The Red Corduroy Shirt

With all the sadness of this past week, I hope this story gives you a little smile.

Last Wednesday Henry was passed out in a snow drift with his pants down round his ankles in the middle of January. He was drunk and completely unaware of how he got outside. After a medical examination of Henry, his father and step-mother were questioned. It looked as if Henry would be entering the foster-care system. A member of the “village” stepped in and convinced the judge to let Henry stay with his parents if they quit drinking and proved they were capable of caring for him, not just about him. Amazingly, the judge agreed. This powerful, little, elderly women from the village looked right at Henry’s parents and told them in her quiet, but strong voice that if she ever heard of them drinking again, she would personally make sure he was removed from their home permanently. His parents quit drinking that day.

Thus, the cycle of ups and downs began. Henry would do great for a while and then backslide, great for a while, backslide.  I, and several others in Henry’s life, kept reminding ourselves he was a teenager and a troubled, fragile one at that. We continued to provide him with a consistent, highly structured day. Eventually, his parents learned to care for him. However, the drinking, smoking and stealing continued to plague Henry into adulthood.

Just like I never doubted his parent’s love for him, I never doubted his love for these two parents. I am a professional seamstress and knowing this, one year, in November, he asked me if I would make his dad a shirt for Christmas. He told me how much his dad wanted a red corduroy shirt and how much he wanted to be the one to give it to him on Christmas morning.

I know I could have just said yes, made the shirt, and handed it over. However, I strongly believe that things need to be earned and not just given away (see the Rights and Privileges post). I believe there are lessons to be taught and learned if we take the opportunity when it’s given. I also believe that when we work for something, we gain a sense of pride. So, I made small pattern pieces out of red construction paper and told Henry he would have to earn each piece by exhibiting certain behaviors each day, meeting specific criteria.

Some days Henry did well and other days he did not. I wasn’t sure he was going to make it in time for Christmas, and more than once, I found myself questioning my plan. However, each time I questioned myself, I was reminded of the power of positive thinking and of the need for setting high standards. I went ahead and bought the red corduroy fabric and washed and pressed it so it would be ready for me to cut out at a moment’s noticed. As Henry earned each small piece of the shirt, we would tape it inside a folder he kept at his desk.

With a week left before Christmas break, Henry still had not earned the shirt. I explained what would happen if he didn’t earn it. We talked about how he would feel. Then, the two of us talked about how he would feel if he did make it in time. I watched him like a hawk all week, ready to swoop in and prevent any trouble. On the second to last day of the school, Henry earned his last pattern piece. He was so excited and proud of himself!! I was too!

I had two days to cut out the shirt, sew it together, wrap it up and get it to Henry by Christmas Eve. When I dropped it off, I explained to his father that Henry had a special gift to give him in the morning that he had earned by making good choices at school. I gave them big hugs and drove away. I cried most of the way home. It was one of my most memorable Christmases.

Almost every time I saw Henry’s dad after that, he was wearing the red corduroy shirt.

Through this experience, Henry began to realize that HE played a vital role in what happened to him in his life. He started to make better choices at school and pay more attention to his academics- especially his reading. This, in conjunction with my highly structured program, the love and support of his parents, and the rest of the village being present for him, helped to create a foundation for Henry that eventually made it possible for him to enter a vocational school and learn a trade. Today, he is in a long-term relationship, owns his home, and is sober.

Be kinder than necessary, be grateful, and have a peace-filled holiday,

Ms. Brown

P.S. My winter break begins this weekend so I will be taking time off to spend with my family and friends. Thank you for choosing to be part of my promise to my Sweetheart, Ron. I’ll be back on the 9th of January. I’m sending you peace for the New Year.

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