Tuesday, April 11, 2000

Healing power of good kids




BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        March may have gone out like a lamb. But April came in like a pig. Sloppy with nasty grunts of wind.

        People walking from the parking lot to the auditorium at Laurel Oaks School in Wilmington tuck their heads down, the women trapping furling skirts against their thighs and the men flogged by their own neckties.

        It was the kind of wind that blasts through superhold hair spray, and I looked as though I'd been mugged. Besides, I had a lousy cold. (Is there any other kind?)

        Instead of thinking about the young people to be honored, I wallowed in misery. Sick of Elian. Sick of gun news. Sick of crummy weather. Achy, whiny and sorry for myself.

        Then Jan Blohm began to speak. Jan coordinates education programs for Clinton County Children Services. I am guessing she probably blew up some of the balloons around the room, maybe put together the awards. I know for sure she wrote the tributes to the children being honored that day. Carefully. Respectfully.

        “We did not want our community to take these kids for granted,” she says. “I had to use buzzwords to get around saying things that might have made some children embarrassed.” She also manages to avoid tortured euphemisms — differently-abled or something-or-other challenged.

Changing course
        High school sophomore Laura Williams is recognized for leadership and her thoroughly positive attitude. Laura earned a green belt in karate, speaks French and has Down syndrome. Roughly in that order, I believe.

        A couple of youngsters have been knocked out of the game, just temporarily, by physical injuries. Heather Murphy, a seventh-grader, survived a terrible accident and multiple surgeries, promising herself to someday walk without a limp.

        Which she did.

        I remember the seventh grade as a time when it took nearly everything I had just to take a seat in the cafeteria next to somebody I didn't know, to walk down the hallway trying to look as though I wasn't worried about my nose being too long or my skirt too short. And I imagine how it must feel to struggle to put one foot after the other without stumbling.

        There are others, some really spectacular rescues. Ashley Thompson started a chapter of Students Against Destructive Decisions at her Blanchester Junior School. Another girl saved herself, escaping an abusive relationship, finishing school as an honor student.

        A youngster who was homeless is there with the friend who took her in. And the woman who then mothered them both. Another girl, a chronic truant, is headed for college. Oh, and she's a single mother who quit smoking and started reading up on prenatal care, determined to have a healthy baby.

        Which she did.

        I do not know statistically what these kids represent, how many lost while these were winning. I don't have the dollar figures, either. The cost. But I know the achievements were spectacular. Worth celebrating. Valuable.

        And I believe the children who say they could not have made it without the adults in that audience — teachers, caseworkers, parents and surrogate parents.

        On the drive home, I found a radio station playing the Beach Boys instead of Elian's uncle. It was warmer, sunny. I could occasionally breathe through my nose. Already feeling pretty good, I remembered Laura Williams' impromptu karate demonstration and her incomparable smile. And I felt like laughing aloud.

        Which I did.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393.

        PULFER ARCHIVE