Charm City Public Transit Breaks My Heart

The hardest thing about riding the light rail and subway is the way it so often leaves me heartbroken.  I didn’t used to be emotional about much of anything.  Becky would probably say I’m still not emotional enough.  Practically every night, if we watch TV, she playfully punches me and criticizes my lack of audible laughter at things like Scrubs reruns, America’s Funniest Videos episodes and Modern Family episodes.  I prefer to laugh on the inside.  When Robin Williams specials are on HBO, my dad can be heard guffawing probably all up and down the block.  I generally just smile.

So, the light rail/subway of the city that reads: Baltimore.  It is less than Charm City viewed from the smelly interiors of those vessels.  Prior to Ariella’s birth, I really didn’t pay attention to the circumstances of other kids too much, and on those occasions that I did pay attention, it was confined to a brief mental note of sorrow.  Now, when I see kids in crappy situations, I am a wreck.  My heart beats so fast, my fists clench into sweaty knots.  I get this sick feeling that I carry throughout the day.  It’s a feeling not dissimilar to the sickness that accompanies a pot of coffee on an empty stomach (not an uncommon experience for me).  It makes me want to cry; so overwhelmed with helplessness.

How can someone neglect a child?  How can someone feel it’s okay to tell a three or four-year-old to “shut the fuck up?”  How can someone tell their jacketless kid to stop complaining about the cold while they have on a thick bubble-coat?  I want to take every single one of these kids home.  They aren’t even given a chance.  They have never felt the tender love of a caring parent.  You can see the hardness in their eyes.  TWO and THREE YEAR OLDS without curiosity!  I look at them and every time, I see Ariella, and fury and heartbreak boil up at the thought of seeing my daughter lose her innocence like these kids have.

(This is actually the same feeling I get when I watch movies that involves mistreatment of kids.  It has become such an immediate and extreme response that I have a hard time watching movies like that, even if I know a happy resolution is coming.  The thought of kids not being loved, not being adored like I adore my daughter, crushes me like nothing else ever has.)

I want to grab these parents and shake them.  I picture myself getting nose to nose with them and yelling, “Hold their hand!  Comfort them when they fall!  Listen to them, even if they are three and don’t make much sense!  Take off your freaking coat and give it to your son!  Stop using drugs!  Don’t blow cigarette smoke in your kid’s face!  Don’t make fun of their school books!  GIVE THEM A CHANCE!”  Childhood and innocence have no value in the world of the light rail and the subway.  The problem is that the vast majority of the parents I see went through the same thing.  The cycle is well established.  They were never told they could be anything.  They were never told sex has consequences, so they don’t even view pregnancies as consequences.  They were never told that being a parent requires a degree of responsibility, so they themselves as parents have never grown up and their kid just becomes a necessary accessory, like a person with a bum leg uses a cane.  It is something they were saddled with but doesn’t require any special attention.

The problem is that mentality is patently, heartbreakingly false.  My friends Bucky and Susan gave/give kids a chance.  My friends Kristin and Jon will likely do so also.  They know that every single kid is special.  They know all children are worthy and deserving of love.  I don’t know if I have what it takes to fill that role, but any way I can support people who choose it, I will.

Mark Batterson spoke at my church earlier this month and said one sentence that really struck me.  He said that part or our job as parents is to engineer experiences for our kids.  Becky and I try to do this with Ariella, advertising every departure from the house as an adventure.  These kids I see on the subway not only don’t get special experiences, but they are not sheltered from the experiences no child should be witness to.  The result is the hard stare, the lack of curiosity, the tight-lipped mistrust of and/or aggression toward everything.

My heart is broken right now and I feel so helpless.

I’ll try to come up with a lighter blog later in the week…Thanks for reading.

Mess of Me by Switchfoot
God Will Lift Up Your Head by Jars of Clay
Break Free by Hillsong


11 thoughts on “Charm City Public Transit Breaks My Heart

  1. I see and experience much of the same on the subway ride to school every day. I’ve seen kids living out the Wire experiences from the 4th (?) season, or at least that’s how it’s appeared. Not being a parent, I’m sure that I haven’t experienced the visceral anger and hurt that you must feel facing this kind of childhood every day. But I still feel angered, frustrated and a longing to reach across the aisle and swoop up the toddler with the blank stare, the crying boy who was just told that “crying is for sissies and girls”, the 11-year old who reminds his little brother just who paid for his name-brand clothes, shoes and backpack as he escorts him home from school alone.

    And at the same time, I am always on guard about generalizing and pitying/judging the families I see who I am often too quick to lump into that “neglect” category. My little sister through Big Brothers Big Sisters is one of those kids. But I also knew her mom, and knew she worked long days at a severely underpaid job as a homecare worker in order to pay for her daughter and her nieces and nephews to have Christmas presents, birthday celebrations, etc. She didn’t talk to her kids the way I would; she swore, listened to music I thought was inappropriate, had an eye-for-an-eye mentality about bullying that I felt sent the wrong message, scolded loudly and often, talked about beating her child’s butt… Yet there was no doubt that she loved her daughter (and her daughter’s cousins) and her daughter knew it. She laughed with her, read to her, cooked dinner… not as much or as healthy as I’d have preferred to see, but…

    I don’t know. I went and have gone back and forth a lot about where to draw the line with concern. There was also a drug dealing couple who literally neglected their children, who lived across the street from me in Durham. I guess I’m wondering how accruately we (those who don’t live in/work with the communities or have similar backgrounds of our own) are able to adequately distinguish when parenting from a different culture (class-based, location-based) crosses the line into parenting that merely repeats a pattern of abuse and neglect with a new generation.

    I am leaving this comment not to challenge you, but because what you said has got me reflecting on my own thoughts and experiences, which if i typed them out into a blog post, would look a lot like yours (minus being a parent part).

    1. I understand there are differences without a doubt, especially when it comes to discipline. I know that some cultures are much more corporal in their discipline. I just hate to see kids ignored. I hate it. I hate to see them put down, sworn at, etc. I don’t think there is any argument that will convince me to be okay with that. I understand and recognize it is a product of their culture, but it’s wrong. The culture needs to change or its going to get worse. We can see it getting worse already. That is where you or me or so many other people should be making a difference by stepping in and demonstrating what love should look like. We don’t have to be perfect, and we definitely don’t need to (and should not) throw out discipline, but we do have to show concern and demonstrate HOPE. There is something more than this crap life you’ve been saddled with, but if you follow the same patterns as your parents, who neglect you, whether they realize it or not, then you are going to more than likely end up the same place they are.

  2. I had my Mother-Baby clinical last week. I spent one day in the NICU, and that was all I ever want to do.

    I changed and rocked a little tyke whose mother had used drugs virtually her whole pregnancy. This little baby was only about 48 hours old, and s/he was having to withdraw from narcotics. It was really rewarding to rock him/her and watch his/her pulse and respirations come down and his/her 02 saturation come up, and then I thought more about why s/he was struggling so much… Mom used coke regularly and maybe meth while she was pregnant!!

    The baby was probably going home with his/her mother who has two other small children at home. I felt so angry at this woman for starting this baby off with such huge problems. The baby was just beautiful too… I wanted to sneak him/her out and give him/her to a high-school friend who has tried and tried to get pregnant and had multiple miscarriages. She would be an amazing mother, and she hasn’t been able to make it happen, but this other women can have three kids!

    I totally feel what you’re saying, Matt. Thanks for letting me vent about my little friend in the NICU.

    1. Diana,
      Thanks for your story.

      In my current job, I sometimes have to go down to the MRI scanners, and I see kids/infants in pain being given MRIs, and it literally makes me want to throw up, but the anger you felt and I feel on the train is not present, only sadness. Seeing kids in pain is excruciating for me.

  3. Matt, do you remember the song “she just disappeared”? That was a response to an article I read about a girl who was neglected and eventually died in the annapolis area. Such heartbreaking things occurring in this world. While it is easy to look at those things in disgust, I am also convicted of the times I don’t give the care that I should to my own kids and how that must break the heart of our father when, even in small ways, I don’t show them the love and affection that he has called me too. It is also a reminder that if it were not for the Grace of God saving a wretch like me, I might be that parent, selfishly pouring out anger, and indifference upon my children. Thank you for writing this bro!

  4. I read an article the other day about a nanny named Jeannine Campbell (if you want to look her up) who was caught on a hidden camera abusing a baby. I watched part of the video when I was reading the article, and it showed this tiny little guy, just under a year I think, sitting on the floor, while she’s slapping him in the back of the head and knocking him over, throwing things at him, and flinging him into his playpen. The thing that got me the most was that, since his face was blurred out, he looked EXACTLY like Holden sitting there, and my heart just seized up and tears sprang to my eyes. That’s the funny thing about being a parent. I’m sure I would have been disgusted and horrified if I’d seen the video a year ago, but my emotional response would not have been as visceral and pain-filled.

    1. Yep. I go through a degree of that almost every day. I can’t even stomach videos like that anymore at all.

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