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Christmas and the kids next door…

December 14, 2013

In the mass media frenzy that is the Christmas holidays, and the 24/7 bombardment of commercials on how to buy your family and friends’ approval, little back-alley stories play themselves out that can break your heart.

We live a couple of doors down from a house that is used by a non-profit to house children whom the provincial authorities have had to take from their parents for their own protection.

We share a large connected backyard with this house and so we often have these kids playing in our yard, occasionally talking to our cats, or more often then not, having some sort of emotional breakdown for all the neighbours to see and hear. And on a few occasions the police have had to come and arrest one of the older boys or girls (the house if for 4-12 year olds). There is nothing more surreal than looking at a 10-year-old kid standing in the backyard crying and in handcuffs.

At other times it gets pretty Lord of the Flies as some of the more damaged kids try to bully and manipulate the weaker ones.

As you might imagine, these kids are not in good emotional spaces, what with the kind of abuse they would have had to suffer to get them to this place in their young lives.

Unless you live by these homes you don’t know they exist. There are no signs that designate these homes from any of the others on our street. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be. They try to blend in as much as possible.

Some of the kids are still young enough that I will see them in the back playing imaginary games with staff members. For some reason that always breaks my heart.

But its at this time of year when the emotional threads really start to unravel.

I came home one day earlier this week to see a mom having a “supervised” visit with her 8 or 9-year-old son in the backyard. She has brought him a big stuffed teddy bear, which he is clutching silently while sitting on the back step. The staff person is trying his best not to be intrusive, but he needs to be there. The mom looks like she may have come straight from some sort of rehab program – she is too thin, and has the high-strung vibe of an addict trying to do her best to keep it all together.

“Can’t I even hug him?” she says to the staff member.

“No mam. You know you can’t do that,” I overhear as I climb the steps to my house.

Yesterday, another boy was on the front step with a staff member. He was maybe 10, and he was excitedly looking up and down the street, the way children do when they are excited about the arrival of someone. I saw them standing there on my way to the bank. When I returned about 20 minutes later they were sitting together and the boy was crying his little heart out. Whomever was to arrive, it seems, did not.

I don’t envy the staff. They often seem overwhelmed and are under-trained. I have seen job postings for such work here in Halifax and it only pays in the $14-16 an hour range. (It pays little better in any other province. Which, for me, always indicates what we collectively think about protecting children, and giving them the best tools to deal with the shit-straw they have been dealt in the world.)

By not investing in them we will only later be paying for it in addictions and associated diseases, crime, prostitution, and $100,000 a year jail cells. And most sadly, by not breaking these cycles in any real constructive way with well-trained and appropriately paid staff, they are most likely – statistically speaking – to pass on the same box of shit to their own future kids.

I have no magic answer to these realities in our world. They just are.

Having worked with so-called ‘marginalized’ youth for most of my life, I am pretty hardened to such things.

But Christmas always gets me – for the rest of us get to go home to families and feasts and presents and fireplaces and drinks and laughs and all the merrymaking that the holidays are – while these little guys and gals sit with each other on a couch – mostly strangers to each other (for kids come and go) – and they watch TV together and see the Christmas shows and commercials of how wonderful their lives are suppose to be…

One Comment leave one →
  1. Julia caron permalink
    December 14, 2013 9:33 am

    Omg Sherwood when I read about the mom that couldn’t hug her own child I cried. I can’t even imagine what that would be like. To work in this field would be torture to have to watch this day in and day out but of course the worst is the children that are involved.

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