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

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