How Are the Children?

Children celebrating “Día de los niños”

Add ImageAdd Image“How are the children?”

I was told last week that this is a traditional greeting amongst the Maasai tribal people in Africa.
I like it very much, as I think that this greeting might be a way to shatter the shrill politics of this American hour.
Instead of saying, “Hi! How are you?” we would smile and greet each other with “How are the children?”
The little reflection that that greeting causes would help us move beyond some of our more self-centered tendencies and toward that which indeed does matter—the children.

“Hi, how are you?” usually elicits, “Fine, thank you,” but that reply just doesn’t work always with “How are the children?”, at least here along the Texas/Mexico border.

After school tutoring: sharing dreams

The children here are mostly not fine. Graduations are coming up, for instance, but half of those who went into Brownsville’s ninth grades four years ago have dropped out of high school. Around here, even in the year 2010, a high school graduate remains a child of privilege.

“How are the children?” Fine, one might say, if her child has Medicaid. Not so well, if the family has no Medicaid, and the child falls and breaks a bone. Dr. Marsha, the kind pediatrician at the Brownsville Community Health Clinic talks about starting a fracture fund. She wants to call it “These Bones Won’t Heal.” Parents just break down and weep when they learn that the child will need a broken arm cast—a somewhat typical childhood accident is a backbreaker for a family living below the federal poverty line. Dr. Marsha and her clinic allies–social workers, doctors, nurses and medical assistants move heaven and earth to get that arm in a cast–but it is not an easy task. The mother’s anguish is heartbreaking; it does not require a lot of imagination to know how this mother responds to that greeting, for her child is not doing fine.

(Click on photo)

Add ImageAdd Image“How are the children?” Right now, there are 400 of them being held in detention in Cameron County. They are not delinquents, but children—teenagers, and mostly boys but some are infants and toddlers– who made the long trip from Central America and other parts, seeking to reunite with their parents. Some of the children will remain in custody for months, as their cases make their way through the immigration courts. Perhaps they will be reunited with relatives in the USA, or perhaps they will be returned to their home countries. In the meantime, they wait, in a shelter that is a kindly enough place, but they remain alone, separated from family and, this being especially true for the girls, carrying the scars of the horrible things that happen to those immigrants who pass through Mexico. These children are not fine.

I was also told, a couple of weeks ago, that children are resilient, and strong, and many, many of them make do, even with broken bones, a broken education, or broken dreams. I pray and hope that that is true, but it seems irresponsible to hope that a child is resilient and will somehow make it through abuse and neglect and remain a whole human being.

A saner response is to work on what can be changed—the way we educate children, the way we heal them, the way we apply immigration laws to them. I have written about this idea of a kinder and more compassionate society and have received some embarrassingly horrible comments by people who purport to be Christian Believers. Worse, as this is a small town, I would run into these folks once in a while, and really didn’t know what to say to them. I was certainly not interested in talking with them, so I mostly avoided them.

Until now.

Now I know what to say. “Hi! How are the children?”, will do for openers.

And now I am free to listen to them, for on this point, I am truly interested in what they have to say. How could you not want to know how the children are doing?