“Mom notices little son is losing weight. She secretly follows him to his school cafeteria. Appearances can be deceiving. Frequently, many of us are swayed by our preconceptions and act hastily, unfairly, and even cruelly towards individuals who have committed no wrong. All they require is our assistance; someone who will lend a compassionate ear without passing judgment; someone who can be relied upon. Nonetheless, maintaining a listening and empathetic stance can prove challenging when our son’s welfare is on the line.
Amber Franklin was 44 years old, an economist and the single mother of a 10-year-old boy named Johnny. Amber’s husband’s name was Arthur, and he was an electrician. His job was maintaining and installing electrical wiring for businesses and individuals. Unfortunately, during one of these installations, there was an unexpected power surge, and Arthur was electrocuted while handling the wires. He died instantly. When her husband died, Amber was pregnant with the couple’s only child and was devastated. There were times when she even considered giving her child up for adoption as she did not feel capable of being a good mother since her husband was no longer by her side.
Fortunately, Mrs. Franklin was not alone, and her family and friends helped her to overcome the pain of losing her husband at her own pace and, at the same time, be a good mother. And it certainly was. Eventually, Amber accepted the fact that she would have to learn to get on with her life and that her son needed her more than anyone else in the world. She became a model mother to Little Johnny and managed to be happy again despite still having the memory of her late husband very present.
“You’re the spitting image of your father, honey. I wish you could have met him because you would realize how much you look like him. You have his look in your eyes, you know, those tender Blue Eyes in which I could get lost,” she would say on numerous occasions to her son. Indeed, Little Johnny was looking more and more like his father, and everyone kept reminding him of it.
“Dad was very smart. Did he get good grades in school?” the little boy asked once. “Seriously, of course he did. He was really smart; he could have dedicated himself to anything he wanted. However, your father was clear that he wanted to continue with the family business and that he would be an electrician, a job that always made him immensely happy. For me, knowing that was more than enough. Why do you ask, honey?” Amber didn’t quite see her son’s intentions with that question.
Johnny was a good student. In fact, he had never failed an exam. He loved to read, and he was also a good sportsman, so he had nothing to worry about in that aspect. “Simple curiosity. I want you to be proud of me. I want you both to be proud of me. It’s very important to me; I don’t want to disappoint you, Mommy,” he said truly as he finished packing his backpack and took a last bite of his jam toast. “Bye, Mom, see you in the afternoon. Have a nice day,” he kissed her goodbye on the cheek and ran off towards the school bus that had just arrived.
Amber stared at her son as he got on the bus and sat in his seat. Johnny was already 10 years old, and she couldn’t be more proud of the person he was becoming. He was a really responsible boy, cheerful and kind to everyone. He had never gotten into trouble; she knew for a fact that her son hated fighting, and she had never heard him raise his voice even when he got angry; he never did.
Johnny was very docile and loved to help others, something he had certainly inherited from his father. However, she also feared that the kindness and innocence that made her son so special was, at the same time, a disadvantage, as it was very easy for other less docile people to take advantage of him. The thought of that often made her act overprotective of her son, and even though Amber knew for a fact that this was not right, she couldn’t help it.
“I think you’re too protective of him, and Johnny has given you no reason to be. He’s a smart kid; he’ll know what to do if someone tries to take advantage of him or trick him. Try to relax, Amber,” her mother repeated every time her daughter talked about her fear of someone hurting her son. “I’m trying, Mom, but it’s not easy. He’s my little boy, and if something happened to him, I wouldn’t know what to do,” confessed Mrs. Franklin with sadness.
“It’s never easy; I’m your mother, and I’m still suffering for you. But we have to learn to trust and let our children make their own mistakes, honey. Trust me, I’ll try, Mom, I promise,” Amber said, ending the discussion, although deep inside she knew how hard it would be for her to keep her promise. What she didn’t know was that just a few months after this conversation, the promise she had just made to her mother would no longer have any validity.
It all happened during an ordinary day. Amber had returned home after lunch and was waiting for her son to come home from school. The boy was usually very punctual, so when it was 4:00 in the afternoon and Johnny didn’t show up, Mrs. Franklin became impatient. The mother was about to call the school to find out what was going on when suddenly the front door opened, and her son announced his arrival.
“I’m here, sorry I’m late, Mom. I had to stay to finish a science project with a classmate from school,” apologized the boy with a tender smile. Amber couldn’t be mad at him and greeted him with a warm smile and a big hug. However, as she served her son his snack, a delicious peanut butter sandwich, Amber noticed that Johnny was not as cheerful as usual.
In fact, the boy looked exhausted with dark circles under his eyes and a pale face. She decided not to make a big deal of it and figured Johnny had just had another long day at school. Her son was a good student, but he often worked harder than usual to get the best grades. However, the mother’s worst fears were unleashed when she saw Johnny take off his school shirt and realized how thin he suddenly looked.
“Johnny, you’ve lost a lot of weight, Amber was horrified. Honey, you eat well at home, how come you’re suddenly so thin?” The boy became very nervous, and Amber could see how worried he was. “Johnny, is something bothering you, honey?” she asked him in distress. A few seconds later, however, Johnny seemed to pull himself together and replied, “I’m fine, Mom,” he said without making eye contact with his mother. “I don’t know why I’m losing weight, but I’m fine, I promise.” However, Amber knew there was something he was keeping from her and asked him one more time.
“Johnny, honey, if there’s anything,” she told him softly, “you can tell me. I’m afraid you’re not eating well at school.” “No, no, not at all, I eat well at school, Mom,” Johnny quickly replied. But seeing his hurried response, Amber knew something was wrong. “Well then, tell me, how was the chicken parmesan I made for your lunch today? Did you like the sauce?” she asked. “Delicious, Mom, you know I love everything you make, you’re a great cook,” Johnny exclaimed. But his answer added to Amber’s concern. Amber hadn’t cooked any chicken parmesan that day; her son was lying to her face, and she had to find out quickly why.
“Johnny,” she snapped at him, grabbing him by the shoulders, “no chicken parmesan today, just cheese sandwiches and mashed potatoes. I forgot, Mom,” said Johnny. “You often put chicken on me for lunch; I was confused. I love sandwiches.” But seeing how Johnny dodged her questions, Amber decided to settle the conversation and find out for herself what was going on at school and why her son seemed hungry.
The next day, Amber drove to Johnny’s school during lunch and secretly observed him sitting alone at the cafeteria table, staring into his lunchbox. Moments later, she witnessed the unthinkable. Mr. Miller, Johnny’s new physical education teacher, approached him and took his lunch. Her son said nothing; he didn’t even protest when the man took his food out of his hands.
Amber could no longer watch and do nothing. She got up and stormed to the principal’s office to report the matter. “What is going on here? I saw the new PE teacher, Mr. Miller, taking my son’s lunch,” Amber was furious. “Does he do this every day? Is this why my son has been losing weight?” Amber had burst into the principal’s office, not even knocking on the door to check if the principal was inside.
The director looked at her with wide eyes, not understanding anything that was happening. “Mrs. Franklin, that is appalling. I sincerely apologize for what happened. I had no idea,” he said to Amber as he immediately called Mr. Miller and Johnny into his office over the PA system. When Johnny walked into the office, he was quite dumbfounded to see his mother there.
“Mom, what are you doing here?” the boy exclaimed, trying to remain calm. “Johnny, your mother told me she saw Mr. Miller taking your lunch. Can you tell us what’s going on?” the principal interjected, realizing he had been caught. Johnny decided to come clean before speaking. The boy looked one last time at his teacher, and the teacher nodded slightly. The small gesture of complicity made Mrs. Amber have even more questions, and her nervousness increased by the second.
“Mom, I want you to know that Mr. Miller is not to blame for anything. It was all my idea. He didn’t even want to tell me what was going on, and I was the one who insisted on helping him, okay,” Johnny began, a calm tone. “Okay, but you still haven’t told us what is wrong with Mr. Miller and why the only solution to his problem is for you to stop eating. Will you explain it to us, please?” Mrs. Franklin was trying to be common understanding, but her son was making it very difficult for her.
Johnny explained that one afternoon, after basketball practice, he decided to stay an extra hour to practice alone and improve his shooting. Mr. Miller, who is also the High School boys’ basketball coach, told him it would be fine and to let him know before he went home to lock up the gym. However, as Johnny was on his way to his office to tell him he was going home, he heard someone crying while he was on the phone. It was Mr. Miller.
The boy knew it wasn’t right to listen in on private conversations behind doors, but he couldn’t help himself and wanted to know what was wrong with his coach. However, the 10-year-old was not prepared to find out the sad truth that his teacher was hiding.
Mr. Miller has a 5-year-old son, his name is Zach, and 3 months ago, he was diagnosed with Childhood Cancer. Miller is a single father, and on his teacher’s salary, it is impossible for him to afford the medical bills for his son’s treatment. He barely has enough money to buy food or pay the rest of the household bills, which is why he was crying that afternoon at the gym.
“They had just called him to tell him that if he didn’t pay what he owed, they would soon be homeless. That’s why I offered to help him by giving him my food so he could give it to Zach. I didn’t want that little boy to go hungry,” Johnny continued, explaining, very touched. You could see that he was very affected by what was happening to his teacher and, at the same time, ashamed for having had to lie to his mother.
“That’s enough, Johnny, calm down. I don’t need to hear anymore. I think it has been made clear to all of us what has happened,” intervened the director when he saw that Mr. Miller was more and more affected and that the boy was having a really hard time explaining the story. “Mr. Director is right, dear, that’s enough. It’s all been a terrible misunderstanding. Now, what we have to do is find a solution for Mr. Miller, preferably one where no one has to go hungry and that allows him to move on and take care of his son. What do you think?” suggested Mrs. Amber.
“I will be eternally grateful to you, I tell you from my heart,” said Mr. Miller, trying to stop crying after confession. Amber Franklin and the principal decided to organize a fundraiser to help the teacher and his son, which turned out to be a huge success thanks to the contribution of all the teachers at the school and numerous parents. The money raised enabled him to pay for his son’s entire treatment and to leave nothing to chance.
Mr. Miller had never had to worry about paying the bills again, and Mrs. Amber began to trust her little Johnny more, the little boy who has once again shown us that life with a little more generosity and empathy can be wonderful.