What touches my heart is the plight of children growing up in violent homes.
Don’t get me wrong; I had gentle, loving parents who taught us three kids right from wrong and protected us from violence. At three or four years old, I thought everyone had parents like mine. I knew there were bad people in the world, but mommies and daddies were good. Our home and our parents were our safe haven.
I’m sure that’s why this memory has haunted me for all these years.
We are swimming at a lake. I sit on a warm wooden pier beside my mother, legs dangling. Mommy said I have to sit in the sun until my swimsuit is nearly dry because my teeth were chattering from the cold water. I watch a little girl about my age with long brown hair and a pink swimsuit put on her white ruffled socks and red, two-buckle Buster Brown shoes.
In my memory she smiles at me.
On the shore, a tall man, dark-haired man in dark blue swim trunks yells at her to hurry up. I think he must be her daddy watching over her like my daddy watches over me. I wonder where her mother is, and why they left her alone on the dock above the deep water. She hunches her shoulders and scrunches up her face as if she’s scared. I wonder if she’s a slow-poke.
The man frowns and strides toward the little girl. Something about him makes me scoot closer to my mommy, who’s been watching my brother and sister jump off the raft into Daddy’s arms. She puts her hugs me and kisses the top of my head. My gaze darts back and forth between the scary man and the scared little girl.
“You can go back in the water now,” Mommy tells me. I feel her stand up beside me but I can’t move. The little girl’s fingers fumble with the last buckle on her shiny red shoes. My mother pulls me to my feet as the little girl grabs her towel and scrambles to hers. I watch her run to the scary man.
“Look , Daddy,” I hear her say as Mommy climbs down the ladder into the water. I watch the little girl stop and point to her feet. “I got them on the right feet this time! And I buckled them all by myself.
Her daddy barely glances at her shoes. He grabs her wrist and jerks her arm so hard that she begins to cry. “Your socks are on the wrong feet. How can you be so stupid?” he says. He drags her down the dock, promising to punish her when they get home.
“Sally!” I blink down at my mother below me in the water. “Come down the ladder. I’ll swim you out to the raft.”
“Mommy. How could she put her socks on the wrong feet?” I ask. “Why did her daddy calling her names? Why was he mean to her?”
“The little girl didn’t do anything wrong, sweetheart. The poor little thing’s daddy is a mean man. He’s not a good daddy like your daddy.”
Sadly, I knew I couldn’t help that little girl. But I never forgot her.
Years later I welcomed the opportunity to work in social services advocating for at-risk children. It felt wonderful to be able to do something to help prevent child abuse. I knew I couldn’t help all of them, but I could help some—and that was well worth the effort.
As a writer, I’m proud of belonging to Rose City Romance Writers for many reasons, not the least of which is their support for a domestic violence shelter in a nearby town.
How can you help these children?
- If you witness a child being abused or neglected, report it to the social services or the police.
- Join a child abuse prevention organization like Prevent Child Abuse America. Read their What You Can Do: Reach Out list.
- Volunteer to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate through a CASA program. The National CASA Association is a network of 955 programs that are recruiting, training and supporting volunteers to represent the best interests of abused and neglected children in the courtroom and other settings.
- Donate items on your local shelter’s Wish List
- Volunteer at a domestic violence shelter or a homeless shelter.
- Become a Foster parent.
- Become a Big Brother or Big Sister, or join another mentoring program.
- Contact your senators and congressmen to urge them to support continued funding of child abuse prevention programs; and of the National CASA Association, which pays for itself more than twenty-times over in reduced costs to foster care and other programs.
"It takes a village to raise a child."
What will you do to keep children safe in their homes?
© 2012 Sarah Raplee ALL RIGHTS RESERVED