A Different Kind of Family This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


     I have always lived in a loving household. I have been lucky to have parents whocare about me and always ask how my day is. I assumed other families were likethis, but I began to learn the true meaning of family and love when I steppedonto the campus of a local elementary school.

Every time I go, I feel likeI am opening a new pack of baseball cards. I never know if I will find amint-condition Barry Bonds rookie card, or duplicates of cards I already have.But either way, I enjoy opening that pack of cards, experiencing new emotions andlearning new lessons.

I remember standing outside the door to the portableclassroom on my first day, my hand on the rusty doorknob. I could hear thedaycare leader, Belinda, instructing the kids. "Come on now, pick up thoseLegos and put them back on the shelf or you're not going to get to go outside.I'm not asking again." Okay, I think, sounds normal. What kids don't make amess when they are playing Legos? So I opened the door.

I scanned the roomand saw a rainbow of colors. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.Belinda had instructioned them to clean up, and half the children were patientlyobeying. Then I heard one kid exclaim, "Hey, you're cleaning up in my spot,get off!" and he promptly shoved a boy one-third hissize.

"Dennis!" Belinda shouted. "What do you think you aredoing, shoving Malachai like that? You apologize now."

"Yes,ma'am," Dennis said, lowering his head. He offered Malachai a patheticapology, then resumed cleaning up his Legos.

I looked at Malachai, lockingeyes with him. Immediately I knew I was going to love this kid. Besides the factthat he was the most adorable five-year-old I'd ever seen, after he was scoldedand assaulted by Dennis, a 12-year-old, he didn't back off or cry. Instead hewalked right up to me and said, "Hi, I am Malachai. Will you please come andplay with me?"

"Absolutely," I said with a smile as he tookmy hand in his teeny grip and led me over to the tables.

After six months,I had learned the ropes and was a fixture every Thursday, rain or shine, goodmood or bad. I walked in confidently, and was always greeted by warm shouts of"Jenny! Jenny's here!"

"Hey guys! What's up today?" Iasked, suddenly feeling like all my cares had vanished.

"I amgoing to get some crayons so we can color," Malachai said, taking my handwith all the determination in the world and leading me to the coloringtable.

"Hold on a sec, buddy, remember the rules? No play untilall your homework is done. Let me see your backpack," I said, thinkingMalachai was still next to me, listening. But when I looked behind me, he wasflipping over the torn couch.

"Come on, Malachai! Finish yourwork," I begged him. It was no use, so I played along. "You think youcan escape me? I'll show you!" I announced with a devilish grin as I grabbedhim by the waist and swung him around upside down. I thought I had him when allof a sudden, he flipped up my body, took hold of my shoulders, swung himself upand over my head and then landed on his hands, running back to thetable.

"You thought you could catch me!" hetaunted.

"Okay, okay, you got me, mister, but next time, you betterwatch out. Now it's homework time."

"All right," Malachaisighed, and handed me his small neon-green and black Pokemon backpack. I foundonly a workbook and half a chewed pencil with no eraser. This was a shockcompared to my overstuffed, oversized Jansport with specially designed pads inthe shoulders. "I need to finish my printing," he told me, taking outhis pencil and workbook.

When he straightened up, Malachai noticed myearrings (new fake diamonds I'd gotten for my birthday) and stopped, staring.

"Are you okay?" I asked, hoping I hadn't done anything tostartle this cherubic bundle of goodness.

"You look so pretty withthose dots on your ears. Where did you get them?" he asked, not taking hiseyes from mine.

"My dad gave them to me, I just had mybirthday."

"Wow," Malachi responded, with a look of sadnessmixed with admiration. "You deserve them. Do you want to know why? Becauseyou are the first person to talk and listen to me, both at the same time! I cantell from your eyes you really want to play with me. No other grown-up ever wantsto play with me," he said.

After this confession, even though throughhis dark skin I could not see the blushing, I sensed his embarrassment. I sat inmy little blue chair, stunned. How could I not be enthralled by his honesty? Howcould I just walk by those huge trusting eyes and not stop dead in my tracks? Howcould I see the obvious talent this boy has and not want to help him, and moldhim, and simply watch him grow?

"What about your mom, doesn't sheplay with you?"

"Mom makes me dinner when I see her at night,but then she leaves with my uncle and I have to go to bed. It's fun though, Jen,because I get to play here every day with my friends, and once a week you comehere and play with me."

I could tell, by his sheer sincerity, thetruth behind his dark eyes, and the way he gripped my hand, that this boy hadfound family in me, even though I didn't live with him, or see him every day.With commitment, honesty, understanding and good old-fashioned love, anyone canexperience the trust and compassion of a family.




This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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