Recently I decided I would start riding my bike to work. At least a few times a week. This is one of my many New Year’s resolutions. In all likelihood, I won’t get very far.
I hadn’t ridden my Bianchi in over a decade. Brakes seemed sketchy. So, before my first voyage, I took it in last week for a tune-up. Today I picked it up.
I went for a test drive, back and forth, across our cul-de-sac.
I saw our next-door neighbor, playing with his baby girl. Albert is probably in his late thirties. His baby, Eleanor, just turned one.
I don’t talk to Albert often. Partially because I’m an introvert. I feel awkward. And also because he’s an ER doctor; he’s not around much.
I did want to ask him about COVID-19. Last May, I wrote this post, which included “ER doctors are seeing a spike in severe cases of child abuse.”
So I rolled up. His golden retriever, Maddy, rushed me. She just wanted attention.
“Hello, Albert, how are things at work?”
Albert is soft-spoken. He doesn’t talk much. And when he does, he gives really short answers, always with a smile.
This is a summary of what Albert just said about COVID-19.
I prodded: “I read that there shortage of beds in Southern California hospitals.”
“We are treating people in the waiting room. We are having to send people with other conditions home. There’s no room.”
I inquire more. “Are most of those come in elderly, or with preexisting conditions?”
“Some of them, yes.”
Then he added something. For those of you that think COVID-19 is some kind of hoax or exaggeration, please pay attention. This really just happened; I just came inside to memorialize what an ER doctor just told me.
“Some just die. There’s no way we can predict it. Younger people. What appeared to be very healthy people.”
I ask, “That is the reason for the use of the adjective novel, right? It’s new and we don’t know enough about it yet?”
“Yes, it’s new. Very difficult to predict.”
This wasn’t news to me. Just a few weeks ago, a Congressman-elect from Louisianna, Luke Letlow, died of COVID-19. Healthy as an ox. Forty-one years old. He left behind his wife and two children.
Human coronaviruses were first identified in the mid-1960s, but have likely circulated in humans for centuries. They are part of a large group of viruses that have crown-like thorns on their surface. The Latin word for crown is coronam. COVID-19, the current strain, was first discovered in 2019, hence the suffix, 19.
I thanked Albert for his time. I got back on my bike.
I rode for about 10 more minutes, thinking about what Albert just said about COVID-19.
This is my daughter, Bree. She is a student at Columbia Medical School. Because she works in the hospital, she was able to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.
Growing up, I indoctrinated my children. Often to their chagrin, there were lectures, tutors, and many conversations about philosophy, faith, politics, and science — the stuff that really matters in life.
But I never tried to never tell them what to think — I taught them HOW to think. I taught them that knowledge isn’t the same as belief. That truth and certainty are, also, very different.
They learned the difference between a priori and a posteriori, sound versus unsound premises, logical fallacies, and how to spot the ever-so-common false dualism.
They were to respect those of other faiths, no faiths, other political parties (and I never revealed to them who I voted for or which party I belonged to) — that it was easier to hate your opponent than to take the time to understand his or her point of view.
Finally, I taught them to trust the guilds of science — empiricism — and beware of the allure of trendy conspiracy theories (which are based on the fallacy of affirming the consequent). That the Center For Disease Control, The National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organization, and The American Medical Association — tens of thousands of the world’s greatest scientists and doctors — develop and administer vaccinations for viruses such as polio, smallpox, measles, rabies. Countless lives, as a result, are saved.
I’m proud of Bree, and those like her on the front lines who study and trust science and give their lives to keeping us safe.
When I was in high school, I coached boys football and basketball at my former junior high school. This was my first real job.
As a parent, I coached my boys’ soccer and basketball teams. I didn’t get paid for that; I was a volunteer.
I attended countless soccer, basketball, football, rowing, tennis games, matches, races, etc. I cheered for my boys’ teams.
I was never one of those parents who yelled at the refs. Even when they made a bad call.
My daughter played concert piano in junior high and high school. She attended an arts conservatory, once playing at Carnegie Hall during her senior year.
Between coaching and the boys and Bree, competitions were common.
As a coach, our teams won some. And we lost some.
As a parent, my children won some. And they lost some.
I taught my young players, and my young children to be good winners, and good losers.
Never would I allow poor sportsmanship, even if a ref made a bad call. Never did I allow complaining or whining the other team “cheated.” At the end of the game, win or lose, you look the other team in the eye, shake a hand, say “good game.”
What mattered more to me than the final “score,” was character.
Why? Becasue later on in life, all children need to know that things just don’t always turn out the way you want.
Sometimes you lose.
Life isn’t always fair.
Later in life, I competed for political office. I ran for United States Congress in 2018. And I lost. And my loss was public. I immediately called my primary opponent, the current Congressman who defeated me, Harley Rouda. We had breakfast a few weeks later. After Congressman Rouda was sworn in, I visited him at his office in Washington DC, congratulating him, even though he was in the “other party.”
I lost bad in the my first forray into poltitics. But I felt, for the sake of any of those players who still watch me with me (and some do), and, more important, my children, I must model good sportsmanship.
Why “new?” — because reports of child abuse have dropped. Why have they dropped? — because mandated reporters (teachers, pediatricians, coaches) with their eagle-eyes, aren’t able to see the kids. They can’t see the bruises or the dissociation or the trembling.
On average, 5 children die every day from child abuse. Because of COVID-19, that average is on the rise.
Incidents of sexual abuse are also on the rise. For the first time, over half of the visitors to the National Sexual Assault Hotline were minors. Of those who called with concerns related to the COVID-19, 79% said they were living with their perpetrator.
I’m writing today to raise awareness. I will write every day this month.
Writing is hard. You probably know what I mean. But writing about this new epidemic wasn’t hard. The words rolled off my fingers. There was a crisis. So I wrote about it on day two and day three.
But the writing got harder. Because every morning I receive an email from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). And the email lists news stories about child welfare. And I read about how – all across the country, and the world – children were suffering, in unprecedented ways. Sexual abuse and physical abuse — and I could help wonder what it must feel like to be locked in an apartment for months with your abuser. I thought about the children I’ve met. Victims.
All you’d see on the news every hour is COVID-19 COVID-19 COVID-19 but noting – zero – on those who live in the shadows. Children. Minor children of neglect, abuse, and abandonment. These ones not suffering from the virus, per se, but from something I believe to be far more dangerous: family-induced childhood trauma.
Writing about the children wasn’t a too much problem on day four or five, which I titled Urgent Versus Urgent.
In January, I visited my psychologist for the first time in over a year. I seemed to be dealing with symptoms of depression. Everything in my personal life was flourishing. At RFK, our work was expanding to new states and new countries.
There was no “reason” for the depression. But something was up. Have you ever felt that way? — you just now something’s wrong even though everything in your life is going really well.
My therapist introduced me to the term, compassion fatigue — a disorder known to those who work with ailing populations:
Those who have experienced compassion fatigue describe it as being sucked into a vortex that pulls them slowly downward. They have no idea how to stop the downward spiral, so they do what they’ve done since medical school: They work harder and continue to give to others until they’re completely tapped out.
I now had a name for my new pyschological state of affairs. Always a good first step. I soon went to the literature, working on self-care and awareness. More yoga and prayer and exercise.
Work intensified. We developed new programing. How do we reach these children? Who will help them in this time of crisis?
When I interviewed for this role, during one of the many interviews, I was asked, “What do you believe to be your greatest strength with respect to this role?” Without hesitation, I responded, “compassion.”
This is weird to write. I’m just helping it real. I’m most certainly not like Mother Teresa or anything. But I feel the pain of others. Many who know me know this aloof kind of logical socially awkward introvert; that’s just my exterior. It’s my personality. Inside of that exterior — I can be kind of a mess when I see people suffering. Literally — somewhere in my chest, I feel it. Sometimes I have to gasp for air. Especially when the pain is the pain of a child. I don’t know why. It could be because of what happened when I was a child, but I’m not ready to write about that.
Maybe you feel the pain of others, too.
I remained connected to our RFK chapters and to HHS. Our RFK team began working on a national partnership to help the new emergency first responders: social workers.
I wrote on days six and seven and eight. It was getting harder.
Day 10, the entirety of my post read, “I can’t write about the pain. Goodnight.”
I don’t want to read it, anymore.
The morning reports. About the children. Not your loved and sheltered and guided ones.
The millions shacked up with torture. Torture. In America. COVID-19 makes them illusive to the press. Who talks about them. No mandated reporters to help.
I feel for the homeless; I fear more for children of rampant neglect, abuse, abandonment, far more.
They will end up incarcerated unless we act.
Unless we act.
We can act.
I didn’t write again until May 17, day 17. Then day 19. Then day 24.
Today is the 31st. Last day of National Foster Care Awareness Month.
Last post for the month.
I will keep speaking and writing because the children are still at home and there will be a flood of new abuse reports in the upcoming months.
She lives in New York City. She attends Columbia University Medical School. Her graduate work is the field of genetics.
I wish she was here. But her life is there now. She finished her first year, last week. Her second year begins in a few days. She will intern at Presbyterian Hospital, this term.
We had a Zoom call, this morning – a surprise Zoom birthday party for my 25-year-old baby.
The call was her mother’s idea. Not all of la familia could get on the call. But I and her mother and her siblings and aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins and stepfamily all joined at 8:30 a.m. PST.
Protect was my word.
We wanted the surprise Zoom birthday party to actually be a surprise. We all dial-in. Then it dawns on us that nobody told Bree about the call.
We laughed. Would she be available? She could be taking a shower, be on a walk, her phone could be dead.
Planning isn’t my specialty.
I text her.
I text again and again and again and finally she replies: “hi.”
Told her I wanted to Zoom with her. Suspiciousness must have been in her; we have never Zoomed. We use FaceTime.
Anyway, she gets on a few seconds later and her face beams.
Our family is very close.
After a few minutes of catching up and laughing, her mother suggested that each of us say a word or words describe Bree.
Her mother and siblings and aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins and stepfamily all joined and revealed their words with an explanation. Their words were radiant, fun, loving, music, joy, intellect, sweet, peacekeeper, lovely, caring, intelligent, diligent, fun, caring, brilliant, dance and funny stories.
It was my turn.
I said something like this:
Protect is my word. Because 25 years ago, at about this exact time, you came into this world. And I hadn’t known what love was until that moment. Then the nurse said she was going to take you and clean you. I told her I would accompany her. And she took you into this room and she placed you on a small bed under this warm light. And she stepped away to gather the cleaning materials. And you lay there, exposed, without touch, crying. And I put my two hands on you and whispered into your ear and told you that I would always protect you, until the time I breathe my last breath.
I’m thousands of miles away from her today. And if I saw her now, I’d, for the first time, kiss her 25 times on the forehead. (Whenever I see her, I kiss her years on her forehead.)
I’ll see her soon enough.
I’ve been thinking of my 25-year-old baby all day today.
But I couldn’t not think of the 125,000 children in American whose parental rights have been terminated. That means they live in the foster care system and have nobody — neither father nor mother nor sibling nor sister nor aunt nor uncle nor grandparent nor cousin nor stepfamily — to protect them.