Why Do We Say One Thing About Children But Do Another?


You know and I know that for every two we raise decently, another is lost.

Why is that?

Because, as you know and I know, they are really and truly, no exaggeration and hyperbole whatsoever, The Future of the Planet.

Because soon enough we will be in their grubby gentle hands and they will be making all the crucial decisions about clean water and wars and health care for decrepit ancient gaggles of Us.

Because we swore and vowed to every god we ever imagined or invented or dimly sensed that we would care for them with every iota of our energy when they came to us miraculously from the sea of the stars.

Because they are the very definition of innocent, and every single blow and shout and shiver of fear that rains down upon them is utterly undeserved and unfair and unwarranted.

Because we used to be them, and we remember, dimly, what it was like to be small and frightened and confused.

We say one thing about children as a nation and a people and a species and we do another.  We say they are the holy heart of our society and culture and we lie.  We say the words family values like a cool slogan on a warm flag that wraps protectively around the smallest and newest of us but we let them starve and wither and be raped and live in the snarling streets.

Why is that?

Because even the best of us, the mothers and fathers and teachers and nurses and doctors and counsellors and nuns and coaches and other sweet patient souls who listen to children with all their open hearts, cannot hope to reach more than a few of them, and so many of them go unheard, unwitnessed, unmoored, unmourned.

What could we possibly do worse than that?

Because even the most cynical and weary of us in our iciest darkest moments has to laugh when we see a cheerful toddler trying to cram a peach up his nose, or an infant chatting amiably with a dog, or a tiny kid leaping over a tiny wave at the beach and being pretty proud that she showed that old ocean who was boss, yes she did!

Because if we are any shard or shred of the people we want to be as Americans and human beings we have got to take care of them before we do anything else at all, we have to coddle and teach them, and feed and clothe them, and nurse and doctor them, and house and hold them, and be patient as they thrash toward who they might be if they get enough light and water and song, even if, as they stumble through their teenage construction zones, they thrash mostly against those who love them most.

But you know and I know that for every two we raise decently, another is lost, that in Oregon alone there are thousands of them who did not eat today, who cannot go to the doctor, who have no bedroom, who hear no parent moaning about the dishes or growling about homework, who have no glimmering hopes, who have no gleaming dreams, and we sit in our offices and dens and legislative chambers and dicker and debate and issue proclamations and promises and meanwhile they starve and wither and are raped and live in the streets.

I know how incredibly hard most of us work on behalf of every kid we know.  I know more brave and weary people breaking their backs for kids than I can count.  But there are a lot of kids we don't know, lost kids, scared kids, kids who are headed to an ocean of blood and despair.  How can we catch them on the beach?  How can we bend the bruised and blessed world and save them?  Because they're all our kids.  And all they want, all they ever wanted, is us.




Brian Doyle. "Why Do We Say One Thing About Children But Do Another?" Portland Magazine (Summer, 2011).

Reprinted with permission from the author and Portland Magazine

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Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, in Oregon — the best university magazine in America, according to Newsweek and the author most recently of The Wet Engine, about "the muddle & mangle & miracle & music & miracle of hearts".  Doyle is the author of thirteen books in all: six collections of essays, two nonfiction books (The Grail, about a year in an Oregon vineyard, and The Wet Engine), two collections of "proems," most recently Thirsty for the Joy: Australian & American Voices, the short story collection Bin Laden's Bald Spot, the novella Cat's Foot, and the sprawling novel Mink River.  He is also the editor of several anthologies.

Copyright © 2011 Portland Magazine

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