09/25/2014 11:49 am ET Updated Sep 25, 2014

The Mother Question

Guido Mieth via Getty Images

The first child whose life I tried to make a difference in was Maricela. She was twelve years old and in the sixth grade at a middle school in the San Gabriel Valley, about a half hour’s drive from my house, near downtown Los Angeles. We’d been matched by the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, which put us in a “school-based program.” This meant that Maricela would be excused from class twice a month in order to meet with me in an empty classroom. On our first visit, I brought art supplies—glue and glitter and stencils you could use to draw different types of horses. I hadn’t been told much about Maricela, only that she had a lot of younger siblings and often got lost in the shuffle at home. She spent most of our first meeting skulking around in the doorway, calling out to friends who were playing kickball in the courtyard. I sat at a desk tracing glittery horses, telling myself she’d come to me when she was ready.

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