My most vivid childhood memories focus around the Fourth of July. My father would load us in the car and head to Grandma’s for a typical community July Fourth celebration – a big field with rides, games, food and of course fireworks. Luckily, I was never afraid of the loud bangs and wanted to sit as close possible, inevitably being pulled back to safety by my Mom. In those days, the men in the community set off the fireworks and I remember trying to figure out which silhouette was my father running back and forth lighting off the next round to brighten the sky.
I never knew which one was he, but I imagined him as super-human, unafraid of the flames and explosions going on around him and proud that my Dad was strong and brave enough for such a dangerous job.
These memories still bring me joy today. Joy of a happy childhood with my three siblings, joy in having a Mom and Dad who loved and provided a safe home for us, joy in being part of a community with friends, neighbors, cousins, aunts and uncles all watching out for each other. The comforts that we enjoyed were part of the time that I grew up in – the 70s – before the internet, cell phones, texting, and social media. If you wanted to talk to someone, you called from a phone attached to the wall. In you needed information you opened an encyclopedia or the dictionary. You played, usually outside, in person with kids who also knew the rest of your family. You went to the same church, the same school, the same grocery store, and celebrated and mourned together. My childhood community weaved together like a beautiful mosaic.
What would have become of me if that mosaic frayed? How would my life have changed if a tragedy or challenge had rendered my parents unable to care for us?
I understand that I am lucky to have all of the benefits of growing up in a community and family filled with love. I also know that the privileges that I enjoyed – albeit, still enjoy to this day – are a product of my upbringing, my family, and my community.
I also know that not all children have the same advantages.
Many children will never know the joy of their father’s bravery or the security of an extended family. They will not understand what it means to be part of a community that is larger than they are, or know the unconditional love that protects you when you sit too close to the fireworks.
For these children, abuse, neglect and abandonment have taught them instead of love. In place of being cared for, they are often the caregivers, tending to their younger siblings or a parent suffering with substance abuse.
But, we cannot sit idle and let their challenges define them. We must help give hope to children who have suffered by becoming mentors, coaches, and advocates.
We can still teach traumatized children love and offer support. We can guide them in ways that they may never have experienced and with that encouragement, they too can look back on their childhood with joy. Joy that someone cared for them, joy that at their most challenging time an adult stepped in and pulled them back from getting to close to the fireworks.
Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Children’s mission to speak on behalf of abused and neglected children is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation to protect a child’s right to be safe, treated with respect and to help them reach their fullest potential. For more information about CASA, visit AtlanticCapeCASA.org.