We don't get out much. We farm, I work from home, we go to church in the country. We just didn't used to have much contact with folks in town. So it came as a big (and heartbreaking) surprise when our kids started school and we learned just how tough some of the homes are around here.
And I say "around here" because it is what I know yet feel unfortunately confident that it's happening in rural schools all over the countryside.
How many broken homes there are, how many kids come to school dirty, hungry or without warm clothes. How many kids bounce between mom's house and dad's house, or maybe grandma's house. How many kids live not just with a parent, but with whichever boyfriend- or girlfriend-of-the-week that parent has brought in, as well. And the boyfriend or girlfriend's children, who may or may not be kind to the first child. How many parents are immature children themselves. How many kids must feel unwanted. Unloved. What would it be to know your parents really don't want you around? That's what breaks my heart most.
I was helping in a first-grade classroom at one point, when one little girl shared how she rode different buses then because her mom and dad don't live together any more. Her memory of the 100th day of kindergarten – a totally rock-on, joyous occasion for most kindergarteners at our school – was that that was the day when her parents started fighting and didn't live together anymore. It makes me clutch my heart. We spent Jenna's 100th day of kindergarten painting a t-shirt with 100 hearts for her to wear to school. It was one of our favorite memories that year. So fun. What a contrast.
I spent one morning this week with one of our 2011 Master Farmers, and as our conversation strayed from no-till corn yields to this very topic, he and his wife shared that when they were in school (one from a rural and one from a very urban school), everyone's parents were married. Life was tame. Kids didn't roam the streets. Everyone was clean and well-fed. That was the late '50s and '60s.
When I was in school, there were a handful that, as I look back in retrospect, very likely came from homes where circumstances were very, very difficult. They were the minority. Most of us had two parents at home, we had plenty to eat. We didn't deal with different, random people living in our house every week. That was the '80s and early '90s.
Today, these poor children make up the majority. The majority now struggle to get through the day because of what their parent(s) do or don't do at home for them. And then to actually have the ability to learn and concentrate? They are the ones who, when I come to eat lunch at school with my kids, sit very close to me and absolutely chatter my ear off because they are craving the attention of a loving adult. The very minority in our school are like my kids, and are growing up the way I did.
The question, of course, is what to do. I've mentioned before that I tend to get overwhelmed in the face of such overwhelming need and want to fix it all at once, and yet our very gracious Master Farmer (whose name I wish I could mention, but it has to stay under wraps until March!) wisely pointed out that you do it one at a time. One child, one family. Welcome those children, be kind and gracious to them. Talk with them. Meet needs when you can. Our youth group will be serving a couple such families this Christmas season, delivering food, gifts and encouragement.
Is there more to do? Is your community facing the same thing? Are you doing something about it, and could you share what you're doing?