AN ACQUAINTANCE is pregnant. In between drags on her cigarette and while unsuccessfully trying to dodge raindrops on her stoop, she answers, "Doin' fine," when I ask how she's doing with, "you know, your big news."
Big news, sadly, that she has yet to share with her mother. She has at least told her boyfriend, who is a student - from time to time, anyway - at the Baltimore City middle school where I work.
The acquaintance is 16. The student is 14, and will likely receive for his 15th birthday present Christmas Eve a baby born to a future of mind-boggling odds.
This is the Baltimore in which I am asked to "Believe."
I believe, all right. I believe in God and in service to country and in a family that gave me far more than this Christmas baby will ever receive. What I don't believe in is the grinding poverty unleashed upon these children by a society of adults too lost in, oddly enough, childlike immaturity.
Children having babies is seldom the result of two hormone-crazed young lovers who ignore the warnings and advice of caring adults. It is a tragedy, as outlined in a May 21 Sun Journal on teen pregnancy, more often attributed to the vacuum of parenthood in modern American life.
Adults ignore children in a crippling display of selfishness: some to work multiple jobs in pursuit of consumer-driven madness, some to perpetuate their own adolescent needs, some simply because caring for children takes such effort and time and commitment.
My school holds four parent-teacher nights a year in hopes of fostering relationships of support between the most important adults in a child's life. Seldom have I seen the sign-in sheets at these events exceed a dozen parents' names. This continues, one grading period after another, in a school of 500 students.
Rest assured, too many of those 500 students will leave their lonely school journeys to do their own signing-in - at the prisons, unemployment offices and, yes, the pregnancy clinics already overwhelmed throughout this city.
You want to believe in something, Baltimore? Stop believing in politicians at every level of government who are too busy shifting blame to see the young faces left in the wake of their incessant campaigning. It's the president's fault. It's the governor's fault. It's City Hall. It's these stupid kids today. No, individually, on each count.
Believe, instead, that every adult in this city has the civic obligation to spend time every single day in the presence of our city's youths. Put down your cell phone and reprioritize your life. Then teach our children. Coach them. Discipline them. And listen to them, for they aren't "doin' fine," no matter what they tell us.
They don't believe in bumper stickers and slogans, and nor should we. We should believe that children never fulfill their responsibilities until we fulfill ours.
Brian Dulay is a middle school teacher for the Baltimore City Public School System. He lives in Canton.
City Diary provides a forum for examining issues and events in Baltimore's neighborhoods and welcomes contributions from readers.