Faces riveted into frowns. Rivets fixing sinews, skin, muscles and bone. Rivets that form a scowl, a tightening, a darkening of the face that was unbidden, unasked for and undeserved. I spy so many of these riveted faces among the kids I see. The rivets were set before I knew these faces. The holes were drilled, rivets inserted and set with a piercing “SNAP” as the rivet gun fixed them in there.
There are lots of names for these rivets. Poverty, abuse, neglect, disability, depression, trauma… Some are placed by human hands, many are not. Some are placed by accident, some on purpose. Some of them are set in place when a child is born, but through nurturing and love they are removed by carers and parents.
I hear the stories. I inhale sharply. Sometimes there is a lump in my throat. Sometimes tears prickle my eyes. Sometimes I shake my head and look at the ground.
I see the frowns. I see the chests puff out in defiance. I see the teeth bared in anger. I see the eyes open wide with fear. I see the blind panic. I hear the breath rapid, shallow and out of control.
I imagine them in their real lives. Pathways etched into their brain which bypass control, reason and thought and run straight into the survival mechanisms. To fight and flight. To panic. Super-highways which were cleared, levelled and tarred when the brain was young, plastic, malleable and vulnerable.
I imagine my own children. My children who live in my heart and who occupy my head. My children who I love, squeeze, cuddle and rock. My children who hear the words “I love you” a hundred times a day. My children who are lucky. My children, for whom I strain every fibre of my being so that they can remain lucky. Please please let them stay lucky.
Some days I want to scream. But it wouldn’t help. Screams don’t help. Screams are what set the rivets in place. Screams and fists. Sometimes faces don’t know how to smile. Voices don’t know how to be kind, and you can’t teach them by screaming.
So we don’t scream. We don’t sharpen our tones. We don’t scold. We don’t show anger.
We do what we can. We keep them safe. From the world, from themselves and from each other. We talk to them in mild and quiet tones. We praise them, oh how we praise them. We make them feel worthy of praise, we give them choices and control and we listen to them when they need to speak. We try to teach them. Not just English, Maths and all the other subjects, but we try to teach them about the world. About empathy, about how their life choices matter. About how they matter.
And then we hope like hell that it will help. Some days we see a smile. A straining against the rivets. A grin, a sense of fun, enjoyment and self-worth. An achievement. We hope we can pull those rivets out, in our 6 and a half hours a day. Or better yet, we hope we teach them to pull them out themselves; to understand that what has happened isn’t their fault, but that it will impact them forever. And
And some we cannot help. Sometimes they are too deeply set and too thick to break.
There are more of those than we would like. There will always be more of those than we would like.
And we go home to our own kids and hug them just a little tighter than we might otherwise.