Sunday, February 3, 2008

Reflections on Child Abuse, John McCain and Watermelon

Shame is the apprehension of a vision
Reflected from the surface of opinion--
The opinion of the public.
The Frogs


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

This morning I'm wondering about Senator John McCain and his five years as a prisoner of war.

Five years of physical, emotional, psychological, environmental deprivation, abuse and neglect… even torture... are significant experiences for any person.

Changes that result from such experiences may not be obvious to others. However, small things may be big clues to deeper gaps in what might be considered pressumed knowledge, shared perceptions, assumed connections, expected reactions, and so forth.

For example, when John McCain is caught not knowing something considered common knowledge, such as long gas lines and alternate days, he laughs. He reminds us that he was living a different reality then, as a POW, not sharing in ours in the USA. Without too much effort on our part we understand what he doesn't say. We see the bigger picture even without all the details. We accept the differences that have to be.

Abused and neglected children frequently lack common knowledge for much the same reasons. They, too, live in a different reality. They, too, lack opportunities, exposures, materials, tools and products necessary for learning about the world in which they live. Recently a few experiences raised my awareness of how extensive that lack may be. I wondered just how such missing bits of knowledge, otherwise considered "common," to the majority might skew developmental and other kinds of tests given to abused and neglected children.

Consider a watermelon, a sweet potato, and a pair of scissors. Common enough things by most standards. While discussing children's adjustment to recently moving in with her, the foster mom mentioned how amazing it had been to watch the 4 children (ages 5-10) when she brought home a watermelon.

"What's that? We never had it," they told her. She thought they were kidding.

The children's emotional responses ranged from laughing disbelief…"Are we really going to eat that?"…to faces contorted with disgust…"Yuk, that looks like blood and guts"…to determined grimaces… "No way I'm going to eat that"…to grinning amazement…"Wow, this is really good"… to finally, a bright-eyed eureka moment…"Hey! I've had this stuff! I didn't know it was watermelon!"

The foster mom, convinced it was a new experience after all, asked me how that could be.

I thought about a single Mom, with the kids in tow, walking to the store . She has no car. Public transportation isn't available. Small town grocery stores aren't likely to use space for cut up watermelon. Food stamps limit what to buy. Buying a watermelon and lugging it over a mile just wasn't a likely scenario.

Mom, peppered by too many questions as she shopped for too much with too little, ignored most of them. The home environment lacked books and magazines where children might have seen a picture. The television they watched included MTV and other age-inappropriate shows and movies that probably don't include a lot of watermelon preparation. The children didn't go to extended family gatherings where watermelon might have been served as a summer treat. Neighbors lived the same environmentally deprived lifestyle. Very possibly the children never experienced cutting up a watermelon or connected that big hard green thing to the pieces of red stuff they might have had in school.

Which brings me to the 13 year old friend who crinkled her nose at baked fresh sweet potatoes. "What's that? We don't eat them at my house!"

"You kidding? You mean that's the same stuff we get in cans from the food pantry? Doesn't look the same. We don't eat that either."

"Okay, I'll try it. But just one little bite!"

She ate the two baked sweet potatoes…

hers and mine…

then asked for more.

Three 11 year olds worked on a craft project with me. They couldn't cut with scissors any more efficiently than average five and six year olds. At first I thought they were kidding me. I watched them struggle, then quit, then begin clowning around. Once children fear ridicule, shame sets in and acting out begins. Clowning around hides a lot more than a lack of basic skills resulting from environmental deprivation. No kidding.

A Mom visits, notices the scissors on the table. She scoops them up, then snaps at me. "I don't let my kids use scissors! We don't even have them in the house."

"Why not?"

"Because the kids don't know how to use them. They might cut themselves."

"How," I ask, "will they ever learn to use them if they can't use them?"

She shrugs. "I can't cut with scissors Hasn't been a problem for me." No kidding.

People joke about kids who fail everything in school…even art!…they laugh and ask, "who could possibly fail art?" John McCain lost much during his five years of abuse and neglect. Fortunately for him, he had already learned the basics.

And this picture?

Oh, that's just a photo of sunshine on a shadowed rock wall, reflected in crystal clear water.

No kidding.
Deprivation and Education
A Child is Waiting,
Take aware,
Nancy Lee

1 comment:

Megan Bayliss said...

Excellent, excellent post.
You have described the gaps beautifully.