The Luckiest Children Around

November 11, 2007
By Sally Anderson, Stafford, VA

Last year I was given the experience of a lifetime. My physical education teacher at Forest Park High invited me to go on a trip with her to Yorkshire Elementary, which is one of the poorest schools in Prince William County. The purpose of this trip was to bring whatever our school could donate to the children in the first grade. This trip was important to me because it taught me how to be grateful for what I have, instead of focusing on what I do not.
Back in 1994 my older brother Mike attended Yorkshire when he was in the first grade. While he went to school I stayed home with my mom since I was only four. At the time my family was going through the same hardships these children, now were. We were poor. We had no money for food, clothes or anything else other children had. Because of this, throughout my childhood my mother felt guilty and filled herself with blame. She believed I was not happy because of our money situation. She had no idea that I was clueless. I was too young to have any knowledge about poverty. It was until I was older and introduced to the first grade class at Yorkshire when I understood another reason why my family money situation never bothered me.
On a rainy Friday afternoon my teacher and I arrived at the school. We entered into the main office. From there we received directions to a classroom. As we entered into the classroom we observed first graders who were laughing, smiling, and playing. The teacher introduced herself as Mrs. Santana and then introduced us to the children. Some of the kids tried to hide their grins and the bright color of red that flushed to their faces. Mrs. Santana directed them to an activity. Quietly she whispered to us. She spoke of the painful stories about her students’ home lives and family situations. Some dealt with domestic abuse, but most concerned poverty.
Mrs. Santana described a little boy’s story that stuck in my mind. He was living with his mother and abusive father. His father would scream and yell degrading words at his mom and throw his fist at her out of anger. Sometimes right in front of him. He would hide in the corner covering his ears hoping that soon his father would stop. I stared at him. He looked so happy. From hearing about his story and the other children’s, you never could imagine these were the same children she was speaking about. They seemed so joyful; every second they were giggling, smiling and having fun. One would wonder why they looked so happy. Did they know what was going on? Did they care? Adults would question why he was acting as if they were the luckiest children around. They do not understand how anyone could be laughing and having a good time when that person is going through a tough time.
I reminisced for a quick moment back to my childhood. I thought about my mother. I remembered some nights as I slept by my mother’s side. I heard her cries as she rubbed my back in her belief that I was sound asleep. She was not aware that with every sob and silent prayer she said, I was wide awake. I wondered in my head what was wrong with her. Why was she not happy? Why was she crying? The same as one would wonder about these children.
Mrs. Santana called for the children’s attention. She explained to her first graders the reason why my teacher and I visited their school. With disbelief I watched them scream out of excitement not horror when she announced that our reason was to bring them things like coloring books, crayons, and pencils. I cannot imagine my teen friends thanking their mothers for receiving a box of pencils. It was unbelievable how grateful they were for such a small item. Just then I realized that there was a difference between adults and children, a difference between their perceptions of true happiness.
The greatest thing in life children need to obtain true happiness is what adults do not understand. It is not money, fame or expensive items. The only thing children need to get though the hard times and cruelty that life can bring and allow happiness is love. Just knowing that someone cares for them. It did not bother these first grade children when they received school supplies because the real present they received that day was for us to just show up. It let them know someone was thinking about them and cared. I wished my mom would have understood that there was never a reason for me to blame her for my childhood. Just her love, reading me stories, hugs and kisses and teaching me what was really important, love and family, were my favorite memories as a child. It lead me to believe that I had a better life being poor with my mom and nine brothers and sisters with me every second than having everything in the world for myself and by myself without them or their love.
As I turned to exit the classroom I took one last look at these children and I allowed a tear to slip out of my eye, because even if no one believed they were, these kids were right. They were the luckiest children around.

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