I have a simple request. I am in the midst of a moral dilemma and could use your reassurance. My conscience has been bothering me for a while and this problem does not seem to be going away on its own.
Please hear me out.
This week, two five-year-old boys will enter kindergarten at a local elementary school. Regrettably, that is about all they will have in common.
Months before the first boy was born, his fragile brain and body were exposed to a toxic daily brew of lead, nicotine, carbon monoxide, alcohol, and THC through his mother’s bloodstream. Due to his mother’s food insecurity, his nourishment in the womb was derived primarily from high calorie fast food and sugary snacks. His mother’s only visit to a doctor prior to his birth was at six months, just two weeks before he was born prematurely at three pounds, nine ounces. The boy spent two additional weeks on an incubator at the hospital to allow his lungs to develop and his small body to add weight.
For the first year of this boy’s life, he was largely confined to a car seat or small playpen a few feet from a television in the corner of his mother’s small section 8 apartment. His mother was only 17-years-old when he arrived and she had already dropped out of high school. His father has no idea he even exists. After the first few weeks, the boy was rarely held or cuddled. His mother worked irregular hours at a local convenience store in order to pay the rent and he was left with neighbors or one of his mom’s “revolving-door” boyfriends for long periods of time. The boy obtained most of his daily subsistence through government-supplied baby formula or sugary fruit drinks from a bottle balanced on a pillow in his crib. He grew accustomed to loud, startling noises: the rumbling exhaust and stereo sounds of neighborhood cars, the angry curses of adults, occasional gunshots and screams from the streets, and the blaring of televisions and stereo speakers through the thin walls of his mother’s apartment. The boy got very good at crying himself to sleep.
This boy celebrated his fifth birthday in a DHS shelter after being removed from his mother’s custody due to a third report of abuse and neglect. When he was brought to the hospital, his blood sample contained dangerous levels of methamphetamine. He had already spent nine months of his short life in transient shelters and therapeutic foster homes. His most recent placement lasted only two weeks due to his volatile and destructive behaviors. He spends most of his days watching television or playing games on the computer in the shelter. Out of survival, the boy has become an accomplished liar and thief. He is angry and mean to other children. He also goes to sleep hungry most nights.
He will arrive at kindergarten next week having never traveled outside his city; having never played a board game with an adult; having never ridden a bike; having never visited a museum; having never attended preschool; having not yet learned his letters and numbers; having never gone to church; having never had a sibling or best friend; having never swam in a pool; having never been on a T-ball team; having never read a book, and having never been told “I love you” by anyone who really mattered.
In contrast, the second boy was born full-term, healthy and strong at over eight pounds. His body was nourished throughout his mother’s pregnancy through a regular intake of nutritious foods and prenatal vitamins. His first year of life was filled with love and laughter. This boy was doted on constantly by his stay-at-home mother, his devoted father, and a large group of family friends and extended family. He was routinely soothed, hugged, kissed, smiled at, sang to, read with, and loved on by his parents and grandparents. His large suburban home is quiet, secure, and filled with happy sounds. His young body and mind are enriched daily by high quality foods, fun physical activity, soothing music, and calming voices.
This boy celebrated his fifth birthday at Disneyland with his parents and older siblings. In his first few years, he has traveled to the Florida coast to play in the ocean; to Washington, D.C. to visit the monuments, and to New York City to watch a Yankees game. This was in addition to numerous weekend trips to his family’s lake house for camping and boating. He cannot recall ever going to sleep hungry or feeling unsafe or unloved.
This boy will arrive at kindergarten next week having already learned to write his entire alphabet and a few simple sentences; knowing how to add and subtract numbers; knowing how to pray; knowing how to play simple tunes on a piano; knowing how to ski down the bunny slope; having visited the zoo, the public library and every museum in his town; having a half-dozen close friends, and having been told “I love you” every single night of his life by the most important people in his world.
These two boys are from backgrounds as different as can be. One will come to school self-confident, trusting of adults, and fully ready to learn. By the end of kindergarten, some of the words he will hear adults use when describing him are “gifted,” “bright,” “beautiful,” and a “joy to teach.”
The other boy will come to school desperate for love and attention but lacking the skills to be socially and academic successful. The words he will hear to describe him are “lazy,” “delayed,” “mischievous,” “lacking attention,” and “dishonest.”
Yet, at the end of kindergarten we will expect both boys to be well-behaved, get along with others, and to love learning.
We both know that won’t happen with the way things are now.
So, my friend, here is where you come in. I need to hear your soothing words.
A lot of people tell me I should do more to help. But I really don’t want to. So, I am asking you to let me off the hook. This situation is NOT my problem. While it is sad and unfortunate, I cannot be expected to try to fix every ill of society.
I can’t serve as a parent for every child. Some kids are just born lucky; others not so much. That’s just life.
So, please reassure me that this unloved child will be just fine. Tell me he just needs to move beyond his past, stop making excuses, and work on developing a growth mindset. If he would toughen up a little, get a little grit, learn to behave himself, and buckle down and get to work, he can do just as well in school as anyone else. You agree with me, don’t you?
I need you to remind me again this nation was founded on the ideal of equal opportunity for all, NOT equal outcomes. Hard work and responsible living matters. It’s not my job to make life fair. If we started giving extra help to all poor families, that would be the same as socialism, right? That’s not what our Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote our Constitution.
I need to hear how helping these children now will create an entitlement mentality for another generation. How this boy will grow up expecting more and more handouts from me. How he will just become dependent on the government and not want to work for a living.
Please whisper in my ear that is perfectly okay that the wealthiest 1% of Americans possess 40% of the nation’s wealth and that this group’s wealth is greater than the bottom 90% of our citizens. Tell me it is fine that 95% of the income growth since 2009 has gone to the top one percent of Americans. Tell me there is nothing wrong with the net worth of the nation’s 400 wealthiest individuals exceeding the net worth of half of all American households. Remind me it is capitalism at its best when the average employee needs to work more than a month to earn what the average CEO earns in an hour. That’s all good, right?
Here’s the truth – I don’t want this to be MY problem.
I have tried to help for decades but it never seems to be enough. Why are “these” people so needy and greedy? It’s time to let me off the hook and just let everyone fight for what they get.
Why should wealthy people have to suffer to help people who make bad life decisions? These are natural consequences for poor behavior. Kids will always suffer for the irresponsible decisions of their parents. Who am I to intervene?
I have too many bills to pay as it is. I have a huge military to run. I have dozens of other nations around the world to send money to. I need to promote economic growth by giving out tax breaks and incentives to corporations and wealthy people. Plus, my economists tell me the money will eventually trickle down to those on the bottom if we just let the system work. I just need to get out of the way.
Let’s be real. I honestly don’t have any more money. I am already deeply in debt and the people certainly don’t want to pay more of their hard-earned wages to do what seems necessary to solve this complex problem.
People just need to get off my back.
Say it with me. He’s not my problem. He’s NOT my problem. HE‘S NOT MY PROBLEM!
There. I feel better now. Thank you for helping to ease my conscience. It’s going to be okay. I can sleep soundly now.