*This article was originally posted on examiner.com. Jump over there to view the comments left by readers.
Wouldn’t it be better if kids like that just did not exist?
When examiner asked us to write more localized pieces, I started by writing a couple of humorous bits. All the while I was trying to wrap my brain around the possible local articles I can muster up:
- Local food bank
- Local library
- Small business reviews
- Local elementary school feature
- The local education system (we live in a world of our own here and that will make for an interesting article!)
- Volunteer work
- The local small business festivals that bring revenue to our town
- The Bed & Breakfasts
- The antique shops
- The politics of small town (funny stuff)
- Hunting & fishing
- Etc, etc
Of course, I am the “early childhood” gal so…I will need to swing my articles in that direction.
I do plan to write on these topics, over time, but in the meantime something came along that really struck my fancy. So today…I write about that!
Wouldn’t it be better if kids like that just did not exist?
My son turned 11 years old this month. We first celebrated his birthday on New Year’s Eve while my parents were here on holiday. On his actual birth date we had a little family party and game night. We also wanted to host a class party so that the kids from school could play at the park, toss a football around, etc. Another boy in my son’s class has a birthday just a few days prior to my son’s date. Each year the boys pass out their invitations right after Christmas/Winter break. This year I decided to hold off and wait for the other boy to pass his invites out first. We would then plan our party around his function.
Long story short, my son ended up having the class party last night at the park. His birthday celebrations, by default, spanned over a three week period of time. I have no complaints, though. The evening was, by all human standards, a great success:
- Everyone showed up alive and left alive
- No blood was seen
- No one called anyone any terrible or racist names (that I heard of)
- The football was still inflated when we got into the car
- Food was eaten and no one choked
On a very special note, our group was graced by the presence of a few random children; whom we had never met before. We arrived at the park around 3:30pm. The boys jumped from our minivan (yes, I am a bona fide soccer mom – zip your lips) and ran out, football in hand. Within minutes, three other children were playing along. I walked over to the oldest child and said, “Hi. Are you here alone? Are the other kids with you?”
“Oh, yes. They are with me. I am babysitting them.”
I knew in an instant that the title of “special needs” applied to this boy. He informed me that his mom and dad lived behind the woods and they allowed him to play at the park. He sometimes babysat his neighbor’s kids and they liked to play at the park together. I took a deep breath and let out a big sigh. What of parental supervision? What of a desire to keep your kids safe and to monitor them so no one brings them harm? What of a special needs situation that calls for more respect than this? As trusting as this boy was, harm could easily come his way. He’d likely run over to help the stranger, looking for his “dog.” Or to accept candy from the man in the white van with tinted windows – no license plate. You get my point. These thoughts ran through my head with force.
What followed? I am ashamed to admit.
The voice of a few people I’ve talked with over the years: “Wouldn’t it be better if kids like that just did not exist?”
I thought about how the people who ask such questions are usually doing so because they care. Not because they don’t. They worry so much for the children who suffer, or face neglect, that they can’t stand the pain.
Do you know what I think, though, when it all boils down? I think people like that are, in fact, a bit self centered. I think that when I, myself, have had those very thoughts, I needed to be called out. I needed someone to lay it on the line for me and say, “Shara. You say that because YOU can’t handle the situation. Not because THEY can’t.”
So now what?
As these thoughts raced through my head I had to take a step back and consider the implication of the “better off” philosophy. Who is better off without the kids that roam and fend for themselves? Us? Or them? Are we REALLY better off? Would the world REALLY be better off if high need children did not exist?
- Less taxes spent?
- Less stress?
- Less worry?
- Less maintenance?
- Less need for government to be involved in lives?
- Less poverty?
As I monitored this boy last night it really became quite clear to me that he, himself, did not see his own shortcomings. He was astonishingly vibrant, happy, cheerful and eager to help. Clearly poor – by way of clothing, dental care and so on. But happy. A pure joy to be around, in fact. The other children gravitated toward him like a force of nature: “Come play! Come back! Be on my team!”
When it was time for pizza, he hung back. The kids he had been babysitting had already run home. He remained with our group but stepped away, looking at the ground. I said, “Hey! Don’t you want pizza?” His face lit up and he ran over to me. He offered to help me set the table. No other kid offered that. Only him. He helped me put the table cloth down, open the boxes, get the plates out, pass the pizza around to the other children, etc. He also helped me clean up. I asked about his home life. Nothing grand to speak of. He had other siblings, spread out, but not living with him. His parents let him wonder about, not much caring if he came or went. He was told to babysit the neighbor kids – NO PAY. A child, who by all rights, should have someone taking care of him, was put in charge of the welfare of other kids, with no monetary reward offered.
A tear fell. I mourned for him in my heart. For what he ought to have. What every child ought to have. A loving, caring, safe home – where each child is told they are valued, loved and needed. Where their gifts and talents are fostered and their futures planned with passion.
When it was time for a group photo I told all of the kids to sit on the picnic table and huddle together. Our new friend mumbled, “You don’t want me in the photo, I’m sure.” I replied, “Are you kidding? It wouldn’t be a photo without you!” He ran over and jumped up on the table and smooshed together with the other kids.
At the end of the party I asked if he would like to take some food home – for himself and for his parents. He quickly grabbed a few bags of chips and waved goodbye with a big smile on his face.
It’s hard for someone like me, who really believes that every beating heart matters – to see children going ‘without.’ Without the nurturing that to me, is just a natural and normal requirement applied to the privilege of parenthood. It would make me feel much better if the world was filled with children who did get what they need. Where everything is bright and cheerful, safe and loving and every child is wanted, valued, needed and blessed with parents who care.
But maybe when it comes right down to it, the world would lose something if children like him did not exist. For we cannot see the value of good without contemplating the bad.
We cannot learn to better our situations without having something changeable to compare.
We cannot learn to love without opening our hearts to those who really need it.
We cannot learn to take care of others if others never need us.
We cannot value our own children more without seeing the missing puzzle piece in other lives.
What we can do is vow to open our hearts to those who are placed in our paths to help. Whether it be for a 3 hour birthday party, 6 months, 10 years or for a lifetime. Little by little, we can learn from one another and take what we learn and turn that into a teaching lesson. Until more and more parents begin to see the value of what they have been given. For really, parenting is a gift. Not a right. And if we model that enough, perhaps it will trickle through – like a river running from home to home, town after town, city after city, state by state, country to country. One life at a time.
I plan to view my journey this way and I hope you will join me.