They exist everywhere, the shadow children. The children with huge secrets, literally walking Pandora’s boxes filled with the worst and most hurtful of humanity. Some shadow children are invisible and others are locked away. This post comes from southernseamuse She has kindly permitted me to re-post it.
In a land far away from our minds stands a lone angel tree today, seen by few, known by fewer. This tree is different from the rest.
You know of the others. Right now in stores across the United States stand hundreds of “angel trees,” decorated with carefully disguised identities of needy children in the community. These are children who through no fault of their own are in situations which render them financially less fortunate than other children on Christmas day. These children may live with their families or perhaps are foster children, but they still have the freedom to live with a family, attend school, and, although challenged, have a fairly typical daily routine in the daily world.
Allow me to introduce you to a similar, but rarely-seen angel tree.
This tree also has the names of carefully disguised identities of needy children, but these children are apart from the community. These children are the emotionally less fortunate who, through no fault of their own, have been subjected to and somehow survived unconscionable circumstances which have scarred their souls so badly, that they are unable to function in society as we know it. These children cannot live in a home, neither with family of origin nor foster home. These children cannot attend school due to their disintegrated hearts.
These children are locked away in an institution, both for their safety and for the safety of the community, or because they are the most emotionally fragile of children. They simply cannot handle life as we know it. They are there to mend their hearts and souls, and remain there until they are fit for society. This may take days or weeks for those in acute care; months, or even years in the long-term residential facilities…all of which are eternities, in a child’s eyes.
There they spend their days and nights, eating and sleeping, playing and fighting, wondering how they got there, and contemplating what they need to do to get out. There they try their hardest to get through each day with the shadows of their past following and haunting them, trying to do what schoolwork they can, trying to get along with others, with varying levels of success.
Some try their hardest because they have hope. Others do not try because they have given up hope, and need encouragement from one moment to the next. Still others try their hardest to show others their very worst, because if they can be disliked or violent enough, they can reject others before others have yet another chance to reject them…at least it is one thing in life they can control.
Their angel tree sits quietly in the corner of the small, empty lobby, the only unlocked room in the building. Other than the receptionist, it is only seen by the few still connected to these children who are able to visit: the state worker who must ask the child to choose between a voucher for clothing or a voucher for toys and who will be home with their family on Christmas; the ashamed, distant relative who is reluctant to be involved but wants to make a good show, the occasional lost driver who took the wrong turn down the end of the long road; the tireless staff and nurses doctors. Oh, and the UPS guy and mail carrier, neither of whom bring things addressed to specific children living there, except on rare occasions.
The requests for needs for these children seem somewhat unusual. The angels on this tree bear wishes for things like socks, because their roommate flushed their last good pair down the toilet during another one of his nightly rages, with enough bone-rattling shrieking to create a new nightmare for another child down the hall on the unit, unable to sleep…and not a shred of memory of the crisis, come sunup.
Like playing cards, since many of the games on the market, electronic or otherwise, further cause them to be unable to distinguish reality from fantasy, and may trigger violent flashbacks. Or reinforce their tendency to want to solve problems with disconnected sarcasm and indifferent violence.
Like soft, stuffed animals or dolls, since anything battery-operated requires batteries – and anyone who’s been behind those locked doors long enough knows that if you slam a battery in the door near the hinges just right, it will expose a very sharp object that can be found in the core of the battery, which can then be used as a weapon to hurt someone. Or, for the self-harmers, to cut on themselves and draw blood, and wind up wearing scrubs and on 24/7 observation for days as a result. It is unfathomable to think how a young child might learn such behavior, but there it is.
Hygiene products are also popular, since the hospital-issued products are not exactly kid-friendly, and it is much more fun by far to brush your teeth with sparkly bubble gum toothpaste, like most other children enjoy on a daily basis. A pretty ribbon for her hair. An emery board, since nail clippers are not allowed on the premises, and long nails can be used to gauge eyes in a sneak attack from behind. A SpongeBob blanket for a bed instead of the typical ho-hum hospital sheets. Warm Cinderella footie jammies. Or a visit from a volunteer big brother/big sister or mentor, an objective other who will play a game with them and listen to their story…a story most can’t bear to hear, a story which defies common sense and human rationality.
Food item requests are never found on this angel tree; some children are on strict diets due to side effects of medications. And besides, the child who roamed the streets for his next meal has been known to wheel deals with other children: “I’ll give you the coupon I earned for extra game room time, if you give me your snack.” Snacks are then discovered hoarded under mattresses, up in ceiling tiles or in the paper towel dispenser in the bathroom which the adults all assumed were locked and childproof.
Some children ask for earmuffs to block out the incessant noise, which may come from either side of their skull at any given moment.
How did they get there, anyway? It may be because their parents sold them for sex in exchange for drugs. Or left them for long periods of time to fend for themselves. Or perhaps they locked them in closets or entertainment cabinets for their convenience. Or molested them repeatedly over the course of years.
These are the children who don’t know where their parents are, and the parents are either dead from their misdeeds or are happily homeless, preferring drugs and alcohol over their child….or simply abandoned the child and left the state, never to be heard from again. Some children may know where their parents are, but their parents voluntarily turn them over to the state because they don’t want them anymore. These children may have been in 15 foster homes, with no stability or sense of permanency. These children may have been along for the ride and witnessed a drug deal gone bad, resulting in murder. Or witnessed murder in their very own living room. Or tried to murder their family during a psychotic episode.
The end result is a child who is unable to make sense out of the world, who relates to others as they have been related to, and who does not and may never know childhood, as it is supposed to be known.
These are the children we forget about because they are quietly locked away from the rest of us while they pick up the pieces of their bewildered, shattered lives. You will not see them in schools or on sports teams. You may spot them briefly at the store, at McDonald’s or on a playground closely monitored by staff, if they are deemed well enough to go out into public at the time and their medication and behavior are stable. If that is the case, you will likely not know it is them you are seeing, and it likely will not register in the moment you see them, just where it is they lay their head at night – a place where they must be to work out their raw feelings of depression, anxiety, trauma, psychosis…their fear, their disappointment, their confusion, their rage
The angels on their tree represent a completely different type of need – a need that is real but often goes unknown and unheard by most.
Still needing and wanting to believe in something despite their inability to trust mankind, the younger ones hold fast to their belief in Santa. No, there is no chimney in this place, but they are assured that Santa has keys to the joint, nonetheless. Their lives may have taken an unthinkable course, but their anticipation and hope in being loved and cared for like any other human is entitled to, is no different from yours or mine.
I urge readers (and writers) to locate the nearest children’s psychiatric hospital in your area (and they are there, somewhere…I cannot point you in the direction of the children I know due to privacy and confidentiality issues). Please consider dropping off a small gift for one of these children who will wake up Christmas morning behind locked doors…on the inside looking out, never sure when they will be ready, if ever, to be the one on the outside looking in.
This gift needn’t be material…write them an anonymous letter and tell them how brave they are, how proud you are of them for enduring all they have. Tell these children that they can do it, that they are loved, admired and respected. That they are believed, that their feelings are real and important. Tell them that they matter. Color them a rainbow with your words, that they might be assured that their world will hopefully not flood like that again.
Such a small gesture has incredibly meaningful ramifications.
For what is small to us, is huge to them, bigger than we might ever guess…whether or not we remember about their angel tree now and in years to come. Like a standout, cherished childhood memory, they will remember, and it may just be the one memory of hope and love that will help heal them on their horrific journey. It may be the one thing they have, hold, hang on to and refer back to as the biggest spark of light that brought them through their darkness.
God, help us all help the sequestered and forgotten children of the world, the ones least seen in our communities – the ones who most need miracles and a reason to believe again.