Friday, May 28, 2010

The "Good Old Days"

I've been revising a middle-grade novel I wrote a couple years ago for my agent. It's loosely based on the experience of "Papa", my deceased father-in-law who told me many years ago how his youngest sister joined the family.

In 1915, he was 11 years old and lived in rural Burlington, VT on a street high above Lake Champlain. He had six sisters and immigrant parents struggling to take care of their kids and pay the taxes on their home.

That year, his mother,"Marna's" best friend, "Colette" revealed she was very ill and asked Marna to raise her infant daughter when she died. Marna agreed because she loved babies and she knew Colette's husband was not only alcoholic but abusive. When my ll-year-old father-in-law brought the baby home, "Colette", almost dead, was taken to the hospital and Papa was confronted with a man who wanted to keep the baby and didn't care if his wife died. The baby belonged to him, he said, and no one else could have her.

Sad story with a happy ending: the infant grew into a full member of the family, led a productive life and is alive today. But over and over I read about the plight of women trying to leave or divorce their abusive partners. Many of them are killed or badly injured in the process because, it appears, these abusive partners believe they OWN the woman and if they can't have her, nobody can.

How wonderful it would be if all girls and boys were taught from a young age that love is respect, not ownership. And that respect does not inflict injuries. Unfortunately,a frighteningly large proportion of children cannot possibly learn this at home because it is the opposite of what they see every day. Therefore, as is often the case, it falls to our educational system to take over parental responsibility in this area.

Some school systems offer anti-violence curricula already, but ALL schools, starting with kindergarten kids, should provide this knowledge. It is the only way all institutions and individuals dealing with this problem will eventually develop more effective and longer-lasting ways of helping domestic and dating violence victims.

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