“When my ship comes in…”

…it’s going to have diamonds, rubies, and emeralds….” I’d tell my mother, according to my childhood fantasy. Beyond that, there is a certain image I attach to my ship. But, I’ll get back to that.

When I was young, When My Ship Comes In is a game my mother played with us. There were plenty of card and board games, but this was one of my favorites. Mom’s eyes would light up and she’d start by saying, “When my ship comes in, it’s going to have….” and then list all the things she would love to have. Then it was our turn, and we’d tell her what our ship was going to contain.

It was always fun to hear what would arrive on someone else’s ship. Sometimes it was kittens and puppies. Other times it was chocolate bars, pickles, or some load of silliness. Beyond that, it called for imagination, a slice of fantasy, for what may come. I suppose it helped me to envision the future, that there was one. It gave me a sense of possibility, that one never knows what life will bring. The sense of surprise was delightful.

My daughter works in a grade school where, lately, each day is a challenge. She’s been  placed in charge of a young student whose home life has been disrupted. We’ll call said student Quinn, a non-gender specific name. From what we can gather, Quinn sleeps on a couch (does not have a personal bed). There appears to be no regular bed time, nutrition appears to be a non-issue, and the food that does come from home is sugar-laden, processed, or both. Quinn arrives each day with bags under the eyes, and has enormous trouble focusing. Flying off the handle and yelling and screaming are the norm. Having said that, there has been no diagnosis of any condition; therefore, there are no “services.” Attempts at academics have fizzled; Quinn is not allowed to sit among the other children due to disruptive behavior. A typical activity is throwing other children’s lunches on the ground, stealing items from a teacher’s desk, running out of class, throwing items at teachers and staff, breaking anything in sight. Quinn destroys; others clean up after.

Maybe due to school policy, personal preference, or just getting through the day, it has been left to my daughter to hold Quinn accountable. No one else makes Quinn say please and thank you or right a wrong; indeed, others walk away (for whatever reason). My daughter is the only one setting boundaries.

When the family is called to retrieve Quinn it’s often at the beginning of the day: it can be at zero minutes in class to an hour or more. Currently, Quinn is allowed in school only three hours on any given day unless a full week passes without incident. If so, more time for the following week is earned. This has yet to happen.

I sigh, and recall fondly a mother who played games with us, someone who genuinely cared and wanted to spend time with us. We were well fed, clothed, and loved, every single day.

ship-big-photo-dot-com-freeWhen I remember that game we played long ago, I recall my ship out at sea, slowly making its way to shore. It was filled with goodies just for me. The images I associate with my ship–and mom’s for that matter–are all of a certain type:



big-photo-dot-com-freeThe type of ship in my childhood fantasy was irrelevant; I recall images with still waters, clear skies, the bluest of sunny skies, and very little wind. It was calm. Peaceful. Serene. Beautiful.

What I did not imagine was this:




immigrant-voyage-dot-comNever did my ship have to navigate dark skies, rolling waves, rough waters and the threat of death in a stormy sea. My ship sailed in still waters.

I imagine Quinn must feel tossed about on a regular basis.

  • There are no rules.
  • There are no boundaries.
  • There is improper nutrition.
  • It appears there is a diet of sugar and processed food.
  • There are no friends in Quinn’s world.
  • There is no discipline.
  • This child appears to be neglected (and is acting out for attention).

Did I mention Quinn is six years old? My heart breaks for this child (and mine who is tested to her limit every day and comes home exhausted). None of what I’ve described is Quinn’s fault; indeed, it appears to be a breakdown of the family unit. Mother is young and distracted, father is absent, grandpa picks up Quinn and helps when he can, mother’s boyfriend does what he can. It truly breaks my heart.

I lunched this past week with a college friend, a retired teacher who’d been in the system for over 30 years. As I described my daughter’s job, my friend looked at me squarely and said, “You’d be surprised how many Quinns there are.” I feel for teachers as well whose hands are tied.

Now, when I think back on my long ago childhood game with my mother, and as I recall her bright eyes at the start of our game, I create a new list for my ship.

When my ship comes in, I want it to head for Quinn’s harbor. I want it to have games, play dates, friends, and sleep overs. I want it to include special time with mom, dad, and grandparents. I want there to be vacations and holidays, filled with togetherness and love. I wish there to be nutritious meals, every single day. I wish for regular sleep, so the next day can be met with sufficient energy to learn and grow. I wish that the adults in Quinn’s life realize what this child is in need of and be able to meet that need. More than anything: I wish for Quinn to have barrels of time and attention and love.


I wish for the gift of time so that one day, Quinn can look back on the early days and recall a mother/father/aunt/uncle/grandparent who took the time, who made time, because nothing is worth more to our future than a child.

What’s on your ship?

Featured Image: Big photo dot com. Others: Internet, free images.

  15 comments for ““When my ship comes in…”

  1. February 20, 2017 at 3:02 am

    What a sad situation for Quinn to be in and at such a young age, it truly breaks my heart. Thank God for your daughter who is setting some boundaries but how sad that she has no one in her life to give her some solid foundation.
    Such a well written and thoughtful post Karen. I love the game and the use of the ships to describe life’s seafaring journeys. How lucky we both were to have such solid ships and a hopeful future. That’s what I wish for the Quinn’s of the world too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 20, 2017 at 11:42 am

      What I cannot get out of my head is what my teacher friend said about all the Quinns out there. What baffles me as well is the attitude of those in charge…they mostly walk away. Quinn gets away with this behavior because Quinn can. Yes, that game with mom was such a simple thing but look at its power, all these years later. Thanks, Miriam, for your thoughts. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • February 20, 2017 at 1:23 pm

        I don’t understand either how people can just turn their backs and deny any responsibility. It’s no wonder there are so many troubled teens growing up in this world, if this is the attitude. Sad really.

        Liked by 1 person

        • February 20, 2017 at 1:49 pm

          When skill sets do not suggest a student is ready for the next level, they are passed to the next grade regardless. I see it time and again, and we graduate students with very poor reading and writing skills, much needed for life. Not sure what the answer is, but it starts in the home and when children are young. Sad indeed. 😦

          Liked by 1 person

  2. February 18, 2017 at 4:24 pm

    You have an amazing heart Karen. Most tend to shut off that part of their mind that empathizes with others in impossible situations after more than a few moments. So it’s not surprising that you would imagine such an amazing gift to wish on poor Quinn. Time (and not just empty time, but quality time with family).

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 19, 2017 at 12:18 pm

      Thank you, Gabe. I just hope this little person finds the love and attention they need in order to succeed. Have a great week! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Amy
    February 18, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    I am bewildered by how the school, which clearly knows there is a problem, has not been able to provide services to this child, who clearly has emotional problems—at a minimum. It is just heartbreaking.

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 18, 2017 at 2:35 pm

      Me, too, Amy. What I did not mention was how my friend, the teacher, answered when I asked her the same question. Her theory is that because “Quinn” is so young it’s just the beginning of the process and that eventually Quinn will be assessed further, an IEP will be developed and then resources may come into play. What is so baffling is that given this behavior, the severity, things could not have been that different the year before. But, that was pre-school and is this process initiated at that level? Right now, my daughter is on damage control until the child is assigned a personal assistant of some sort (other than the existing social worker whose “answer” is to walk away). It’s just heartbreaking.


  4. February 18, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    Oh gosh Karen… this is such a sad and as your friend said… an all too common way of life for some children.. It breaks our hearts and yet we are pretty powerless to help.. Wow – what an amazing job your daughter is doing… so so hard and so brave.. I’m not sure I’d have the strength of character to do that job and I truly admire her for giving just a spark of inspiration and normality to this child…. She is an anchor in this stormy sea…. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 18, 2017 at 12:46 pm

      Thank you, Wendy. I worry that people like my daughter, those whose hearts are WITH THOSE CHILDREN, will poop out and give up on teaching. How sad that my daughter’s strategy now is to not react to anything this child does, just keep a straight face and hold Quinn accountable. She gets an emotional work out every single day .It’s so sad. Like you, I could not do her job either. My girl has a strength I do not have, not now. Bless her heart. Thanks to you for your kind words. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • February 18, 2017 at 4:03 pm

        Absolutely and who could blame her.. as you say it must be so so hard to deal with that day in day out… and so sad for the Quinns if people like your daughter weren’t around…. You’re right – Bless her heart!!! xxx

        Liked by 1 person

    • February 18, 2017 at 12:46 pm

      And, yes, she’s THE anchor. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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