But Jesus said, "Let the children come to me. Don't stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children." Matthew 19:14 (NLV)
"You're not in trouble," I started my usual spiel. "There are a couple of people that would like to ask you some questions in the office."
The unsure girl who stood up to my waist followed closely behind me as I attempted to maneuver so that we were walking side by side.
"Okay," she said, her hands fidgeting, looking for something to do.
We turned the corner, and she stepped through the office door before me. The adults in the office attempted reassuring smiles, smiles of strangers who meant well, but had difficult questions to ask.
It is not required that a school official be present at meetings like this, but I always offer, "Would you like me to stay with you through this?"
"Stay," the little girl said barely above a whisper.
Introductions, easy questions, and then the tough ones always start.
"Can you describe the last time you were afraid? When was the last time you saw the police? Does anyone in your family drink? When was the last time? Do they get physical when they drink?"
My older girl was this girl's age at one time, my younger girl goes to class only just down the hall from her.
"What is your favorite food?"
"Moose soup," the girl smiled back.
"Moose soup, I enjoy that quite a bit myself. Do you get enough to eat?"
"When there is food in the house," she said looking down and the words trailing off.
"Does your dad have a wife or other significant other?" the questions continued.
The little girl answered about topics that I didn't even know about until my twenties, her voice always quiet, a tear once in a while would work its way down her cheek.
"I'm sorry," the case worker said at one point, "I don't mean to make you sad. Do you have someone to talk to when you feel sad?"
The little girl looked up into the face of the case worker, but she didn't have an answer.
"What is something you enjoy doing with your dad?" he worked at changing the mood to something positive for the girl to hold onto.
When she didn't answer, he prodded a little to give her help in the question, "When was the last time you had fun with your dad or what is something that you really like about him?"
"I don't know," she looked at her hands in her lap.
What if this was one of my girls? How would they answer? What is something you like about your dad? When was the last time you had fun with him or something you really like about him?
My thoughts went to walking in knee deep snow, breaking trail for a ten-year-old who was not terribly keen on walking so that we could check her little trapline. I went back in my mind to a four-year-old on skates pushing a chair around a rink, family dinners, books at bedtime, pulling the covers up around the chin of a sleeping teen with her dog pressed tight beside her.
We are given these gifts for such a short time.
"Okay, that is really all the questions I have," the case worker began wrapping things up, "you can go back to class."
"I can walk you back," a voice I recognized as mine brought me back to the present, "if you feel you are ready."
"I'm ready," the little girl said as she stood from her chair.
We walked in silence to the gym where her class was happily running around in a game of caribou, caribou. She jumped right in as though the last ten minutes had never happened and crossed the gym evading her classmates acting as wolves. They were not the first she'd seen.