…living with repeated abandonment experiences creates toxic shame. Shame arises from the painful message implied in abandonment: “You are not important. You are not of value.”
Wikipedia entry about Abandoned Child Syndrome
You see them in roller rinks most often, for some reason, although in warm weather, parks are another venue. A lone child, often a little grubby, a little shabby, sitting alone, watching the children, watching the families, for some reason, especially the mothers. If you are the mother and you sit still long enough and if you are loving enough with the children you brought with you, a curious phenomenon occurs. That child will slowly inch closer to you.
Little by little, inch by inch, the gap will close, wary as a cat who still believes in love but has been kicked one too many times not to fear. All that time, those eyes will not leave you – evaluating, calculating – how close can I get? Will they notice me before I get there? Will I be safe if I do get there?
And all the time, that shining hope – if I just blend in with the herd, perhaps, just perhaps, those arms will embrace me. I will rest close to that warm heart and just for a little while, my own won’t feel so empty.
When I was raising kids, I saw these children and I knew what they were doing. Like the person who has found that frightened yet hopeful kitty, I waited quietly, radiating as much gentleness as I could. I knew that patience would win this battle and I would then have the opportunity to do the very little for that child that I could – love them for the tiny fraction of their life that I would hold in my hands and hope they could absorb enough to hold them at least for a little while.
I remember one little boy at our local roller rink. He’s in his 40s now – unfathomable – but I remember this gypsy-dark child, velvet eyed, his hair lank and unwashed, his skin grimy and his clothes filthy. He was wearing skates – the price of admission and the protective coloring that gave the illusion that he belonged. His parents had clearly dumped him there because it was a legal way to get rid of him for hours while they did whatever was more important to them than this child.
The slow journey of sidling began, but this time I turned and smiled at him and immediately he was plastered to my side and my arm was around him. He was thin and wiry and probably no more than seven years old, but he’d seen too much. He gazed up at me and began to chatter about everything and nothing – charm is a survival tool, after all – and I listened, but what I was giving him was what he craved with all his being – warm arms, a mom-body to cling to, the clear understanding that if I could, I would bring him home with me and he would be my boy forever and ever and I would love him and feed him and teach him and be so very proud of him – in that imaginary wish-it-could-have- been world.
I knew how he felt. Oh, I was clean and so were my clothes. My hair was washed and I was well fed. I wasn’t dumped anywhere while my parents partied. But starvelings are everywhere and not always all that obvious. My parents were starvelings themselves and they passed it on. I only wish I had the power to bend time – my child parents would be the first kiddos I rescued and brought home. I understand and I love and forgive them. But my heart and soul were starving and I tried desperately to attach myself to any loving family within walking distance, only to always fail. In part it was because their own kids were on to me and proceeded to cut me from the herd with all the instincts and skill of the finest sheep dogs. I don’t blame them, either. By then, I had a well of grief and need that could not have been filled by anybody else’s parents except my own – and mine would never truly be able to do that, never having had their own empty wells filled either.
So when this little boy came in to my orbit like a little heat-seeking missile, I knew all too well what he was doing, the aching emptiness that he was trying to fill because all children live first on love, even before food and drink. There was no chance on earth that I wouldn’t have pulled this child in and held him, that I wouldn’t try to pour in all the love I could in hope that he could take some with him, that he would have a memory – however vague – of warm arms holding him, a smiling face looking down at him like he was the best little boy ever. That one day he would have a feeling that he was worth something, even if he didn’t remember why. The hardest part was leaving him behind when it was time to go home.
I know the few fleeting times I found that love fueled a determination within me that has kept me moving, hoping, striving and believing longer than I would have thought possible.
I don’t know what to do about this overall. Children are such treasures, and so many are treated like so much debris. Perhaps schools, which should be quite capable of recognizing starvelings when they see them, could arrange to match lonely children with lonely elders – both of them brimming with love ready to give even as hope fades that their love could be wanted. Seems like grandparents in classrooms would be a really good idea. On an individual level, perhaps we could keep an eye out in our neighborhoods for that one kid who always seems to be drifting, unanchored, and make them welcome when we can – even if we can’t do any more than that. I don’t know – I’m sure open to suggestions.
I do know that whenever I see a starveling, that child will be loved, that child will be welcomed for as long as the opportunity lasts. And maybe when that child grows up, he or she will pass that love on…