I am not getting my mother anything for Mother’s Day, the boy proclaimed. I wouldn’t know where to send it if I did. Instead I’m getting Dad a bunch of frilly things.
I’d already heard the story of how the kid’s momma abandoned her son, ran off with another man. The boy is hurt and angry and embarrassed, seeing how she ditched her son for her lover while chaperoning a school trip.
No doubt his momma had heard the lie. The one that our culture keep telling mommas and daddies: The best thing you can do for your kids is seek your own happiness.
But I hadn’t heard the story of the pretty dark-haired girl who is living with an older sister because her momma has been with half-a-dozen men and then some.
I was eight when my parents got divorced, the girl confided. My mother was with some man but then they split up and she met another fellow and married him three months after she met him. And, of course, that didn’t last either. So she and my older sister and their boyfriends were sharing rent on a house. But that didn’t work out. I can’t be around my mom’s boyfriend. So she left with her boyfriend and now it’s just me and my sister. As soon as I turn 18 I’m going to go live with my dad. I’ve been telling my mom for years I wanted to live with my dad but she won’t let me. She likes that check she gets from my father for me.
A check is the reason another boy says his kinfolk keep him around. I’ve lived in foster care since I was 3. My parents didn’t want me. But then, I had this relative who came and got me out of foster care. She keeps me around to be her slave. She gets paid to keep me around. She likes that check. But she kicked me out a couple of weeks ago because she doesn’t like my friends.
Nobody knows for sure how many homeless kids are in our rural community.
Nobody wants to know how many homeless kids there are, says the girl with the thick braid.
Are you homeless, too? I ask.
I was, she said. I haven’t lived with my mother for a long time. I was living with my grandmother but she died.
Where do you live now? I asked.
I have my own place. I work two jobs. After I graduate next month, I’m probably going to join the National Guard.
I heard these stories over the course of a 90-minute encounter. It wasn’t difficult to figure out what had prompted the conversations: Mother’s Day is a trigger day for kids who have been abandoned, neglected and cast aside like a pair of too-tight high heels.
It’s painful being a kid in America these days. To be sure, society has always had its share of useless mommas. Women who would rather be anywhere else than caring for a child. And there have been times when good mommas were forced to make the hard choices. The Depression comes to mind. But back then it poverty that led those mommas to turn babies and teens alike over to kin and strangers more financially capable of caring for them.
But now, it seems, a different kind of poverty is the driving force behind kids being abandoned – a poverty of the soul. Neglect is the number one leading cause of child abuse in America. And no matter how many ways you turn that on its head, neglect is always the result of poor choices.
We are raising a nation of children who are the walking wounded: Sexually abused. Emotionally neglected. Physically abandoned. Spiritually stunted. Financially forsaken.
Divorce is not the primary cause of today’s fractured families. Dare I say it? A careless selfishness is.
Go to any local elementary or high school. Find the students who have two or more siblings. Many of those students will have siblings fathered by different men. Some will name a different man for every sibling.
Careless choices. Sometimes intentionally careless choices. Even young children realize when they have become a commodity for mothers to barter and trade for financial favors and sexual pleasures.
Mother’s Day is not happy day for many children. It’s simply a trigger for of all the ways in which their mommas have failed to love and cherish and nurture them. For thousands and thousands of children it simply a time that will forever remind them of the battles they have barely survived and the wounds from which they will never heal.
Karen Zacharias is author of Mother of Rain, Mercer Univ. Press.