The rainbows in her eyes had faded the last time I saw her. I was her Santa, but she was never going to know; this is usually how this Secret Santa pact goes, right? I remember her jubilant narrations of imaginary creatures and fast forwarded poems, she was the most brilliant toddler I had ever known. A strange beauty she had carried within her four years ago when I came to be so awed by her that I made this lifelong commitment of bringing her joy every Christmas. And as far as I remember, I have tried my best. From ambitious coloring books to pretty pink clothes, i tried keeping up with her each year. But the 5 year old I met recently only wore her clothes and had her face, but the lights were out and the doors were tightly shut. She had become a reclusive, a somewhat frightened version of the beautiful baby that she was, since her parents separation had washed away her shine and she was a shell of a girl, grown too soon.
Clearly we are doing something wrong to our children. Or not doing something to make things right, or even better. The fairy tales of my childhood wiped away the small wrongs that may have happened in the time that I grew up, and I don’t think any of the scars were permanent. But I have learnt of friends who have had their worst nightmares spelt out to them, each night in the touch of family members who groped them or did worse. The kind of worst that just doesn’t go away when the sun comes out again, but follows in the recesses of your insecurities till adolescence, sometimes even through adulthood. Are you suspicious of friendly strangers, or uncomfortable with peoples affections? Have the fingers in the dark not left you yet?
I have friends who feel unclean and undeserving of love, because as they were being abused as children, they did not know who to go to and make it stop. I think we have somehow been raising a generation of helpless frightened children wearing masks of older people, who could be our friends, our neighbors, our loved ones. And each time our friends are harassed by men or felt up in trains, and we ask them to get over it, we are branding this violence and making a joke out of the innate sensibilities and intelligence that we necessarily should possess. It is not okay, not when you are 5 or 15 or 25. It never was okay and there is no reason why you should keep living up to this notion.
I think our children and our neighbors children will need more strength growing up than we ever did. They will need hope and love and care because the demons of this era are more efficient and their effects long lasting. If you see a happy child you know suddenly fall into depression or insecurity or any other form of behavior unlike their own, don’t waste any time in flagging it. If your own child seems unresponsive or gloomy, take the time out to ask, and pay attention to all the details. Don’t get too busy preparing them for their future that you miss the dark spots of their everyday life. Create a relationship of trust and confidence with the children in your family, so they may come to you when they are lost. Maybe you wont save all of them, or maybe even most of them, but you might end up saving one or two and giving them the chance to see the rainbow whole and pure and not through the broken pieces of their childhood.
I will see her again this Christmas and present her with a kaleidoscope so that she can still see the beauty beyond the cracks that only time and love can fill.