Thursday, June 25, 2009

Just Can't Sugar-Coat Child Abuse

There is a moment of difficulty and danger at which
Flattery and falsehood can no longer deceive,
And simplicitiy itself can no longer be misled.

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

I'm wondering about sugar-coated worlds and the inequities of life.
The Duck and his siblings stopped by the neighbor's today. “Hey, how are you!” he yelled across the driveway that separated us, when he saw me sitting on the porch.
Big, friendly grin as usual. Everybody likes the Duck. You really can’t help it. He’s just that kind of guy…mostly.

“I didn’t waste no time on that fat-f-ing bitch this month. She can get somebody else to kiss her fat-f-ing ass, keep her fat-f-ing food. Who needs it anyway-stale rotten shit nobody else wants anyway-g-damned f-ing rip-off anyway.”

Contrary to what the language might suggest The Duck is the smartest in his family. He often says, with obvious beaming pride, “My Mom always said she didn’t raise no stupid a-holes.” And although eventually they lost the court case on the condemnation of the family home, after it was found to house 42 dogs chained to the walls and ceilings, adults, children and animals all living without water or electricity, amid deep layers of feces and urine everywhere, it was The Duck who appeared before the judge to refuse a public defender, completed all the necessary paperwork, presented their case to the court, spoke briefly on camera …and did it all without a verbal meltdown.

His brother, Grub, usually along as silent, sulking driver of the car The Duck managed to procure from the system in order to get to the job he quit after getting the car, mumbles, as I approach the car with bags of bakery goods from my morning stint at the pantry,
“All mother-f-ing crooks down there.”

The Duck snarls, “Shut up stupid a-hole. She works there but you don’t have to talk to her that way,” then flashes another charming grin my way.

That sets off the Grub even more. “You can’t tell me there’s any g-damned reason why one person gets as much food as a family of five. Bastards just gotta screw anybody any way they can. Should be fair-everybody gets something or nobody gets nothing-ain’t nothing ever f-ing fair around here.”

I make a mistake, a really big mistake and try to reason, attempt to explain, “Listen, you know we’re volunteers doing the best we can to get food to people who need it. There’s no way we can break the food down and distribute it on an individual basis…”

The rant turns instantly to full-volume rage as Grub sets out to educate me and set my mother f-ing stupid head straight. “It’s f-ing easy. Any stupid a-hole can rip open a package of hotdogs; put one in the bag for the family of one, and five in the bag for the family of five.”

As Grub’s tirade went on longer than that, his language more colorful than that,
I stared at the dirt encrusted, nail bitten hands choking the steering wheel glad they couldn’t reach me, and focused on listening. Not much else I could do.

When he took a break, without thinking, I yelled right back at him. “Knock it off Grub…I’m not here to listen to you scream at me. Take it somewhere else.”

Then I turned to slowly walk away, breathing deeply, listening for any sound to indicate the car door might open behind me. Not much else I could do.

Nothing but silence followed as I forced myself to walk slowly, softly-without any big stick, but momentarily wishing I had one- to my place. A long walk across a short distance.

“Thank You God,” I said, humbly and with even more gratitude than usual, as I slipped inside, quietly closed and locked the door behind me. Not much else I could do.

Everyone for towns around knows the family. “Sweetest kids you’d ever want to meet, they were. Nice manners, too” they’ll all tell you. “The Mom quiet as a mouse she was. The Dad always drunk and yelling but hell you can’t blame the kids for that. Kept to themselves mostly. But the kids… the kids just as sweet as could be. And that one…he was always smiling, always so helpful, always looking after the other kids. Still is, I hear.”

And that’s so true. The Duck is always smiling, always helpful, always the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet. Except, of course, when he isn’t. Which is usually when he’s drunk but sometimes just when he’s had enough and doesn’t care to put on the show anymore.

And there’s the kids. The newest batch of them… sweetest kids you’ll ever meet. Which, of course, is why they were here. The neighbor, knowing they hadn’t come to the pantry this morning, knowing the kids would be thrilled to get the sweet treats, called them to come get the bakery goods along with other goods we scrounged together for them.

It really was crazy at the pantry this morning. We had enough ooey-gooey finger-licking baked goods and boxes of giant frosted sugar bakery cookies to bury the town in, or at least give it a sugar high for a week. Wondered why? Maybe it’s the recession? People not buying like they did, but supermarkets not adjusting to the new reality so having inordinate amounts of baked goods to waste or donate?

Whatever the reason, makes no difference- it was crazy this morning…no other word for it. Everyone received two full bags of the donuts-four boxes of the giant cookies-and a cake or other large bakery item…every household that is…no matter whether one member or five. No doubt Grub would have wanted us to divide them more equitably-make sure every one got his or her fair share, instead of making some call around town looking for those who didn’t get any to come take them off their hands.

Crazy-all crazy- as ignoring abused and neglected kids and not knowing the shadow cast over them lasts a lifetime, is crazy. Crazy –all crazy- as crazy as acting like those little ones so often smelling of urine and feces, with dirt encrusted nail-bitten, finger chewed hands, dried mucus smeared across smiling up-turned trusting faces, lots of dull matted hair but little shining hope will somehow grow up and see a world as ever fair? A world where everyone gets his or her fair share? And no one ever has no other choice than just to grin and do whatever it takes to bear the pain.

A Child is Waiting,
Take aware,
Nancy Lee

Sunday, June 21, 2009

For Some, Every Day is Father's Day: Love Among the Ruins of Child Abuse

What silences we keep year after year
With those who are most near to us
And dear...
...Who knows the thoughts of a child?
Nora Perry

I'm wondering...what you are wondering about those who celebrate fathers and love.

In my neighborhood there are two little girls excited to celebrate Father’s Day. They chatter happily about the cards and gifts and special day they will have for him. No matter that their father screams, beats, neglects and curses them even as he threatens to kill anyone who tries to take them away from him. No matter that they crouch and cringe in fear when they aren’t running down the street yelling with joy, “Daddy’s home…Daddy’s home.”

No matter...for when he reaches for them their little faces crack like thin ice…fear splashes like cold water upon the warm flush of their hopeful faces as they struggle to read the signs with which they are so familiar. Will there be tussling bear hugs, sloppy kisses and affectionate tickles…or will his strong arm yank one close, big hand gripping hair as the other slaps the tiny upturned face. They know what goes on behind closed doors. He knows. Mother knows. Neighbors, teachers, doctors know.

The closed CPS records indicate “conflicted emotions” visible in children’s behaviors when father present, but no evidence of substantiated abuse exists. No matter…he is their father and they love him as only children can love a father.

Every day is father’s day in a home with an abusive father. Even now, 30 years after my own abusive father died, every day remains father’s day for not a day passes that something does not remind me of him. I’ve done the work, learned to forgive, to accept, to heal and to move on, but there is no forgetting. The shadows of abuse last a lifetime. The love and the hate that mingled in my child mind, as it mingles now in theirs, mingles still and always will, in the shadows at the back of my mind.

Ask me to reminisce about my father and I will tell you about a poor man who married his high school sweetheart, who proudly served his country in the Army Air Corp when I was born in 1943, who worked two menial jobs all his life, who cried as he waited to die for fear he’d lose the shack we called home, built with nails we helped pound straight enough to reuse on boards salvaged from a burned out torn down hotel, who taught us to ride bikes he built from rusty scraps, catch crabs to eat with nothing but a oft mended pole net and chicken wing on a knotted string, safely body surf in the ocean because there was no money to buy the canvas floats the other kids in town used. I will tell you of the fun of cooking hot dogs and melting marshmallows on a stick over the fire kettle in which we roasted aluminum foil wrapped potatoes buried in the coals as we burned the trash that didn’t go into the garbage pit. I will recall summers of laughing and running with him, catching fireflies in empty mayonnaise jars on summer nights too hot to sleep, pitching horseshoes around the railroad stake, playing badminton over the clothes line. In winter there were snowball fights, giant snowmen, and being pulled across town on a rickety sled held together with fraying rope to buy groceries at the little store that extended credit before credit cards became a way of life. There were hard times. There were good times. And I remember them all.

I remember the cursing, the screaming, and the ugly swollen red face as he swung the webbed Army belt he beat us with; the blunt force of the steel toed boots when he knocked us to the ground then kicked us around, the sharp sting of his hand across my face for any reason or none. I remember the hunger of the times with no food in the house for us but beer and pizza for them and their drunken friends after the bars closed. In the mornings my brothers and I picked cigarette butts ground in those pizza crusts so we could eat them on our way to school. There were times after walking home at lunchtime to find them still asleep and nothing to eat, we later returned after school even more hungry to find and fight over cold pork chop and steak bones left over from the meal they had eaten before they both left for work I remember too the cold…the god awful cold of the unheated shack in NJ winters, ice cold showers because we had no hot water heater, putting feet into frozen shoes in the morning.
All these things and more I remember that I wish I could forget. The sexual molestation of me and my friends by him and his friends. The horror of the time when a neighbor girl was raped and beaten so badly that although her body healed her mind never did, and the worst horror for me of thinking it was probably done by my father.

And always there was the mixture of love and hate, never to be resolved.

Even after wanting him to be the loving grandfather to my children, but having to grab him and threaten to kill him if he ever again laid a hand on my girls, even after I was married, after my mother died, and he grabbed me and forced me down on the bed, shoving his tongue in my mouth before I found the strength to fight him off as I’d never been able as a child…

...even then I got up, brushed myself off, and went on loving him. Went on loving him so that when word came that he had incurable cancer, I left my family to come and take care of him for the ten weeks of that dying.

And even then...and even then... I cried when he finally died.

And even now...and even now... every day I remember him, and sometimes still I cry.

A Child is Waiting,
Take aware,
Nancy Lee

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Voices Speak Out for Iranians Yearning to be Free: Same Voices for Victims of Child Abuse Remain Silent

Can't help wondering...what you're wondering about?
Today I watched with mixed emotions as members of congress stood, one after another, in a true spirit of bipartisan representation, to speak out for the people of Iran. The prose was eloquent on behalf of the human rights of people there “yearning to be free from oppression and violence.” The rhetoric was emotional and forceful as they insisted they stand for all Americans who stand for any who “yearn for a voice and a better future.”

“The world is watching-the world is inspired” cried one with the fervor of the devout. “Even though this is an internal matter we should not be silent-we should send the message that we are with the people,” insisted another. Americans, people of “character, compassion and commitment,” always “condemn violence and suppression.” We stand for “universal values.” We must not be silent in the presence of ruthless, oppressive, dangerous dictators and their puppets who “stand by silent and confused” in the face of their shameful actions. On and on their voices droned, until the allotted time for speeches was entirely exhausted.

My sadness increased as their impassioned speeches continued because even though I was glad for them to speak on behalf of the Iranian people, I remembered another day recently when I watched in abject horror as a resolution was brought forward and no one but the two representatives of the parties spoke at all. Even they spoke briefly, and then, because there were no other speakers, they returned the rest of the allotted 20 minutes.

That day there were not any eloquent speeches about human rights, nothing about watching worlds being inspired to speak out to protect millions of victims of violence, oppression and suppression, no condemnation of the millions of internal matters - the ruthless in-home dictators and silent confused puppets standing silent and confused in the face of epidemic levels of abuse and neglect of children in the United States of America.

No, on that day when the House Resolution to declare April, National Child Abuse Prevention Awareness month, only two of the 400+ members of the House of Representatives spoke at all. Where were they then, those representatives who could have raised their impassioned voices to Heaven with soaring rhetoric and utter determination on behalf of the 4-5 children tortured and killed daily in their own homes, the hundreds of thousands permanently disabled each year by abuse and neglect, the millions of victims reported and many more millions not reported?

When indeed will they end their silence and send the message that children are humans with certain inalienable rights, too? When will they stand for the children yearning for a voice and a better future? When will we be watching and inspired enough to really do something about child abuse?
Pence Introduces Iran Resolution
House Resolution
Expressing support for all Iranian citizens who struggle for
freedom, human rights, civil liberties, and the protection
of the rule of law.
HR337 National Child Abuse Prevention Month

A Child is Waiting,
Take aware,
Nancy Lee

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Survival of the Fittest is About Preservation- Child Abuse is Not

I have called this principal,
By which each slight variation,
If useful, is preserved,
By the term Natural Selection.
Charles Darwin

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

I'm wondering about abused and neglected children I've known. How are they? Did they make it to a safe place in life? What has become of them? About some, I know. About others I will probably never know. This much I know...sometimes I was there, like a shadow, protecting them for a little while in their journey.

And they still come like never ending streams flowing to the sea…and remind me of the pictures of the baby turtles fighting their way to the sea against all odds…no help…just each one for him or her self...alone among the masses. Most will not make it. Nature doesn’t seem to care. If enough are born, then enough will survive and carry on. Nature, it seems, asks no more.

This morning one comes through the cold rain, not yet awake, shivering, dressed inappropriately no doubt in clothes she slept in. The calendar says summer and so Sissy (9 going on 3) has dressed her self in summer clothes. She’s carrying a chicken patty that she eats like a starving person. I caution her to slow down so she doesn’t choke. Among other things she struggles with seizures. Soon her younger sister appears. Also cold, and she, too, is hungry. Since 11 of her abscessed teeth were recently surgically removed Boots (age 8) can’t eat much...certainly not frozen chicken patties. I cook her favorite…scrambled eggs…and give them both 100% juice.

They chatter about how cute the new baby down the block is. I met her several days ago…mottled with cold. She’s the first of this never-to-be wedded teen mother. Her neighbor, not yet 21 has 4 now. Thank you God! I thought when I learn she had her tubes tied with the latest one.

A young friend spent some time with me yesterday. Now nearly grown…at an age when I dread hearing from her, the words “I have something to tell you,” but not yet old enough to know the consequences of her choices says, “Guess what? My Mom wants to have another baby.”
I cringe and swallow. “OMG” I say…then ask “Why, Kats? Since she doesn’t take care of the rest of you?”

“Oh, she says she just loves babies soooooooo much…and can’t stand thinking about not having one around.” The youngest comes to mind…nearly 4, about to start Head Start, still nursing… few words to speak, but dark haunted eyes tell it all. Kats seems almost used to the nightly violence in their home, the visits by the police. Still, she tells me how she cries…not for herself, she reminds me, but for the little ones who can’t stop crying in their fear.

After school intervened over concerns about the possibility of suicide, Kats (14, abused, neglected and victim of sexual molestation by family members) received some therapy, but she no longer goes. ”Because,” she tells me, “Dad complained about the cost of gas, and Mom said it’s too much trouble to take me since she has to drag the ‘baby’ along.” “And you Kats,” I ask? “How are you doing, babe?”

“I’m fine,” Kats says, “You know I’m always fine.”

Now, with so little left to give, I give them all I can, these precious children that seek out those of us who do what we can, like the tiny abandoned turtles seek the sea. We, who can, offer some little bit of sanctuary from the violence, the weather, the fear that is their constant companion. We, who can, provide food from our own food-pantry-stocked pantries against the rules that say we cannot share. We scrounge clothes from free clothing pantries for who can afford thrift stores anymore now that those who had enough no longer do so and shop there? With increased business the prices have been raised beyond what we can pay. We give the children encouragement that sometimes seems like hollow lies even as we offer it. “Hang on babe-things will get better.” Really? Well, they need hope at least, don’t they?

Oh… and did I mention Love? We give them love along with everything else, and when there is nothing else? We give them Love.

Not much else we can do really when their needs are so great, but we help as we can. It isn’t the “Help” that comes from broken systems with assorted initials…CPS, DYS, DYFS, et al. It doesn’t matter what they are called from place to place around the world, they are underfunded, understaffed, swamped by paperwork, and, sadly, more and more moneys meant for the children are ripped off the top by privatization that takes much for the pockets of investors and gives little to those for whom it is intended... if it ever really is.

The children struggling to survive and grow are luckier than the baby turtles struggling to reach the sea, I suppose. Although even many of those defenseless young manage to reach the sea burdened by physical deformities and go on living with who knows what perspective on life? Who knows what becomes of them once out of sight? Who knows what becomes of these little children so out of sight?

And the ones who survive? In the US every day four or five or uncounted more abused and neglected children don’t survive. Of the millions abused each year, the ones who survive bring record crime, fill the profit-making prisons, and cost billions in direct and indirect costs.
Oh…and like the lost little turtles, they, too, the lost little children eventually go on to reproduce as Nature intends.

When Sissy and Boots leave I spend the rest of my time on the computer trying to wake up the people who do not see the way so many children live in this country where so many have so much more than anyone needs, but block every attempt to do more for these children who need so much just to survive lives that most cannot… or will not… even imagine.

Too much of the time lately, I wonder, why bother? There are so many and so little of me. What can one person do? But then they come through cold rains in summer, through icy winds in winter… and I remember.

So as I am writing, Sissy and Boots return to share with me some things given to them by the system yesterday at a Children’s Fair… colorful brochures about children’s health and safety… and such…given to the parents who can’t read, cheap lead laced trinkets given without regard to the health of the little children receiving them who will most certainly have them in their mouths, chewing and eating bits and pieces.

One slick and colorful brochure is about internet safety. I think about Pacer when she was 9, telling me how horrified she was to go on her Dad’s computer, typing in her sister’s name and seeing a “movie of lots of naked men doing nasty things to one girl.” These children live the stuff others write about.

A friend says… of don’t be so hard…they mean well…everyone is doing the best they know how. And I agree- most of them are, do care, do make as much difference as they can in whatever way they are able. I’ve known the teachers with food hidden in the bottom drawer, buying school supplies out of there salaries. I’ve known the social workers who cry for the children they see the system return to parents who may make the headlines in another week. I’ve seen the pain in the eyes of the police officers who have to walk away because he says, she says and if the children say anything, it’s a lie told in fear or to protect the only family they have.
So am I too hard to hope for more? Or maybe just too tired not to? Like the little turtle who struggles on, I cannot give up as long as the children don’t.

“Will we go for a walk today,” the children want to know. “Of course,” I say. What else can I do?
And you?

And they came again. I see that Sissy has been crying hard. I ask. Daddy punched me in the stomach. Boots gives her the look...the one that says "SH... don't tell!" I check her sign of injury. Hopefully, there is none unseen. Why not call the police? They may or may not bother to come to their house...too many times already. And CPS? Opens and closes files on them like a revolving door. Not nearly enough funding to cover the need. These children are on their own.

A Child is Waiting,
Take aware,
Nancy Lee