: I, too, feel intensely grateful when I see our country's virtues through another's eyes. We are blessed-

  25. Dear Shelly, this is Orchid.
    Having trouble with Google account.

    So Sorry for my belated comment. Yes, what a MARVELOUS boy Danny is♡♡♡
    He must be a boy with the sense of responsibilities and adaptability. I DO hope his bright future and can become one of the protectors of your wonderful country.
    Thanks for the ideom "chip on his shoulder", haha.
    Lots of Love and Hugs to you, Orchid*

  26. Orchid: Hello, sweet friend! I truly believe Danny will accomplish wonderful things in his life. He's learned so much already. And yes, "chip on his shoulder" is one of those really strange ones we have around here. Have a wonderful day!


I love to hear from you! I also love to comment back.