That's how a close adult friend bluntly pushed back with another question when I posed the question: "Should we all have gone to some agency in Jersey City and told them what was going on in our homes?"
Essentially, a relative had the same mindset: Back then in the 1950s and early 1960s, there wasn't really any option to growing up in the abusive households as many of us did.
Being placed in a foster home?
Yeah, sure, go to school everyday with that stigma.
Plead to go with relatives in another part of New Jersey? They had their own struggles. And, of course, once that became known, things would get worse at home.
Run away? The streets usually were even more unkind. That was a known.
Pre-teens whose father worked on the railroad with my father were made to kneel in rice for hours as "punishment." That was public knowledge. But so many women, good Roman Catholics, wound up the Old Lady who lived in the shoe who had so many children they didn't know what to do. Yes, unsupervised toddlers would tumble out of windows. Fire escapes were playgrounds.
Sliding into madness, my mother hoarded, including the garbage. She was convinced the neighbors went through it. The only way she allowed it to "exit" was when her own siblings came with a car at night and made a stealth run to the Jersey City dump. Meanwhile roaches, mice, and rats had a merry feast. All that was no secret. Actually, it was a source of humor. A relative smirked, "And, your mother said she didn't like pets."
As her estranged mother kept having children with myriad men, a friend's grandparents would take them in. The two bedroom apartment on Dwight Street became so crowded that the landlord evicted the bunch. She missed days of schools as the bunch searched for shelter.
An acquaintance was regularly beaten by both parents for allegedly thinking she was better than they were. She had mentioned wanting to study to be a nurse.
The ways out were, of course, desperate.
I hid in books. The strategy was to be awarded a scholarship to college.
Yet, my family followed me both through controlling phone calls and letters as well as in my memory bank.
It wasn't until I was dumped by the last member of my nuclear family in 2003 that I calmed down enough to admit, yes, it had been that bad.
A cognitive behavior therapist started me on the way to reframing how I experienced the past. in 2012, I finally followed her advice and took up mindfulness. No, you don't heal. But with the right tools, you can create new space. Here I am, thriving for the first time in my life, in Eastern Ohio.
Back to the options desperate people take ...
A cousin, as the cliché goes," married her father": an abusive drunk and gambler. Others committed active and passive forms of suicide. One was murdered strolling home drunk on the pre-gentrified mean streets of Jersey City.
My close friend became pregnant her senior year in St. Dominic's private high school. She did get her man. He was not pleased. She died at age 58, after what appeared to be a life of being treated as less-than.
The boy in the next tenement on Bay Street was done in during a prison fight.
Several boys ran away to Manhattan. They didn't last long before they were murdered.
That young girl who did want to be a nurse became one. She married a medical doctor. Over and over again in the old neighborhood was told the story how she deserted her family. And, after all they did to make sure she grew up right.
The reality was and still is that child abuse and neglect are common.
On ABC evening news David Muir reports how those tending to the 13 systematically tormented siblings in California leave the room weeping. That is inspiring. However, so many children will never come to the attention of authorities. Never mind feel the comfort of compassion. And, as we go out in the world obviously wounded, the suffering is likely to continue.
The next major experiment in the U.S. should be how to provide abused and neglected minors with options. That aren't desperate.
Bringing back faith-based orphanages, which receive rigid oversight, may be one.
Another may be reconfiguring those "train rides" from between 1854 through 1929, to unite unwanted children with families who claimed they wanted them. I would have opted to try that.
A more radical option could be piloting the communal child-rearing kibbutz concept from Israel.
The nuclear family, made the prevailing model for children to grow up during the Eisenhower era, doesn't seem to have been all that successful.
Who should be the leaders of that new movement to provide options for children at (great) risk?
Lawyers have the voice of authority. Often they are the loudest voice in the room. Those in BigLaw also have the resources and the contacts to get more of those.
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