I did not have a perfect childhood. Who did? Wait, scratch that. I already know the answer: no one. There is no such thing as a Hallmark family, and no such things as perfect childhoods. Now, that said, I think my childhood was pretty good. My family loved me, my sister and I got along quite well (most of the time!) and I was surrounded by love. And books. Always books.
I have a photograph of myself as a toddler, sitting on the bathroom floor surrounded by about five or six books. My mom says it was a pretty common occurence. So that connection is deep and strong. Maybe that's why I hold on to it so tightly.
Over the summer, my mom and I have been cleaning the house. Digging through boxes and storage bins and trying to decide what to keep and what to sell and what to give away to charity. Just this past weekend, I got to two large Rubbermaid bins that were unmarked and heavy. I pulled their covers off and found dozens and dozens of children's books. I grinned and started going through the piles. I weeded out a few that my sister took to use in her first grade classroom. I pulled certain books out and yelled, "Mom! Do you remember this book? I love this book!" ("The Creepy Caterpillar." Seriously. One of the best!) I even paged through and re-read a few of the worn and familiar pages.
Our childhoods really are training grounds for life. My parents taught me the joy of reading and it's something that was always there in my life.
Last night, we went to see "The Dark Knight Rises." I was surprised when Joseph Gordan Levitt's character confronted Bruce Wayne about the money from the fictional Wayne Foundation funding an orphanage/home for at-risk boys. He talked about what was happening to the boys when they aged out - a concept I'm very familiar with in my line of work. The boys who aged out of the system/home were finding solace in the sewers, working for Bane and, essentially, turning to a life of corruption and crime. It's not an unrealistic plot. Statistically, here in Wisconsin, of the children who "age out" of the foster care system, 50% are unemployed within 18 months, 37% have not finished high school and 27% of the young men are incarcerated. Pretty scary statstics, if you ask me.
That's why, toward the end of the film, when Bruce Wayne turns over the Wayne estate to be used to a home for at-risk and orphaned children, I found myself tearing up. It may not be a traditional family for these fictional (but not really all that fictional) young men, but it's a family nonetheless. It's stability. It's permenence. For them, it's home.
(If you're interested in providing a home for some of the more than 6,000 kids in Wisconsin's foster care system, please visit www.wifostercareandadoption.org to find out how to get started.)