Vital Signs

The Weight of Bricks

Are we all going crazy? A few months ago, I read a newspaper column containing information so shocking yet unsurprising, so awful yet predictable, that I was overcome by emotional vertigo. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, I thought of John and Lawrence, two children I knew long ago, and disorientation was replaced by generalized depression. The lesson of John and Lawrence is that the past indeed is prologue.

From 1965 through 1969, in the years between getting married and becoming a mother, I worked as a teacher's assistant in the preschool/daycare center of a private, well-funded family services agency, one that employed an array of highly credentialed teachers, social workers, and psychologists. The agency was in an integrated urban neighborhood, next to a large university, and on the edge of a ghetto, which meant that the school drew children of all races and nearly every ethnic and socioeconomic background. There were children of university professors, of firemen, of welfare mothers. There were children of full-time college students who were also part-time hippies. There were Arab and Israeli children who got into fistfights during the Six-Day War. There were Haitian and Greek children who started school knowing not a word of English (and learned the language with breathtaking speed).

For me, a young woman with an affinity for children but no experience with them, no systematic knowledge of them, and no preconceptions...

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