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On failing all our children

As usual, there’s a song in my head. This one is by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. “Oh Children.” It was used on the radio in a scene from “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, Part 1.” But as a fan I’d had it memorized way before then.

The musical director on the film chose the song because its voice, rhythm and lyric sound like children who’ve been given a raw deal. He was going through a divorce at the time and felt like a bad person for putting his kids through such a thing. Such a commonplace thing that it barely registers for us anymore.

It’s used in the film at a point where the characters of Harry Potter and Hermione Granger are alone in the woods trying to figure out what to do and where to be next and realizing the one thing missing in their magical lives was that they’ve had to be adults for six years and because of the evil surrounding them, they never got to be children — the time robbed from them.

My daughter once remarked in kindergarten that she was curious as to why she didn’t have stepparents. How was it that I was holding out on her? I had to explain that we’d promised not to do that to her. No steps for her. But she was jealous of her peers. Everybody else had extra parents. She felt cheated.

You sometimes can’t win with your intentions as a parent.

My parenting is based squarely on my own childhood — taking the best of it, acknowledging the worst of it, and adjusting to meet impossible benchmarks and hopefully the least amount of hurt. Sometimes that works and sometimes that doesn’t.  My approach to children not my own is roughly the same. I try to always remember what it was like to be one and never to lose sight of that. I try not to judge them for fleeting choices of their not quite fully formed brains and consciousness. I aim for forgiveness and learning. I want them to have every opportunity for change, growth. I want their spirits whole and free. I firmly believe when we lose sight of what it is like to be a child, we will become whatever we hated about adults as children.

To go back to Potterworld. We become the Voldemorts, the Dolores Umbridges. Or worse. We become the countless witches and wizards in the narrative that go into hiding and safety even as they know what they’re doing is wrong. As Dumbledore — the oldest character and yet the one most in touch with being a child says, “The time is coming where people must choose between what is right and what is easy.”

And I’m not even particularly fond of children, but I feel for them because so many of us live in a world without the power to control our lives but, them most of all.

“The cleaners have done their job on you/ They’re hip to it, man, they’re in the groove/ They’ve hosed you down, you’re good as new/And they’re lining up to inspect you,”

— Nick Cave

I think of and light candles for  children caught up in divorces not of their making. Of those whose mistakes go unforgiven. Of children (teens) who society deems too old to be children — who deny them their last innocences and punish them instead.

In Plumas County, I think in particular of children I know who are alienated or isolated by their guardians and the adults who turn a blind eye to the horrible disciplines of other guardians. What horrible invisible force keeps our humanity from intervening?

I think of children stuck in the foster care system who are treated like delinquents because they had the misfortune of being born to the wrong people. I have witnessed a community that sets its expectations unreasonably high for them, as if making a sport out of seeing them fail. I have witnessed the failing of departments designed to protect children fail to understand how to speak to children, how to ask questions, how to listen, how to see. It requires patience; it requires love. You phone it in and kids die or their spirits do. Or both.

I have witnessed a community doing this while turning a blind eye to the misbehaviors of its golden, parented children. (Think the Nellie Olsens from Little House on the Prairie).

I have witnessed adults trying to live vicariously through their children —throwing them into all sorts of activities to get back their own childhoods regardless of whether the kids are interested in the sport or the dance. Oh the irony of trying to get back a childhood by robbing someone else of theirs.

I have witnessed adults betraying the children around them in this community and then be puzzled by kids taking “too long” to process bad adult behaviors. We adults are impatient with healing, with grieving. We want them to finish as fast as we do. Not that adults process things quickly: We’ve just been hiding behind facades longer than we’ve let on.

Including me.

“We have the answer to all your fears/ It’s short, it’s simple, it’s crystal clear/ It’s round about and it’s somewhere here/ Lost amongst our winnings,”

— Nick Cave

It’s almost the start of a new school year. In Indian Valley that will mean the adults fighting finally won out. The divorce of two schools dissolves into separate campuses with no visitation rights.  For some children the split will be no doubt beneficial. And some will be wounded. But one thing is for certain: It’s not the children who are in control.

I don’t like pointing out problems without offering solution. But what is the solution?  Acknowledge that there are two types of people who work with children: ones who remember what it is like to be a child, and ones who don’t. Be the Dumbledore, not the Umbridge.

“Poor old Jim’s white as a ghost/He’s found the answer that we lost/We’re all weeping now, weeping because/ There ain’t nothing we can do to protect you,”

— Nick Cave

Be the adult who engages with them, who believes in them, who loves them even when they’ve done stupid things.

Be the non-traditional foster parent who isn’t in it for the cash, but is in it to help wipe the distrust and bitterness away. Our county has to send Plumas kids away from here. There aren’t enough homes and certainly not enough appropriate ones. Be the one.

Be the social services person, the cop, the child protective services person who remembers the reason they got into the profession in the first place — not the one looking forward to retirement and their pension.

Be the school that embraces all the children, not just the athletes, not just the popular, but all children.

Be the parent who refuses to walk away, who holds fast to the fire of teenagers that is so hard to hold without getting burned. Get burned anyway.  And listen.  Listen. Always.

“Hey, little train! Wait for me!/

I once was blind but now I see/

Have you left a seat for me?/

Is that such a stretch of the imagination?”

— Nick Cave


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