Children in Name Only

What about those who don't have a childhood worth remembering?
July 01, 2009

That's pretty much the whole reason we come to this site, right?

We come to look at, listen to, watch and read things that remind us of what we remember as "better days." We come to be titillated by cool pictures that remind us of birthday parties past or Christmas mornings or any number of events in our wonderful youthful days.

If you're like me, looking at the things on this site isn't really about the things themselves. For example, I don't really watch an episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the storyline. I watch it because I remember the first day I saw that episode and how I went outside afterward, grabbed a stick and pretended I was Leonardo, dispatching deadly Foot soldiers with each slice of my blade.

And from there I go on to remember how those were days where I really didn't have to worry about where the food was coming from. I wasn't concerned with whether or not the lights would come on or if a tow truck might show up to haul off my car.

The only thing on my mind was what I was going to play with next and who was going to play with me.

But what if childhood hadn't been like that?

What if childhood had been all about wondering if Daddy was going to get drunk that night and beat Mommy? What if I had been abused, or even neglected? What if I would've grown up to see my childhood as a dark time in life, one that I'd never desire to live again?

Frankly, I'm overwhelmed at how blessed my life has been. I marvel everyday how I've been able to make a great living for myself using the written word, work on my own terms, get paid doing something I love, and travel the globe to teach it to other people. I attribute a lot of this to having a good childhood foundation, two loving parents, and a nurturing family.

Volunteering with troubled children, in my mind, is what I'm morally obligated to give back in exchange for all these blessings. I try to make it a priority in my life, and I say this not as a form of self-aggrandizement, but in the hopes that some of you will do the same.

I spent today with kids who don't have a childhood worth remembering. I can't get into specifics about each one because I owe them their confidentiality. All of them were victims of child abuse and neglect. Some were obviously damaged, some not so much. But once I got to know each of them, I could feel the hurt deep within their tiny souls. I could tell that they don't think about things like watching the next Spongebob Squarepants or what toy they'll get next. They think more along the lines of "when is Mommy getting out of jail" or "why did Daddy overdose?" They think things that kids should never even be aware of.

One of the children I spent time with simply broke my heart. I'm sure you've all heard stories about children who were unwanted and locked in basements, fed only enough to survive and never touched. That would be this kid. At nearly 10, he doesn't have any memories of his favorite cartoons. He was neglected, so much so that "neglected" seems an insufficient word to describe the abandonment foisted upon this innocent soul. Unloved. Untouched. Untaught. He didn't even get to pick up the simple things that infants and toddlers learn just by being around their parents, like walking or talking. He can barely do either. He's not retarded; he's just never been raised or loved.
But when I tried to do something for him, all I got was a stern "NO!" because, darn it, he was going to do it himself. I still struggle with belief that a child who is so handicapped could have that sort of resolve. Would any of us have that sort of strength? Would any of us possess that sort of moxy? Most of us, I believe, would give up and just die. But not this kid. He's a fighter.

I also spent part of the day with a young girl whose father had recently died from a drug overdose. Our trip for the day was an amusement park, but she did not want to go. At the age of 8, she could not understand why her father was not with them. She couldn't fathom why she couldn't go home to him. Never have I felt so powerless as I did in trying to comfort this crying child. What do you say to a kid in a moment like that? Is there truly anything that wouldn't sound pedantic or just plain silly? What do you do when there's nothing you can do but sit there with her, allowing her to cry, putting your arms around her just so she'll know that someone --ANYONE--is there?

There are more heart-wrenching anecdotes I could share with you about our outing today, but I won't go into them. Some are just too personal, and frankly, I'm misting up just thinking about them. I don't want to glurge too much here.

I don't know who got more out of the day--me or the kids. I'm still unsure which. I know that I'm glad that for one day, for a brief moment, I could help these kids be just that: kids. I hope that maybe someday when they look back on their childhood, they'll remember that one day when they were free from their burdens and able to just be a child. I like to believe I'm helping them create memories that they'll cling to later on in life.

And then again, I'm becoming a better person too, because now I am able to pinpoint an exact day in my life when my every effort was to help a child. Frankly, I could stand to spend more hours that make my job seem irrelevant, forgetting the silly things like posting about some long-forgotten toy on a goofy retro site, and remembering who I really am and what my gifts are meant for.

In any case, as I arrived home tonight, I received two pieces of terrible news. One of my former roommates had a heart attack. At thirty. THIRTY. People my age are not supposed to experience these things. And then I got word that one of my secret crushes, a dear, sweet and beautiful soul that I knew during high school had passed away. Like me, she was in her 30s. She was my age. People my age are not supposed to die.

And then I thought back to the time I spent with the kids today, and I said a prayer of thanks that I had the childhood I was blessed with, and I was also thankful that I had chosen to spend my day the way I did. Careers can end anytime. Lives can be cut short. What matters, indeed, is what you do with them. If I die young like my friends, I hope that people who remember me can say that I did something to help others have the childhood they need and deserve.

There won't be many pictures with this article. There won't be cute things. Just me, love me or hate me, and many of you do dislike me and my blunt opinions. But putting all that aside, I stand here asking you as you re-live your childhoods here on this site, please take a moment to remember those children who won't have that blessing in years to come, who don't have toys that they could reminisce fondly over, and who have greater issues than pop culture or nostalgia could ever surmount.

Remember them for a moment.

And if you get an opportunity, do something to help them. An organization in your area needs your time and support.

Share childhood.

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