A Red Shirt

tutKayla marched into the tutoring room with her arms out like she was a zombie. She closed her eyes and smiled. I knew she saw me. And honestly, I was glad to see her too.

She walked around the room and acted like she didn’t see me. It had been two weeks since I saw her last. So, I wasn’t going to be surprised if she didn’t remember me. Just as that thought crossed my mind, she started running my way. Her bookbag was flopping off her back and she jumped on my lap. She leaned her head down under my neck and wrapped her arms around me like a koala bear.

My heart instantly melted.

She grabbed my hand and pulled me down toward her.

“Hi Kayla! I missed you!” I said. “How was school today?”

She made some sort of a moan and started laughing.

“Ashley, do you want to be with Kayla again today?” the coordinator asked me.

“Yes, I’d love that!” I said. “What kind of homework do you have booger?”

I realized that I call everyone I love booger. Justin, Bandit, my nephews, my siblings and now Kayla.

“I don’t have any homework!” she said.

Yeah, I’ve been there and said that – story of my life. Only when I said that, it was so I could go outside and play with the neighbor kids until my skin turned into dirt and my clothes were covered in grass strains. (Sorry mom!)

But she didn’t have that option. So, maybe she didn’t really have homework.

“Well, show me your folder and tell me what you did in school today!” I said.

“Yellow!” she said.

“Yellow? Did you learn the color yellow?” I asked.

“No yellow,” she said. “I got yellow on the stop light.”

I looked at her paper. She got in trouble for talking too much. Girl, welcome to the club, I thought. I was always getting called out for talking in class.

“Well, tomorrow you know what?” I said. “You will get a green color on the stoplight. Because you’ll have a great day tomorrow. Why? Because I said so!”

We laughed together. It was almost as if we both knew she was going to ask “WHY!”

I walked over to the instructor and she whispered to me, “She is off her medicine!”

Poor girl, she is probably having a hard time adjusting without it.

I looked down at her and she made my heart melt. There she was, smiling up to me and holding my hand. My heart broke. She looked at me like I looked at MY mom when I was kid. She told me last time she doesn’t have a mom…

Since she didn’t have homework, we made a giant Valentine’s Day card for her dad. We found a giant purple elephant to put on it. She named him, “Lemon”.

 She was struggling at first to keep attention, but I kept trying to ask her questions and mix up the color of crayon she used. The change kept her on track because she couldn’t get bored using the same crayon, writing the same words.

At one point, she stopped writing and put her head down.

“Kayla, what’s wrong?” I asked. “Do you feel sick?”

She didn’t say anything. She didn’t look at me.

“Hey, look at me,” I said.

She didn’t look at me.

“Kayla, I need you to look at me because I have something important to tell you…”

She hesitated for a minute, but then smiled and looked up.

“I think you’re awesome. I think you are smart and I think tomorrow will be a great day for you at school. I believe in you and I am so proud of you. Just always remember what I just said.”

She smiled and we finished her card together. And I taught her how to draw hearts. No one had ever taught her how to draw a heart. The simplest shape with the most meaning, and no one ever took the time to teach her how to draw it. I wrapped my hand around hers, and together we drew a heart.

Her message to her dad was adorable:

“Dear Dad, I love you! Lemon loves you too. I think you’re great. Happy Valentine’s Day. – Kayla 2011”

When tutoring was over, I saw her run over to her dad. She jumped down next to him and handed the card to him. He got a huge smile on his face and opened it, “Dear Dad,” he started. He looked down and smiled. Her shoulders were shrugged up like she was nervous and he looked back at the card, “I love you. Lemon loves you…”

It was a moment that I’ll always rememeber. The two of them, sitting there, happy – sharing a moment of love. I can only hope they both remember to say “I love you” often.


These kids go through so much. And things that you and I would never think of ever wishing for — they do. My friend Sarah Frey tutors in a homeless shelter through Indy School on Wheels too. She is actually the person who encouraged to me to start tutoring and get involved with SOW.  Sarah told me a story that I want to share you, which truly sums up what these kids wish for on their birthdays.

The student she worked with had a birthday coming up. We aren’t allowed to give the students presents or money because they don’t want to start anything among the other kids or parents. Its kind of the rule “if you can’t give to all, give to none” and the shelter has unqiue rules too. Like no food in their rooms.

Sarah asked the young girl what she wanted for her birthday. Most kids her age would say a Wii, a computer, a cell phone or maybe an iPad. A vacation. Or even a lot of money. Do you know what this young girl asked for? The only thing she wanted….a red shirt.

Just think about that tonight. Be thankful for all that you have and stop worrying about what you WANT to have- chances are you have a red shirt in your closet and don’t even think twice about it. So, when your cell phone breaks or you can’t order the new iPhone. Or when you are mad you didn’t get enough money back on your tax return to take that vacation to Cabo – remember this, there is a girl in the world who wants nothing more than a red shirt. Her very own shirt that may be handed down or bought at a thrift store.

Much love,

2 thoughts on “A Red Shirt

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