Tuesday, May 09, 2006

For the Love of a Child

Our neighbors. The kids at school. The ones playing in the street. Most have one thing in common: absent or intoxicated parents.

This is not to speak poorly of all Korean parents, of course. But some of the children at our school and in our neighborhood come from a certain kind of background. Their parents work in the factories, and their fathers typically drink alarming quantities of Soju, over 20% alcohol, sold in glass bottles like beer and consumed at the same rate. The father next door returns home in time for a late dinner, it seems, then leaves again, coming home a second time after midnight. Every night. I've never seen the mother. The kids are alone.

Last week the students were supposed to bring their report cards back to the teachers, signed by a parent. One little boy signed it himself and tried to hand it in - but it was clearly 2nd grade writing, not an adult! So, he was sent home with it again. Three days later I asked him, "Where is your report card?" He looked at me, lip quivering, and replied "No see Mom. No see Dad." He's not lying. Apparently these kids sometimes go days without seeing their parents.

Yesterday we went to a festival and theatre production in NamWon with a family. It wasn't really what we would consider "family time" though. The parents had no interest in keeping their 3rd grade daughter within sight, and she had no desire to stay with them. At one point she stopped at a water fountain, and the rest of us kept going. Neither Mom nor Dad looked back. We kept walking. Several hundred yards later, as discussion was begun of where to have lunch, Gordon asked them, "Uhm, what about EunSu?" Oh, right! We have a daughter. Uhm, gee, what to do... So, Dad went off to look and Mom found us a restaurant. Eventually, she was reunited with us. No one is concerned in the least.

When we go on school field trips, the kids are often left alone to eat lunch or play. The teachers sit together and ignore them. No one counts noses or calls names, I'm sure they've never heard of "counting off". When we go for a walk, there isn't an adult "bringing up the rear," to make sure no one is left behind. Obviously the kids survive anyway, and I don't know how often someone gets lost, maybe they don't, but... It just feels like something is missing. Who tells these kids that they are important? Who tells them it matters if they do well in school or not? Who teaches them the Golden Rule? Who says "I love you"?

So, Mom and Dad, this is for you. Thank you for being there. Thank you for being at home when I got off the bus in 2nd grade. Thank you for taking me to the fair and Dragon Day and the Highland Games and concerts and movies and the park - and making sure I didn't get left behind. Thank you for making us dinner every night and reading to us at bedtime. Thank you for playing with us. Thank you for signing our report cards. Thank you for saying "I love you" every day. Thank you for teaching me what it means to love a child.

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