The child was well-clothed, well fed. But look into his/her eyes. Look deep. You will see a cold, empty house and a malnourished little being clothed in rags inside, looking at you with hopeful big eyes, silently begging for love and maybe just a little warmth and kindness.
I once knew a quiet lady who ran away from home when she was 18, the minute she legally could. Her home life was so unhappy that she took her chances on the streets for a year, disappeared from her family completely for a year, without much money to her name. Her brother left home as soon as he could too, though he was luckier in that he was left a legacy by an aunt which enabled him to go off to university. She, the lovely lady, is about the same age as I. I often wish I could have been more of a friend to her but the opportunity was taken away from me. She never really got over her drug addiction from those rough days and never moved on in her life to have a career or a family. It is as if she is still in a time warp, living in a squat, though her parents are well-to-do. Statistically, she shouldn’t. Healthy middle-class girls with opportunities shouldn’t go on to become runaway drug addicts, stuck in a time warp 40 years later.
Indeed, my friend Eva, from a similar well-to-do family, committed suicide at 48.
And a few months ago, an acquaintance’s daughter ran away from home. The parents were utterly shocked and the police could not do much as the girl was 18. My heart went out to the parents, but it illustrates that children sometimes run away from seemingly normal homes, as in this case.
Over dinner, my daughter chillingly illustrated just how easy it is to run away from home as we were talking about this.
“I swear I will tear the whole world apart to find you,” I declared.
“And do what, Mum? Drag me home by my hair?” Said she, playing devil’s advocate.
She proceeded by telling us that she has enough money in her bank account (saved up from birthday presents, her short stint as a child model and an acting job for Disney Asia) to pay for her first year in medical school.
“Ha! You’ll have to come home after your money runs out,” I crowed.
She reminded me that by the second year, she would have figured out financial aids, bursaries, student loans and hardship funds to get by on her own.
It brought home to me that I could have a successful, rich professional for a daughter, but for what ends, if she is estranged from me? If I could have all the riches in the world, my life would be empty without my family round me. The pain was almost physical.
My daughter must have seen it on my face, as she came over and put her arms round me. “Don’t worry, Momdad, I love you both too much,” and then as an afterthought, “Come to think of it, home ain’t too bad.”
It reminded me of a saying that the world is a better place because of the small decent things that people do EVERY DAY, and I think it applies especially in the home. We need to feed and house a child’s soul, not just his or her physical body, keeping it fed, safe, loved and happy, so that it (the soul) drives the person it lives within to go on and spread love and kindness in the world, building meaningful bonds and living resourceful, less selfish lives as it services the love that it has known.
Main photo: NSPCC. National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children UK.