Spring has come. There are some tufts of green grass in the front yard and the temperature has not dipped below zero in a while.
There is birdsong in the mornings, in addition to the familiar croaking of the ravens. The willows are wearing their dots of grey fur.
I ought to be feeling better than I am; life is good for Pete and me, here in Watson Lake. Pete likes his work and mine is going well.
With the promise of summer comes the prospect of friends visiting from Outside (you and Andrew!), and plans made with friends who live here — camping trips, and outdoor dinners. Planting can begin soon.
But I am dis-eased, and it’s not post-holiday blues; I moved on from that with my usual speed.
This is something familiar, not welcome, seemingly unavoidable. I’ve been here before, with a different virus but the same result, a low-level creeping sickness that is but a part of a universal malaise.
Mine began with a snippet of news on the Yahoo! home page. I scan those bits while on my way to check my e-mail, stopping to call up the full page if it catches my attention.
This particular one caught my attention all right, but I didn’t want to know any more about the man who kept his daughter in a basement, impregnating her six times.
Not only did I skip the in-depth story on the internet, I turned down the radio when it came on, and turned off the TV news when the anchorman started to talk about it. I refused to get involved in discussions about this tragic happening, changing the subject immediately, confident it would all soon go away, replaced by the next sensation — there’s no shortage of them.
Why, I asked myself, did this particular story have this effect? There are daily reports of horrific abuse of women and children all over the world and I’ve heard them for more years than I care to think about, feeling that moment of disgust and shock before the news moves (so quickly) on to the latest celebrity purchase, political scandal, a technological advance guaranteed to improve our lives, studies showing we need to drink wine every day, etc. etc.
I think the story of the man imprisoning his daughter is the straw that broke this camel’s back. It’s the story that suddenly made it all too much, and impossible to avoid.
Despite my best efforts, I find I am haunted by images provoked by a story I have refused to learn.
None of us wish to dwell on the things that make us unhappy, discontent, or restless.
We certainly don’t want to spend a lot of time on the things that cause outrage. Outrage demands an action, and we feel helpless in the face of a growing tide of things in our lives we recognize are simply wrong.
It is wrong that our environment is becoming polluted to the point of no return; it is wrong that our governments don’t appear to respond to the will of the people; it is wrong that we are living more and more in an atmosphere of paranoia and fear.
It is fundamentally and sickeningly wrong when we are living in a society that does not care about and protect children.
Watson Lake has been involved in projects to raise money to help children in other countries.
The elementary school gathered $1,500 to support the education of girls in a school in Swaziland. This was admirable, of course, and represents a nice piece of change from a small town for a cause that is undeniably a good one.
What of the children in Watson Lake?
Yes, they appear to have adequate clothing, lots of toys, and plenty to eat — all meeting the basic requirements of a good life for a child.
One sees kids being taken to school in large pickups or SUVs, indicators of families not short of financial means.
But what of those statistics?
Those numbers revealing the level of violence and abuse in too many homes?
What about unreported incidents?
It is estimated that figure would be SEVEN times more than those that get recorded by the RCMP, the hospital, counsellors or Social Services.
The two schools in Watson Lake, an elementary school and a secondary school, report stunningly low attendance. The academic levels are the lowest in the country.
What is really going on here?
Why are some families, at great expense and emotional cost, pulling their kids out of these schools and sending them elsewhere?
I have had occasion to be in the schools, using the libraries, and have naturally come in contact with the staff. I’ve socialized with a few of them. I have attended some of the public functions.
Not having kids in the schools, I obviously cannot and do not claim that sort of experience, but I do have a lifetime of research and observation and speaking from that I can say the people who are working in the schools display a level of dedication and caring that is impressive.
Salaries don’t cover the extra hours spent in activities designed to engage and support students; money doesn’t buy the hugs, the warmth and attention I have seen teachers put out for the kids.
It doesn’t purchase the willingness to keep trying to come up with ways to help kids who are coming to school in a state of crisis every day.
There are all sorts of efforts being made on the part of concerned parents and other community members.
Businesses readily and regularly donate money and support for student events. At social gatherings, it is rare not to hear a discussion, at some point, about the schools or the recreation centre — anything that is about kids.
This is not a town full of folks who don’t give a damn about their children.
But the fact, the reality, is whatever is being done, it is simply not enough.
In the dramas of human existence that have caught me up over the years, this one is becoming paramount; children, their survival, their well-being, has to be what we all care about — the global glue, so to speak.
One does not have to be a parent to recognize the health of the next generation is our legacy.
Not only do I find myself without an all-encompassing answer to the infinite problems around this issue, I have yet to talk to anyone who does.
I guess a beginning would be an acknowledgement the children are not doing well, that many are suffering and their suffering affects all of us on some level.
There is a profound silence around their pain; none of the witnesses speak of it publicly.
The beauty and tragedy of this issue is its immediacy; it’s right under our collective nose. Unless one lives alone in the bush, in jail, or in other isolating circumstances, children are a part of our daily lives.
What can be done? Some of the ideas I have heard would appear to have merit and would be a beginning:
A breakfast program at the elementary school featuring food that is nutritious and plentiful.
The teachers presently work to offer toast, muffins, and juice. Obviously this is better than nothing and one is loathe to criticize, given the extra work it demands on the part of the school staff, but it could be better with some community involvement.
There are many organizations and societies in town, all feeling the pinch of few volunteers.
Maybe it is time for people who don’t volunteer to step up to the plate?
It’s always easy to give money; sometimes it is time that is really needed.
A public acknowledgement of the work of school personnel. Three school staff members have been to Whitehorse to receive their 20 years of service awards since I have taken up residence here and the only way I knew of it was through my presence in the schools, peripheral as it has been.
Why not an announcement, complete with photograph and bio in one of the Yukon’s newspapers?
A radio interview?
A dinner hosted by the town, expressing gratitude for work well done and a retirement well earned?
In a recent Yukon News article retiring Whitehorse schoolteachers were featured; there was a short bio on each one, and praise for their dedication.
Uma, I think, at last, there are two questions to which I can answer “absolutely”:
Are children of maximum importance?
Do dogs laugh?
Heather Bennett is a writer who lives in Watson Lake.