boy doing homework

Homework in St. Paul, Minnesota, “without any footdragging or complaining”
Photo: Sharyn Morrow

R.R. Oswald

A dirty cap pulled down too far, toes of shoes that are turned askew,
Serious eyes that shine like stars-
“PaPa, are you proud of me?”

Dirty fingers, soiled knees, a smudge on his right cheek,
Lessons are learned on days like these-
“PaPa, are you proud of me?”

Outstretched arms that say “pick me up,” an inquisitive face full of hope,
A thirsty mind drinking from everyone’s cup-
“PaPa, are you proud of me?”

The seedling needs water every day; the puppy needs plenty of care,
Warm eggs nestle deep in the hay-
“PaPa, are you proud of me?”

Coins in the pocket feel awfully cold, possessions don’t fill the bill,
They can’t buy joy for a three year old-
“PaPa, are you proud of me?”

As the twig is bent so grows the tree, it’s someone’s job to do,
I wait for the answer to who he will be-
“PaPa, are you proud of me?”

It’s up to us to plant the seeds, to show that we care for what he can do,
An honest answer is all that he needs-
“Yes Ryan, I’m proud of you.”

All over our nation, an epidemic rages. It’s not a fever brought about by a virus, a bacteria, or terrorist’s infectious agent. It’s a self serving epidemic of greed and illicit drugs. It’s the result of careless attitudes toward personal responsibility and selfishness beyond any reasonable human assumption of accountability. It falls squarely on the shoulders of our government, as well as the shoulders of the people themselves.

We, Grandma and I, are raising a grandchild who no one else would. He is a human being, no different from any other. He lives in a world that is increasingly focused on self-gratification, a nation that all too willingly ignores his plight. Above everything else, he needs love, he craves acceptance and respect.

girl doing homeworkAlexis does her homework
Chino Hills, California
Photo: Todd Anderson

When he came here to Langdon several years ago, one of our greatest problems was school work. He had never done a moment of homework in his life. We have struggled, partly because of the culture of his former life, and partly because of a thing called “No Child Left Behind,” a phrase that adopts the sound of something without assuming its essence. But it’s gotten better. For most people, as for him, it is caring people who make the difference — a parent, a grandparent, or perhaps a teacher, who sees students for the promise they offer rather than the broken pledge of a society in default. Grandma and I no longer measure our success in terms of property or creature comforts. The yardstick of our happiness is graduated in increments of five of the first six letters of the alphabet. They are A, B, C, D, and F.

Our grandson is not the only example of a careless human attitude in our rural town, our state, or our nation. He is one of thousands, perhaps millions, who have been laid aside simply because it was the expedient thing to do; a bad decision brought about by bad decisions. For example:

A grandmother attempted to help an adult grandson. He brought his girl friend and their child into the grandmother’s house. They spent her money, ate her food, watched her television, and when she tried to control the situation, they abused her. They made her a captive in one room of her own house. Friends moved her away from her home to an apartment so that she might find safety and peace. Even then the grandson followed her, picking through her purse, begging for her help. He could have gotten a job, he is healthy and strong. He simply doesn’t know better. Like many people, he takes what seems to be the shortest route to his own comfort.

An elderly mother calls friends and acquaintances to ask for financial help because her son and his family have taken over her home. He had a job, but lost it, or quit. He has children, and he expects his mother to support them as well as himself and his wife. At the age of 85, the mother is broke and at a loss to cope.

Our society and its government have grown so cold, so detached from the “people” that we fail to see the neglect that exists in everyday lives: Parents who won’t care for children, children who care not for parents, and grandchildren who have no idea what family is really about. In the meantime our government makes a thirty billion dollar guarantee to a so-called banking institution that really is nothing more than a speculative money laundering operation, designed to funnel cash into the pockets of the highly placed, while investors and taxpayers alike are fleeced. We write down Federal interest rates to tiny numbers like 2 or 3, but think nothing of credit card companies that charge customers ten times that amount. We argue whether it is best to build a fence or use technology to defend against illegal border crossings, but it never occurs to us to prosecute the white collar criminals who entice aliens here with a promise of low-wage jobs that once belonged to Americans. Only 60 short years ago we had just defeated the most powerful, the most evil war machines the world has ever known. We were full of optimism. We prospered, and our families were whole. Today, we are a nation adrift.

boy in waco homework

John and friend at homework time, Waco, Texas
Photo: Mike Davis

There are still good people among us, people who stand up for what they see as right. But with each passing day we are diminished. Our careless and uncaring elected leaders ignore us. They seem to believe in nothing more than their own misguided power. We initiate trillion dollar wars across thousands of miles of ocean, but turn away from the complex challenges of our own lives, even as a hateful drug epidemic tears at the human fabric of our nation. There is a way to stop it. We can put an end to this. But we must choose leaders who will uplift and restore the order of laws favoring people, over laws that favor the wealthy and well-connected.

In a recent speech in Texas, Barack Obama told listeners to “Turn off the TV and video games. Buy a little desk or put that child at the kitchen table. Watch them do their homework.” Grandma and I understand his suggestion completely.

America used to measure itself in terms of simple human dignity.

Will we ever be that nation again?

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