I recently visited with a friend who grew up in a children’s home. When I say he grew up there, I literally mean that he spent the entirety of his childhood years in a children’s home. Actually, that’s not quite true. He wasn’t placed until the age of five. He and his four siblings were placed in the same children’s home.
Because he repeated a couple of years in school, he holds the record of being in care longer than any other alumnus. Would you believe, eighteen years? Yesterday, I had the privilege of riding with him as he drove through the campus where he grew up. It was almost as each building we passed held special memories for him.
When I go back to the hometown where I grew up, I always drive by the house where I lived during childhood. I simply only have to turn onto the street where I lived to be flooded with memories associated to that time and place. I think about the other kids who lived and played on that street.
I think about the neighbors who were very much a part of our lives. Of course, I mostly focus on the sense of everything that surrounds the concept of home. I think of my family. I think of the gift and innocence of childhood. I think of the positive experiences associated to church and school. I think about the ability to be anything I wanted to be because I was an American and growing up in a country where all things are possible.
At least, the hope of that possibility was one of the things we were encouraged to embrace. It was an atmosphere that fostered the concept that you could “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps”. The sky was the limit.
I got the sense as we drove around the children’s home campus yesterday that my friend was having similar kinds of thoughts associated to neighborhood where he grew up. The children’s home campus was the focal point where positive things took place in his life. It provided him a place of security, nurture, encouragement and safety. It was also an environment of opportunity.
I got the sense as we talked that he was a pretty precocious kid in a lot of ways. In some respects he had to grow up fast. No doubt that was true for his four siblings as well. As we drove by the campus administration building yesterday, I wondered what it felt like seeing that building for the first time at the age of five? I can almost imagine his eyes were wide with a combination of both excitement and fear.
You can garner a lot of wisdom regarding the need for a lifestyle change by the age of five if basic needs aren’t consistently met. That’s not to say that his mother didn’t love her children. She did and in return, they loved her as well. Loving someone doesn’t mean that you want to live with them when experience has already taught you that your mom’s alcohol dependency routinely stole from her the ability to put your needs first.
I didn’t ask, but I wondered how often he drives through the campus where he grew up simply to garner the memories. I felt honored to hear his stories. He has nothing but praise to express his gratitude for the safety and security afforded him by the children’s home.
He and his siblings continued to have contact with their mom during the time they were in care. By then their dad was mostly out of the picture. Divorce has an ugly way of severing what could have been into something less than desirable. The same is true for one’s propensity for a drink.
Of course, all behavior is an attempt to get a need met. What drove his mother to drink instead of responsibly giving priority to the needs of her five children could have been any number of things. Who knows, it could have been learned behavior left over from her own childhood? Don’t most of us learn to parent from those who had the responsibility for providing for our care?
Some of you might be inclined to think that if you were a single mother responsible for the care of five children, you might need a drink as well. Actually, the drink only temporarily masked the disappointment associated to life.
When my friend talks of a sense of gratitude to the children’s home where he grew up, he recognizes that the nurture and care he received equipped him for life. He reached adulthood with everything he needed to embrace life and an opportunity to be successful.
A couple of years ago, he left a successful law practice to answer a higher calling. In the spirit of giving back, he now heads the agency where he grew up. The children’s home no longer operates the campus where he grew up, but the mission and purposes of the organization are still the same. Talking with him was refreshing. His enthusiasm and ability to relate to kids from hard places puts him ahead of the learning curve.
He will settle for nothing less than a normal childhood for those entrusted to the care of the agency he now leads. He challenges staff to look for ways to say “Yes” to every kind of enrichment opportunity that can come a child’s way.
I was privileged to learn from him.
All My Best!