no child left behind [except at home] – A Poem by Allison Kaye

TW: child and sexual abuse


tucked in faithfully,
sweet dreams!
don’t let the bed bugs bite!
I love you honey!
stuffed animals
and plush blankets-
fresh rain scent
dryer sheet lingers

laying on the couch,
coated in pee
no goodnight kiss,
no open door
for midnight bad dreams,
stuffed animal
and moldy blankets
cigarettes and beer lingers

around the table for dinner
everyone a turn,
to tell of their day.
Grandma’s baked chicken
sizzling hot potatoes-
mommy blows them cool-
mixed vegetables,
a glass of milk,
we carry dishes to the sink,
saying thanks daddy hums
and he scrubs and scrubs

sink piled high,
roaches and flies,
eggs and rolls,
tiny stomachs
needing nutrients of leafy greens,
no talk of the day
silence except
the TV shouts and shouts

bath time joys,
helping mommy pour in
lavender bubble mix,
splashing and squealing
as rubber duckies race
and mommy’s touch as she washes
her down is warm, clean, and safe

bath time turmoil,
once daddy drains
the tub he locks the door,
she whimpers and prays
the phone will ring so he will leave
and daddy’s touch
as he molests her internally is frigid,
painful and tragic

Lipton extra noodle soup,
one pat of butter,
grilled cheese
coughing fits and fever rings
daddy can take sick leave
and take her to the doctor,
fill the prescription
and kiss her burning forehead.

The last cup of juice,
one pack of fruit snacks
all to soothe the cough
no one notices
her ringing fever
mommy cannot take off,
daddy does not care,
no doctor
but he has her run to play pharmacist
delivering goods into the dark,
violent streets.

Author’s Statement:

This poem is physically separated to show the dichotomy of the ways the lives of children may differ. It is a sort of homage in which I reflect on my own safe and peaceful childhood and the sense of guilt I feel, and am continuously grappling with, as I work with more and more children whose lives differ so drastically from mine. To have a safe and happy childhood truly is a privilege, and it breaks my heart that the anecdote on the right side of my poem is the truth for far too many children. It is not the story of one individual child I have worked with, but rather, tidbits woven together from the stories of children I know from volunteering in foster care and teaching. Also, it is the voice of the children no one has worked with, who are being let down right now, because they are forced to hide behind closed doors and keep their abuse silent.

The title is of course lined with irony. The federal law of the 2000s coined “No Child Left Behind” to exert a strong push toward accountability in schools, most notably through standardized tests. However, the frustration I and so many fellow teachers have is that our children are still being left behind. I’ve found one of the most notable ways they are “left behind” is in the things that happen to them outside of school- things that teachers and administrators often do not realize.

My mission as an activist and advocate for children is to move past the statistics and share the unheard voices in hopes of provoking more awareness so that positive change can occur. No child should have to live in fear in their own homes.



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