So when I volunteer at my son's first grade class every couple of weeks, I can't help but wonder how many of them might also be exposed to abuse? On the surface they all look sweet and open and happy. Some are good readers, some are not so much. Some have trouble sitting still, most do not. Some are "goofy", according to my son, some are serious, some whisper, some yell with excitement. When I'm with them, they tend to be compliant and trusting.
Do you worry about the kids who draw their families and don't put smiles on everyone's faces? Two kids had pictures like that. What I know of their families seems happy and normal. Do they just not possess much artistic skill? Or are their pictures some kind of warning sign?
I don't know that any of these kids have tortured animals or tried to hump a teacher's leg, or set the kid next to them on fire, behaviors that would betray an obvious emotional disturbance. But what signs are there that Daddy drinks too much, or that the parents fight, or that an older brother is curious about his little sister's anatomy? Should those events even be cause for worry? How protected do our kids need to be in order to grow up healthy and happy? Do we need to worry that they are too protected?
I've been reading The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, Bill Bryson's memoir of growing up in the Fifties. It is funny and engaging and informative. And between the lines it depicts a childhood filled with neglect, at least by our standards. His parents both worked, so he had plenty of time to run, unsupervised, all through Des Moines, Iowa, with his friends. He was ardent in his search for sexual experiences, was smoking at a young age, drinking as soon as his friends could figure out how to steal the alcohol, and, at my count, participated in setting at least two houses on fire. He lived at a time when nuclear annihilation seemed possible at any minute. Foods were crammed full of chemicals, and doctors promoted tobacco products in the media. A little unsupervised play time with friends seemed benign in comparison.
And somehow, without much influence of an education or involved parenting, and lots of influence by friends who seemed to enjoy more than their fair share of illegally acquired alcohol, tobacco, and explosives, he grew up to be a wildly successful travel writer, with an engaging sense of humor and the ability to generate substantial income. Does this mean we don't need to worry so much about our kids? That short of heinous and rare crimes against our children, they will grow up to be just fine? Does it mean, instead, that there's a hidden, very personal, story of emotional dysfunction that Bill Bryson isn't telling us? Or does it simply mean Bill Bryson was damned lucky?