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Sharing our Faith: Who are the people in your neighborhood?

Who are the people in your neighborhood?

Bob (from Sesame Street)

As much as we all love kids, they can easily be invisible.

Invisible to lawmakers, civil rights advocates, and even sometimes to their neighbors. How can this be…we all love kids, and each of us would testify that we are invested in kids, if for no other reason than they represent our future.

Children and adolescents can be hard to understand; they are different, by definition, and breaking the “code” to a child’s communication is truly a challenge for even the most dedicated and committed observer. Given this challenge, we sometimes just look past them and sum up our observations in simple, adult terms that most likely simply reflect our own lack of deeper understanding.

Let’s take a minute and meet a few of the kids in our neighborhood…

How about the seven-year-old boy who has recently developed an explosive temper at school! You might hear about him from your child or grandchild who reports being frightened by his outbursts in the classroom. It turns out that his anger is the result of a verbal learning disability that has gone undetected. While everyone else is beginning to read and rightfully stick out their chests at the magic they now wield, he is left behind and reactive to the slightest slight. Unfortunately, our little friend’s outbursts have quickly started to become a defense and a part of an identity as a bad boy. Undetected might mean a teacher who has become too concerned with this boy’s emotional and behavioral upsets to consider a referral for child study or a mother who struggles with finances and is dependent on a new boyfriend and may have missed her son’s inability to get the words right on the page (but definitely not missed the calls from his teacher).

Then there is the youngster in the grocery store who melts down in front of you in a fit of tears, holding his ears, and banging his head on the shopping cart. His mother tries to calm the boy but nothing she says helps. What occurs to you when you witness this scene? Ill-mannered kid? Spoiled kid? Incompetent parent? What about seeing a child with the biologic challenges we call autism that might dramatically effect his ability to manage all the sights and sounds coming at him. In the store, this might mean bright lights, people moving closely by, conversations on all sides of him, overhead music punctuated by announcements, and an ongoing assortment of odd noises, including crinkling packages, scraping carts, and ringing cash registers. It might also mean a mother who can never get a sitter but has to get groceries and is so tired with all she has to do.

Today I am especially thinking of a teenage girl who came to my attention when she lived in a foster home. It was her third such home in the past year. She was hospitalized after taking an overdose. To meet her, is to love her…she is bright and outgoing and maintains she does not have any problems, she just needs to go home. Yet, home doesn’t work for her. She was sexually abused by her step-brother when he would visit, when she was young, and even though her mom and step-dad are broken up now, she never felt her mom believed it happened, especially as many times as she now describes. She went into foster care when her mom’s drinking problems led repeatedly to her and her sister being left home alone for long periods. Her mom doesn’t drink as much anymore and her sister is back home, but our teenage friend tends to still get in constant trouble in spite of her obvious intelligence. She is called oppositional and head-strong by all her caregivers, and her mom says she Just Can’t Handle Her (and really doesn’t SEEM to want to, because, truth be told, her daughter makes her feel so bad about herself). On the outside, our teenage friend can smile and chat you up, but inside she aches. She frequently cuts herself when alone to relieve the pressure she feels and has attempted suicide several times, each time leading to hospitalization. It is clear she is a child alone and on the run, using cutting and, increasingly, drugs and sex, to soothe the pain she feels.

I could go on and on: The immigrant children trying to adjust to a new culture and to parents they may not have seen since they were young; The kids in trouble with the law who break down in detention in the face of lonely hours in a cell; or The youngster with severe intellectual deficits who is being raised by his elderly grandmother who cannot help him manage his frustration safely now that he has reached puberty, most recently when the grandmother tells him he can’t have the whole pizza. In spite of his love for her, she is at-risk of being hurt by him.

It is easy to forget all that goes into our outward presentation, the aspects of us that people can’t see readily. But, what lies beneath the surface of our behavior? I believe…there are Infinite possibilities that might lie beneath the surface of any behavior, including the potential of the holy spirit to touch our experiences…Most assuredly, there are more possibilities than you probably first assume.

And when it comes to our children, there are additional layers of mystery and complexity owing to their still developing selves, their dependency on others, and all the contributions of their caregivers…

that enter into the kids …

we meet in our neighborhood.

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