Monday, December 31, 2007

Sibling rivalry? Think again...

Siblings will use physical violence
because they have learned it
from their parents or other adults...
one study found that 76% of the children
who were repeatedly abused by their parents
also abused their siblings

Can't help wondering...
what you're wondering about?

That's me. The oldest child of three, for a long time while we were growing up, I was the biggest, so I was the boss of them. At least that's how I saw it. We lived in a tarpaper shack in the woods, far from prying eyes where, even if any in those days, and too few now, had known would they have interfered in other people's business. Being the biggest meant being the one who beat up the rest of the family and got away with it. That was Dad.

Next biggest was Mom. But her Mother beat the living daylights and any spirit she was born with out of her early on. And Dad made sure she didn't find it again. So she didn't count. Me next. Dad did his best to beat it out of me, too, but as he always said, I was the meanest bitch ever born. He said I was born mean like my grandmother, only smarter, and got meaner every day after that. His favorite story proved that.

I was 33 months old, and my younger brother was 16 months old. It was Christmas. My brother wanted my new doll carriage. I wanted it, too. We pulled back and forth, but he was strong for a little guy. Dad said I figured out that if I let go at just the right time, the baby would fall back against the wood stove, get burnt so badly that he'd have the scar to remind him forever who was boss, and I'd get my way after all.

So by the time I was seven, he was five and a half, and our younger brother was four, I was big enough to be left in charge of them three evenings a week while Mom and Dad went to work. As the oldest, I was held responsible for anything that went wrong. I figured I had to beat the crap out of them to avoid a few extra beatings myself. All's fair… By then the boys were big enough to fight back big time, so it took more and more to remind them who was boss.

One evening the youngest and I were battling at the top of the stairs, when I took advantage of the moment and pushed him. No big deal. We'd all survived that much and more. But that time he didn't get up swinging. He didn't get up at all. I waited. Nothing. I told him to knock off the faking and get up. Nothing. I kicked him, expecting him to grab for my ankle. Nothing. I burst into tears then, cried out I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Please don't be dead. I love you. I didn't mean to hurt you.

I was on the floor beside him. He wasn't breathing. I hugged him, kissed him, promised I'd never hit him again if only he lived. He was so small, like my very own baby. I took care of him, fed him, protected him from our other brother and everyone else who tried to treat him mean. It was me who ran at Dad, kicking and punching, trying to make him stop kicking my brothers like footballs from one side of the room to the other.

Suddenly air exploded from his mouth. I was so happy! He was alive! Then he laughed hard, really hard. So I had to beat the crap out of him to teach him not to ever, no never, do that to me again.

Sibling abuse and neglect are seldom discussed in any serious way in the average family. Part of the reason for that neglect, is a tendency to assume kids will be kids and besides, how much damage can siblings do against one another anyway? More than you want to know.

Seeking to make a change?
What makes kids care?: Teaching gentleness in a violent world

Information about Sibling Violence:

Beyond rivalry, a Hidden World of Sibling Violence

Sibling Abuse

Sibling Conflicts: Roughhousing vs. Abuse

Selected Resources on Sibling Abuse: An Annotated Bibliography for Researchers, Educators and Consumers

Sibling Abuse Forum-Links

A Child is Waiting,
Take aware,
Nancy Lee

Any time is the best time for magic...

When I was a beggarly boy,
And lived in a cellar damp,
I had not a friend nor a toy,
But I had Alladdin's lamp.
James Russell Lowell

Can't help wondering... what you're wondering about on this New Year's Eve day?
I'm wondering about friends and old and new, of course, and among those a special treasured few. Galoshes is unique among my friends because she never, ever said "do we have to talk about child abuse, again?" Her name, Galoshes, is probably unique, too. At least I don't know many people tagged with it, who actually own it with delight.
The name comes from our time together at a residency for Vermont College in 1999. One icy morning in January I managed to fall down the stairs and tore my ankle up so badly that it took two years to fully heal. I was far from home (AZ), and mostly confined to bed, in a second floor room across the campus from any food source. The next morning, as I struggled to figure out what to do about that, or how long I could stretch my room's stash of junk food, I heard a weird sound in the otherwise silent hallway. Slop, flop, slosh, jingle, jangle, squish, slop, flop, slosh, jingle jangle, squish...on it came, then silence, followed by a timid knock on my door.
An angel appeared with food tray piled high, steaming hot coffee, and the sweetest smile I've ever seen. I'm not sure why she hadn't taken time to fasten the galoshes... wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't time to do that, bring me food and get to her class on time... but the angel in galoshes came bearing every meal after that and even slipped in between visits to be sure I was okay. Maybe Galoshes wasn't the only one who thought about me and my needs, but she was the only one who acted on her loving, caring impulse. Oh, sure some others stopped by to say the perfunctory, "let me know if you need anything," without much thought as to how I'd do that stuck in a room without a phone. And I should note that three days later, several instructors came by... but, you get the picture.
Well, this morning Galoshes sent an e-mail, which she has agreed to let me share with you. I have to say it seems that special quality Galoshes has (barely hinted at here!) of seeing a need and filling it, runs in her family. Wouldn't we all have a Happier New Year with a few more of us taking the time to do that little thing, now?

December 30, 2008
When I was a young mother, Erma Bombeck said something to the effect that, if she failed at the job of raising her kids, nothing else she did would count for anything. Her words have haunted me for over thirty years, but now I’m ready to let them go, because they seem to be based on the assumption that life is supposed to add up and make sense: Do this and you’ll get that.
Those of us on the autistic continuum are especially prone to trying to cram things into their proper places and make them stay there so we won’t have all these gray uncertainties swirling around in our heads. For us, change is public enemy number one. We want formulas with predictability we can count on. And yet... doesn’t each of us get up every morning with the hope that something magical will happen? Something that will defy the equations that hold us hostage, and allow us to do something like, oh, I don’t know, fly?
Almost invariably, when I was introduced to one of Stephen’s patients, I would hear, “You must be a very special person to be married to Dr. Adelman.” I managed to smile without saying, “How do you know that your doctor Adelman isn’t so special because he’s married to me?” But either way, an explanation was being offered for a human life. It’s so hard not to do it. We blame our parents, sometimes with good reason, for our neurotic tendencies, are shocked when kids with terrific parents become thugs, and marvel at kids with wretched beginnings who somehow rise above them. But in each case we’re reducing a human life to something like a recipe for biscuits. And yet, we don’t really, really and truly, want life to work out and be fair as much as we want it to mean something, something more than we can see or touch. Maybe that’s what Katherine Paterson meant when she was asked if you have to have a miserable childhood to be a writer: “No, but it helps.”
My sister, Becky, told me about something she did this Christmas that brought her great joy, and it’s one of the reasons I’m ready, finally, to let go of Erma Bombeck’s words.
A seven-year-old girl lives across the street from Becky. When Dillon was ten months old, Her mother, Neeley, was diagnosed with metastatic cancer and told she had three weeks to live. Seven years later, Dillon’s teachers have never seen her mother with a full head of hair and Neeley’s doctors have given her the label “chronic cancer patient.” Neeley spends one week out of every three puking up her socks from chemotherapy, but no moss grows under her feet during the other two weeks. She volunteers at Dillon’s school and is involved in numerous community activities. (One Sunday morning when I was tying plastic Easter eggs and baskets on the tree in Becky’s front yard, Neeley came over with chocoate eggs for the baskets. Only later did I learn she had been on her way to the airport for cancer surgery in another state.)
From birth, each day with Dillon was considered a gift by her parents and her grandparents, and Dillon cleaned up. By the time she was in kindergarten, she’d had so many gifts and specials and treats, a wrapped package held little excitement for her, and on more than one occasion, my sister told me it was no fun getting a gift for a spoiled brat.
Which, is why this story did such a number on me. A year ago, not long before Christmas, Becky saw Dillon scraping snow off the windows of her dad’s car. “Where are your gloves,” Becky asked.
“They got too small.”
A couple of days later, Becky happened to see a pair of pink-and-white-striped magic shrinking gloves on sale for $1.20. (Dillon’s favorite color is pink.) She bought them, wrapped them in red tissue paper, and left them in Dillon’s mailbox with a note: “Thought your hands couldn’t survive until Christmas. Love, S.C.”
Several days later, Dillon’s dad told Becky that Dillon had figured out the “S.C.” and had worn the gloves to bed that night.
Becky began looking for other things to leave from S.C., including a ceramic cookie jar in the shape of a Christmas tree. (“This better be full of cookies on Christmas eve.” ) A few days after Christmas, she found a marked-down ornament, a tiny pink tutu on a hanger. (“Found this in the bottom of my sleigh when I was cleaning it out. Thought you should have it. Love, S.C.”)
This year, not knowing where Dillon stood with Santa Claus, Becky thought he’d better show up again, so she left a $1.75 battery-operated candle. (“Put this in your window so I don’t miss you on Christmas eve. Love, S.C.”)
Becky sews things up in the time it takes most of us to brush our teeth, so when she found pink flannel with zoo animals all over it, she made a pillow case. (“All the animals in the zoo are jumping up and down for you. Love, S.C.”) Next came a glass snowman ornament from the Dollar Store (“Let it snow! Love, S.C.”) Then Piglet arrived, perched on top of a pen, a pink ostrich feather wrapped around his middle like a tutu. His tummy glowed when you pressed down with the pen. (“Thought you might want to write me a note.”) And what Dillon wrote to Santa was a thank you note.
A couple of times when Dillon was opening the red-tissue-wrapped surprises, her friend, Sadie, who had moved into the neighborhood that year, was there, watching. When Sadie saw the note with the battery-operated candle, Neeley saw her face droop, but she said, bravely, “It’s okay, Santa will find me.” That night Neeley delivered a battery-operated candle just like Dillon’s to Sadie’s mailbox with instructions from S.C. to put it out so he could find her.
When Becky was buying red-and-white candy-striped flannel to make her teenage son pajamas, the clerk cut only two instead of two-and-a-half yards, perfect for two pillowcases. But another girl had moved into the neighborhood not long after Sadie, so the red-tissue-paper wrapped pillowcases ended up in Sadie’s and Frankie’s mailboxes. (“May visions of candy canes dance in your heads. Love, S.C.”)
On Christmas eve, Becky went out to check, and in both Dillon’s and Sadie’s front windows, $1.75 battery-operated candles burned brightly.
This story happened because my sister saw beyond a spoiled brat to a little girl who could still be touched by magic. Whatever Dillon, or Sadie, or Frankie, or Becky’s kids, or mine, are like now, or twenty years from now, it can’t be summed up as a sign of success or failure on the part of their parents. Life is far richer than that, and far more mysterious. Which is why the surprises we leave in other mailboxes do matter. And why I feel lucky to have a little sister who sometimes goes by her initials, S.C. "

So my wish for the New Year is that we all remember this story when we encounter that situation with the brat who may be an abused kid acting out, or the abusive caretaker maybe also acting out, and everything in us just wants to get away and ignore it all. A little thing means a lot... a little thing left undone means nothing. Smile!
A Child is Waiting,
Take aware,
Nancy Lee

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The best place to thrive?

Home life as we understand it
is no more natural to us
than a cage is natural to a cockatoo.
George Bernard Shaw

Can't help wondering...what you're wondering about?

While I was out visiting around the net, I stopped to chat a bit at Imaginif...Child Protection was Serious Business. Nothing surprising about that as it remains a favorite site, frequently visited. I found myself getting carried away about child abuse and neglect...nothing surprising about that either?!...this time in terms of foster care, residential care, etc. and what environment is in the best interest of a child. I realized I'd gone far beyond Charmayne's focus, and even my usual comment lengths, so decided to return "home" to finish my wondering for now.

You might want to see Charmayne Paul's post, Residential and Specialized Care Models: Outcomes for Children in Out-of-Home Care, to put the following in the context that set my mind to wondering...

Hi Charmayne, Yes to young people participating in debates on foster care, residential facilities and such! I hope we "get it" soon, that children's perspectives are valid and more informed about many things we may never learn through artificially constructed research and longitudinal studies.

As I was reading your post and thinking about my personal opinion that high quality, residential facilities (fully staffed and supported with the best people for each position, of course!) could be the most viable solution, at this time, world-wide, for many of the ever increasing child abuse and neglect cases, as well as for the serious behavioral cases, a pop-up alerted me to the following e-mail that coincidentally is related to this discussion:
Orphaned Children Show Higher Intelligence And Fare Better In Foster Care Than In Institutions

However as interesting as I found it, I remain convinced that the residential alternative needs to be explored as an option since foster care is so abysmal in most cases, and privatized home visitation care (here in the USA) is proving to be another way for some to make money with a minimum of actual delivery of services.
Being an optimist in some case being a hope for the children of tomorrow, if not today...I can't help thinking about possibilities that combine some of the failings of society in order to promote other alternatives. For example, quality residential facilities that provide for the safety, health, education and general welfare of children, augmented by programs of some degree of stipend for "foster grandparents," or "foster families" committed to the development of long term relationships with a child or siblings, to provide the nuturance and stability that extended families can. I see them providing that element of time intensive "specialness" that can be lost in residential care, writing, phone calls, visits, taking child for holidays, etc. There are so many children needing loving relationships and so many able adults who do as well, but programs that try to fill that need here, like Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Foster Grandparents, etc. leave too much to be desired. And too much risk to the children because of insufficient oversight. Given a residential facility interactions between adult and child can be observed randomly...

Sorry! It occurs to me that I am getting carried away here as a comment so I'm returning to my blog where anyone interested can pick up any additional ramblings...

Seems like I have more passion for this idea than I realized and therefore need to do some research on the subject rather than rambling on in an apparently manic phase!

For starters, about the need for the debates globally, today's news contained the usual assortment of children abused, neglected, even murdered at home, in foster care, under DYFS supervision, and so forth:

Weld County probed in deaths of 7 year olds

More Florida children die from abuse

Charge dismissed in child death case

The Jakarta Post: Child abuse on the rise in RI: Commission

And the news also contained a variety of articles addressing failing systems, and alternative options such as:
Foster care numbers move upward in 'Lake of the Ozarks
Plans Goal: Less Foster Care
Missouri needs to bolster services to poor children

Obviously the idea of residential care as an alterantive for abused and neglected children, of all ages and circumstances covers more territory than I realized, and deserves some serious attention. At it's base, the concepts of home and family must be explored. Are the best of both what we have declared them to be, or like any other social constructs are they subject to change...perhaps for the better? Can the ideal home and family considered so important as a determinant of the environment in the best interests of a child be something yet unknown, yet to be constructed? So, as I gather more information, I'll be adding to this idea in the days to come. Please jump in with any of your thoughts or sources of information!

A Child is Waiting,
Take aware,
Nancy Lee

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Patti-cake, where are you?

By 4 years of age, average
children are well within the period
when they are attempting to sort out
their own concepts of sexuality.
Cynthia Rosson-Tower
Understanding Child Abuse and Neglect

Can't help wondering...what you're wondering about today?
By now, you know I'm wondering about child abuse and neglect in one form or another!

Child abuse and neglect appear at times and in places not always noticed without the intention to be aware and take care of what the children around us are experiencing. One instance is the neglect of the needs of those very young children who feel themselves attracted to other children of the same gender.

While many giggling little girls are trying to hug and kiss little boys and vice versa, with the behaviors generally accepted, even encouraged, and always made light of by most of the adults around them, some children are having a different experience. Attracted to other children of the same gender they experience disapproval, and too frequently are ridiculed and humiliated. Often they are the brunt of verbal and physical abuses they are too young to even understand. All they know is that in some way they are treated differently, that something about them is not okay. Discrimination, disenfranchisement, and marginalization are difficult for any one at any age, and under any circumstances. For young children they can be traumatic.

My friend, (because the world is still populated with too many ignorant and undereducated people, I'll call her Patti-cake) brought this problem to my attention when she shared her own experiences of pain and confusion over her attraction to other little girls in Kindergarten and beyond. She didn't have any reason to even wonder about why she wanted to kiss and hug little girls while most of the other little girls wanted to chase the little boys. She was simply being a child, doing what came naturally to her. But those around her soon began the campaign to shame her and change her behaviors to suit the expected norm of the day.

A middle-aged woman now, with a long-standing loving and monogamous relationship with her female partner, Patti-cake still carries the scars of the intensity of her earliest experiences. Knowing of my desire to write for abused and neglected children, she asked me to try writing one to help children going through what she did with no real support. I tried to convince her that she should write it, or at least collaborate with me. Neither idea worked for her at the time.

I felt then, as I do now, that sensitive issues concerning young children in particular need to be written about by those who have shared the experience. I believe that only they can serve as mediators between "insiders and outsiders" of an issue because of the lack of language skills and knowledge available to the young children to communicate to others at the time of their traumatic experiences and process for later recall for whatever reason. They can bridge that gap by re-experiencing the early feelings and translating them into language to then reach out to young children struggling with sensitive issues in need of acceptance and understanding of themselves and their feelings as normal, now.

Over a decade has passed since Patti-cake asked me to write a book for young gay and lesbian children. I wish I could say someone stepped in and filled the need she identified. Unfortunately, although there have been many more picture books for children with gay and lesbian parents, and many more books for gay and lesbian teens, a careful search has not located even one of the books that Patti-cake asked for.

The back matter for "Heather has Two Mommies," by Leslea Newman and Diana Souza, asks "how can you presume there are no children in your classroom or library with lesbian or gay parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, neighbors, and friends…." Now, I think its time to ask "how can you presume there are no children in your classroom or library…" no matter how young, who are lesbian or gay, and already physically and emotionally attracted to same sex friends and being overwhelmed by the experience? Patti-cake where are you?

For those interested in related books on children and gay relationships:

Beyond Heather Has Two Mommies: Picture Books w/ Gay Parents: An Amazon Listmania by Rainbowheart

Growing up Gay: An Amazon Listmania by Luna Eclipse,"Changeling"

A Child is Waiting,
Take aware,
Nancy Lee

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Peace on Earth, but 'til then...

God rest you, merry Innocents,
While innocence endures.
A sweeter Christmas than we to ours
May you bequeath to yours.

Ogden Nash
A Carol for Children

Can't help wondering...
what you're wondering about this Christmas morning?

Here there are no gifts beneath a tree. No presents yet to find. There is no music in the air, no ringing of church bells nearby, not even a ringing of the phone to break the silence of this day. There will be no knocks upon my door. No friends or family come to say, Merry Christmas! their voices filled with tidings of good cheer. Yet I am blessed to have this day of peace, the only gift I ever asked for as a child, and ever more throughout the years, is finally mine. I wish it were mine to give to millions who still wish it so each year.

Last night and today there will be no drunken brawls, no children smashed against the walls, no animals kicked out the door, no fussing, no cussing, no mussing, no tears, no screams, no black and blue bruises. My arm won't be twisted behind my back, my face will not sting from an unexpected slap. My throat will not choke back the fears or blank eyes hide the torments within. No escape. Words echo from the past, It's a holiday, dear. You need to stay here with your family, and you better behave, you hear?

They're gone now, most are dead. Alone at home now, in my Christmas solitude I breathe free, know I'm safe, dare to remember other years, when it was not always so. I have only one wish now. If it could be mine to give, millions more would be like me this morning. Alone on Christmas, if being otherwise means fear and pain and loneliness so deep it can only be relieved while alone. Or with friends and family, if being together means Peace and a Merry Christmas for all.

Of course I'm wondering as always this morning about the children. Some children had trouble sleeping last night, awake with excitement waiting for Santa to come, wondering how many gifts they would find waiting in the morning. Other wee ones had trouble sleeping, awake with anxiety wondering if they had been good enough for Santa to come, or if it would be like last year, with no visit, not even so much as a lump of coal to say at least they were worth a visit, it not any gifts. Millions of others had trouble sleeping, awake with anxiety wondering when, or even if, raging, high or drunken parents would come home.

For one reason or another, most children and parents are tired and stressed on Christmas Day. Hidden disappointments, some big, others small, seem to abound for all on this holiday. There's been too little or too much of everything, and the day holds more and less before it's over. Add a few tired friends and parents also struggling under the weight of their own Christmases past and you have the makings of another unforgettable Christmas. All children deserve better. All people deserve better. We all deserve Peace on Earth, but 'til then...

A Child is Waiting,
Take aware,
Nancy Lee

Sunday, December 23, 2007

And to all children, a good night...

The little children who grieve on Christmas Day
Are not in huts and hovels a thuosand miles away-
They are so near they hear us,
Our laughter and our song,
And all the joys we have to-day
serve to make great the wrong.
Wilbur Dick Nesbit
The Unseen Tragedy
Can't help wondering...what you're wondering about? I'm wondering about Christmas.
Oh not the usual stuff about loving it because it's so special, or hating it because it's too commercial, or any of the other emotions disguised as reasons and hung on it like so many gaudy baubles on a dying tree. I wonder about the frantic activities that lead to the sought for perfect day that ends with more people than not, breathing a sigh of relief as they whisper, "and to all…good night." Their "Thank God that's over for another year!" may be the only reference all season to even come close to the real reason for the season. Most of all I'm wondering why this season to celebrate love is used as an excuse for more child abuse and neglect than occurs at any other time of the year.

I wonder if the Christmas season is the first real survival show any of us ever experienced… first hand, up front and very, very personal, long before we had any idea what all the fuss was supposed to be about? There's lots of heart-wrenching anguish for many wee ones when they endure that first, second even third, trip to Santa's lap. And does Mom or Dad protect the hysterical babe begging for their mercy? No way… they're the ones laughing and forcing the terrified babe on the dirty old coot's lap. Dirty? You smell one of those costumes lately? Or the person in it after a few hours under hot lights? After a few times getting the kid used to sitting on the stranger's lap, accepting his candy and hugs, and even learning to kind of smile in spite of a natural inclination toward the self preservation of an intuitive fear of strangers, the kid goes to pre-school and goes through the stranger-danger program to teach him or her to stay away from strangers. Wonder how the kids deal with that dichotomy? When we know consistency is so important in healthy child development, this seems like some serious psychological abuse.

There's lots of frustration during the season for giving for the wee ones as more and more don't-touch-that tempting stuff accumulates around them. Talk about developing patience and accepting delayed gratification as positive inducements for being nice in the presence of unmitigated enticement to be naughty! There isn't even any escape in going out to the stores where the shopping baskets they ride in are piled high with more goodies they can't touch, can't have, can't even hope for after a while, when angry adult scream or hiss, "That's it…knock it off or you get nothing for Christmas." For many kids when the no's and timeouts don't work as incentives to be good, and the dubious threat, "or else Santa won't come in the dark while you’re sleeping," fails to elicit the desired behaviors, the slapped hands and spankings begin. After a couple of weeks of wanting to touch, but being seriously reprimanded for that natural desire, most kids get it just in time to get up one morning to piles of stuff being pushed at them to touch! Wonder why those Christmas morning pictures of kids opening presents show so many looks of suspicion and confusion? Emotional abuse does that, sometimes.

There's lots of neglect going on during the Christmas season, too. Ever notice the tear stained faces of tykes in the shopping carts, their little cheeks imprinted with pressure marks from laying on the cart handle for a much-needed nap? Or the ones being dragged along the mall, little legs struggling to keep up with adult strides, just begging to go home to bed because they are so tired? Or the ones throwing fits for something to eat because it's hours after their tiny tummies had anything more lasting than a quick fix cookie or candy or soda to keep them quiet? Notice the kid being called a brat…the one who is wiggling and screaming about needing to go to the bathroom…being told he can wait, when it's obvious he can't? Or the one being dragged out of the store because it's just as obvious she couldn't? There's other neglect going on, too. Babes left alone locked in cars…just for a minute, of course. And others left home alone with siblings not even old enough to look out for themselves?

The list goes on when you stop and notice all the effects for children that occur because of the incredible demands of the season's major celebration, one that is so often claimed to be for and about the children. Given a choice, knowing the outcomes, would children ever make the choices adults make for them? It takes a lot of effort and energy on the part of adults to stimulate themselves and the children to participate in the preparations for that perfect Christmas. It takes even more effort and energy to simulate the illusion that there ever was or ever will be one that is perfect. Given a choice, the children just might choose that time, effort and energy be used in other ways.

These are some of the easier abuses and neglects to spot during the season. The more difficult ones to know about are far more damaging and more lasting because they happen out of sight. Domestic violence is at its highest during the holidays. Children huddle together behind decorated doors, cringe in corners piled high with gifts, and hide behind trees covered with twinkling lights. They feel desperately alone, terrified as the screaming escalates, tortured by the fear that somebody is about to get hurt, never knowing if it will be someone they love, or if it will be them, if it will end with nothing worse than fear and pain for all of them, or lead to injuries requiring hospitalization for the victim and lies by the others to protect the perpetrator.

Millions of children spend a sleepless Christmas eve, laying in the dark listening for any sound that means danger is imminent because someone is stressed to a breaking point, overly tired, in a blind rage, drunk, high, mentally unstable, or anything else that leads them to lose control. Christmas isn't on the minds of those children. Violence is. Fear is. Survival is.
But just as most children eventually begin to believe that Santa is okay, and look forward to his appearance year after year, the children abused and neglected as part of their early Christmases forget the reality and remember instead the illusions they learned along the way.

And so the cycle continues…

Look Ma! I'm not afraid of him anymore!

A Child is Waiting,
Take aware,
Nancy Lee

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Words left unspoken may hurt, too...

Great opportunities to help others seldom come,
but small ones surround us every day.
- Sally Koch

Can't help wondering...what you're wondering about, today? A request from Megan at Imaginif... to post a comment I left at Cerebral Mum , so she, Megan, can share it with others, left me wondering about how we never know what words or actions we drop somewhere in passing may be noticed...may even make a positive difference for someone?

How many times have you wanted to say something, then thought it silly to say, so left words unspoken that someone might have wanted to hear? I can't count the times I've done that. As, unfortunately, I can't count the times I've said something that would have been better left unsaid. So here are the words I left in passing, yesterday.


What can I add to the comments already posted, when they say so many of the things I’d say? You are so beautiful in your honesty and determination to give so openly and freely. All of you.
This blogging community, and that includes you, Cerebral Mom… has given me something I never found in nearly 65 years of searching.

When I was a child I identified with the ugly duckling… but somehow every time I thought I’d found the swans with whom I belonged, there was still no happy ending.

I read voraciously as a child and adult, seeking a map or at least some direction to follow to lead me to that community where I’d be accepted as myself. Nothing more. That would be more than enough! And yet when I found this blogging community the result was so much more than I ever imagined that could be.

After a life time of wondering, crying, even screaming, Why don’t I fit in? Why doesn’t anyone understand me? What’s wrong with me that I can’t be like them, and belong?the answer comes at last.

The group of beautiful swans to which I’ve always belonged had no voice, no presence. We who were abused and neglected as children were invisible, individually and as a community, because the world of ducks convinced us we were too ugly to be seen.

Now they can’t keep us hidden. We see each other and say… WOW! Perhaps the ducks were blinded by so much beauty! Or maybe the ducks knew in their hearts, if they have any, that once we saw each other’s beauty, we would see our own, and once our own beauty was seen, we would also see how pathetic and ugly the ducks always were.

Now, through the honesty and determination to let others see us as we are…we’ve become so beautiful in our honesty and determination that we shine as beacons to the others still feeling lost and seeking their place to belong, to become, to be aware and to take care.

As an afterword...
I think ducks are beautiful, too!

And thank you for asking, Megan, although this is as good a time to say this as any... contrary to US Copywrite Laws, unless otherwise noted, my words are free for the taking...

A Child is Waiting,
Take aware,
Nancy Lee

Sunday, December 16, 2007

CASA's - Crazy About Kids

It can now be your choice to stop participating in
the oppressive nature of child abuse and to
reclaim your life, how YOU want it to be.
It can be your choice to take back the power
from the perpetrators and to
use your experience to help others.

Can't help wondering...what you're wondering about during this season of giving? We'll "Imaginif...Child Protection Became Serious Business" is having their Carnival Against Child Abuse Christmas 2007 Edition . I enjoy Megan's "stuff" so much that I decided to indulge myself today and just poke along through all the exciting blog postings there.

We'll, then I discovered Kate at Baby Lune is sponsoring a writing contest on a "favorite charity that acts against child abuse," so, of course I took time to write one while I was taking this "busman's day off" from reading and writing about child abuse! No hope for some of us, is there?

CASA's - Crazy About Kids

CASA's are volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocates for abused and neglected children. There aren't enough of them for many reasons, but here are a few:

CASA's have to care enough about children to be strong in the presence of the effects of abuse and neglect, and not give in to the luxury of venting their own anger and grief over the abominations committed against children, so often inflicted by their so-called caretakers.

CASA's have to care enough to enter homes where they aren't welcome, and sometimes would rather not be, ask personal questions that are resented, seek information about the home that people would rather never have known, sometimes risk physical danger, and all the while remain polite and attempt to establish a trust relationship with children and adults who often have no reason to trust anyone.

CASA's have to care enough to spend hours waiting around courtrooms to be there with and for the children for whom they advocate, only to have the case postponed so they can do it again. They have to make innumerable calls to attorneys and others who won't return calls, and are uncooperative when reached.

CASA's have to care enough to spend hours pouring over ill-kept records in unfriendly agencies, seeking information that can help a judge decide in the best interest of a child, rather than follow recommendations that may be carelessly suggested by over-worked child welfare staffers, or worse, may be profit or politically motivated.

CASA's have to show up at odd times and odd places to serve as advocates. They attend conferences at schools, joint-conferences at agencies, discussions in hospital rooms, clandestine meetings in dark cars on side streets, and anywhere else that might contribute an essential piece of information. Sometimes they even act as squatters for long hours, refusing to leave situations where danger to a child could be imminent without their continued presence.

CASA's have to do many things, like these and more not mentioned, to fulfill their legal commitment to serve the court. They do many more things to fulfill their heart-commitment to the children they serve. Many of those things you will never learn about because most CASA's do for children, not for recognition. Some things CASA's do take time, some money, some energy. CASA's volunteers donate it all, because they want to, not ever because they have to.

One other thing CASA's don't have to do, but the one thing all CASA's do, is care so much about abused and neglected children being protected from the worst sides of mankind that no matter what else they may have to do CASA's remain committed to finding and bringing out the best side of mankind in every one connected to the children for whom they advocate.

Courts can appoint many people from various professions to advocate for abused and neglected children. However, what can't be appointed is the part of every CASA volunteer that makes them truly a CASA. When all is said and done CASA'S are indeed Special.

So!…friends and family who read this will demand! So!… if CASA's are so special, if they are so needed, if they make such an important difference for abused and neglected children, and if, as you claim, you choose to devote yourself to children's welfare, WHY did you resign as a CASA?

The answer is simple. One reason I resigned is something everyone can do something about to keep other CASA's from resigning for the same reason. I am disabled and live on a below-poverty income. Gas and automobile expenses have skyrocketed in the past year. CASA's are on the go a lot. As is so often the case for organizations that depend on volunteers as workers, the CASA I belonged to cannot afford to reimburse volunteers for gas…or anything else besides some phone calls. In my experience, there isn't enough money in the world to hire someone to do what CASA's do…but there might be enough to at least keep them able to do it.

The other reason I resigned you may, or may not, be able to do anything about, but I will share the reason anyway. CASA's, as I've said and believe, are Special people. Perhaps I simply was not special enough. Perhaps the cause is otherwise. In any case, I wasn't special enough inside myself to stand strong against the continual onslaught of public and professional opinions proffered on every possible occasion that CASA's cause trouble for other agencies involved in children's welfare (they surely try!), that CASA's act like nothing else is as important as the best interests of the children (they surely do!), and that CASA's act like they know more about the children they represent than anyone else working for them does (that's true, too!) and that CASA's act like being a volunteer is as important a job as being paid to do whatever they do, and more valuable from the individual child's perspective. (Maybe?) Actually, I think CASA's ARE usually better on both counts.

PS: For Anyone interested in the pleasantly surprising results for the CASA article see:

Because Holidays are About Families over at Baby Lune.

And be sure to check out Gwendolyn Gross's book The Other Mother!

A Child is Waiting,
Take aware,
Nancy Lee

Thursday, December 6, 2007

So just what is child discipline? What is abuse?

Where punishment drifts into abuse is the issue
in the case of a father who hit his son 36 times.
Can't help wondering...what you're wondering about as Minnesota court stuggles to decide if hitting your son 36 times is abuse, and Massachusets goes to war over proposed new legislation that will make them the first state in the Union to totally outlaw corporal punishment for children? The battle may have begun in Massachusets but has now spread around the country. I suspect that before long it will reach global proportions. Even though many enlightened countries have actually already outlawed it, people continue to debate the issue. Since the best debates are usually based on at least a few facts and some knowledge, here is an example of both, from American Humane:

Child Discipline

What is discipline?
As part of their natural development, children sometimes challenge or test parental and adult expectations and authority. Sometimes, children simply choose to misbehave in order to gain something (e.g., attention, an object, power, peer approval). This is a significant part of the growth process of children, yet it should not be without consequence. Discipline is how children learn right from wrong, acceptable from unacceptable.

Parental or adult discipline of children should be designed to help children engage better with others and to modify or control their behavior. Providing appropriate discipline to children is one of the most essential responsibilities of a parent. And providing consistent and positive discipline helps children grow into responsible adults.

According to the Committee for Children (2004), the purpose of discipline is “to encourage moral, physical, and intellectual development and a sense of responsibility in children. Ultimately, older children will do the right thing, not because they fear external reprisal, but because they have internalized a standard initially presented by parents and other caretakers. In learning to rely on their own resources rather than their parents, children gain self-confidence and a positive self-image.”

What about the use of physical discipline?American Humane, as a policy, opposes the use of physical discipline on children at home, in the community, or in school. In two national surveys, Murray A. Straus, co-director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, found that 90% of parents of three- and four-year-olds had struck their children and that 22% of parents of children under one year of age had also hit their children. The second study in 1997 found that 44% of mothers reported spanking their children during the previous week, and reported spanking their children approximately twice a week (Straus, Sugarman, & Giles-Sims, 1997).

How does physical discipline affect children?
Children in the 1997 study whose parents used corporal punishment to reduce anti-social behavior actually experienced the opposite from their children in the long run – an increased probability of aggression and other antisocial behavior. Disciplining children by spanking does not facilitate learning. Instead, it may halt the unwanted behavior only while the child is in the adult’s presence, or it may scare a child into submission. While it may teach a child what not to do, it fails to teach a child what is expected of him or her and what is an alternate behavior.
Additionally, physical discipline is most often used when the parent is frustrated or without other resource. Spanking in these circumstances may lead to an unintentional injury or more serious abuse. The following illustrate more of what physical discipline does:

• Increases anxiety and fear
• Hinders the development of empathy and compassion for others
• Makes children angry in response
• Heightens aggression toward others
• Decreases compliance and increases resistance
• Harms relationship with parent or caregiver
• Potentially causes unintended and severe physical injury
• Decreases self-esteem
• Increases the probability for an array of undesirable social and psychological behaviors
• Teaches that violence is an acceptable way to handle conflict.

How can I discipline positively?
American Humane encourages parents and other caregivers to use techniques that constitute a positive and appropriate discipline of children, such as:

• Discipline with love
• Listen and communicate
• Focus on the behavior, not the child
• Respond immediately
• Relate the discipline to the offending behavior in duration and severity
• Be realistic
• Remain calm
• Be fair
• Do not harm or injure
• Set boundaries
• Make it a learning opportunity
• Be consistent
• Be creative

© 2004. This American Humane Fact Sheet may be reproduced and distributed with appropriate citation given to American Humane.

A Child is Waiting,
Take aware,
Nancy Lee