Friday, September 15, 2006


"The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another's desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together."
~Erma Bombeck

My favorite Christmas was when I was about 10 or so years old. I was so excited that I remember getting up at around 3 in the morning. I got this Star Wars space ship, a bunch of action figures and tons of stuff I really loved.

My cousins from another state also came in to see us, as they usually did every Christmas. Despite being so far apart from each other, my two cousins and I were very close. We spent that day with a big family get together including a great breakfast and dinner.

Even though I grew up with my grandparents they raised me like their own.

I remember my grandmother taking me to school every morning. We were so very close and I guess I was a little too attached to her, if there is such a thing. I remember crying, not wanting to leave her in the mornings way past the age most kids would. I can’t say for sure, but I now wonder if that attachment was because my biological mother left me when I was much younger. Regardless I still had a good home life and two very loving grandparents who devoted their lives to making mine as filled with love, security, and happiness as much as possible. They were strict, but I was safe.

I remember going on family vacations, trips to Disneyworld, Chicago, and to distant relative’s homes. I remember climbing into my grandparents’ bed as a youngster when I had nightmares. I remember being sick and having them comfort me with a cool rag and soothing words. I remember the smell of a big breakfast cooking in the mornings, the smell of the early summer morning on the first day of summer break. I remember going fishing with my granddad and catching dozens of fish. I remember Easter egg hunts, birthday cakes, and playing cops and robbers with my uncle.

We all have connections. Well, most of us anyway. Our earliest memories, back to our childhood. Our first Christmas. Our 3rd birthdays. Sitting on grandpa’s lap as he tells fables and fairytales. Family dinners. Relatives long gone now. New arrivals to the family. The pitter patter of little feet. Saturday morning cartoons. Favorite breakfast cereals and hopping into bed with mom and dad on the first day of summer vacation. Crawling into momma’s bed to escape the monsters of our nightmares.

Most of us have that.

But not everyone. Many children have none of that. And some of them have memories they’d rather forget. Scars that will never go away. Scars that sometimes come back in the nighttime. Having no momma’s bed to crawl into when the nightmares come. Living a nightmare that they cannot awaken from.

Imagine no connectedness at all. Never the same family Christmas twice. Different faces for every birthday. Spending summer vacations in a group home. Calling a different foster parent “mom” every year.

Imagine having no one in the world that you have a shared history with. 6 billion people in the world and not one of them is closer to you than the lady at the check out counter.

That is what some of our young people have known their entire lives. Never knowing a “home.” Safety being a fleeting thing that is never permanent. Always a new stranger, always being the new kid in school, year after year. Making friends only to lose them again to another move. No connectedness beyond an acquaintance with a dozen different people a year.

There could be no loneliness like that most of us could comprehend. It is the stuff of bad dreams. Living on a deserted island in the middle of a crowded world. Being alone in a sea of faces. Connectedness is a meaningless word for too many children.

So they seek out connections with alcohol, drugs, violence, and gangs.

Working with these kids, I go home in the afternoons and look at my own. Sometimes I as I play with them I have to fight the urge to cry. Because I know that even though I am not the best father in the world, I am there for them. I do so greatly love them. I know that they have what so many of the kids I work with do not have. A connection. A loving home and a heart full of memories that they will take with them for the rest of their days. I think of how much I love them and couldn’t live without them and then I think of the kids I work with. How there has been no one like that for them.

And it tears me apart.