Go Carts, Cheating and the Human Condition

Hank Mattimore
Reproduced with Permission

So I'm talking to this 12 year old boy at the Children's Village. Let's call him Tony.

'You know, Grandpa Hank, sometimes I can't figure it out. Like one time I paid five dollars to ride the go-carts at Scandia. They tell you your ticket is good for four laps, you know. Well, after that fourth lap, I just decided to keep going. I was having fun and something in me just sort of snapped and I kept going for another three or four laps. When they finally made me stop, they were pretty mad and they kicked me out. I don't know why I did it. I knew it was wrong but I did it anyway."

This was the longest speech I had ever heard from this kid. I couldn't help smiling at his story and loving Tony's youth and honesty in the telling of it. I did things like that as a kid, didn't you? We knew it was wrong but we went ahead and did it. What was encouraging about Tony's story is that, perhaps for the first time in his young life, he was wondering WHY he did it.

I'm hoping that his questioning of his own motives may give him some insight into why other people, especially people like his parents, have not done right by him. Maybe it will help him come to grips with why his Dad deserted him and his little brother or why his mom seems to like the bottle more than her children. Perhaps, in coming to acknowledge the stupid things he is capable of doing, it will help him to understand his parents better.

Kids like Tony (there are nearly 100,000 foster kids in California) have a lot of "figuring out" to do. They are angry because they feel that their parents have rejected them. At the same time, they carry around a burden of guilt because deep down they "know" that it's their fault that their parents have put them on the throw-away pile.

It's hard to know what to say to a twelve year old who has been rejected by mom and dad. I can assure him that he is not to blame for his parent's actions. I can hug him and love him and tell him that there are people who care what happens to him. I can encourage him to get on with his life and not repeat the mistakes of his parents. But I can't really answer why his parents and thousands of other parents give up on their kids or neglect them or use them for their own sexual gratification. "That's just the way it is," is way too weak an answer.

Some day, when Tony is an old guy like me, he will realize that the way he was treated by his parents was not so much about him at all. He will come to understand that what makes a parent abuse a child is part of the same human condition that makes an alcoholic who has been on the wagon for a month, take that first drink or tempts a faithful husband to cheat on his wife. He will understand, maybe even forgive his parents because he will see the same human weakness in himself.