It was the dog that I saw first. He was a brown fluffy thing, all poof and snubby nose, a Pomeranian type. His owner was bringing him into a phonebox, trolley parked outside, packed steeple high with bulging plastic bags. Homeless. Dog owner. Drug addict.
He hunkered down in the phonebox, the dog at his feet, back to the busy street outside. Morning. Rush hour traffic. Shooting up. I was glad I didn’t see his face; I didn’t want to imagine his life, his youth, his childhood.
Another story. Another scene. A phonecall to a friendly voice. A kind voice at the end of the line, always there, always listening.
“What’s wrong love?”
“The baby’s crying”
“The baby’s crying?”
“He needs his nappy changed.”
“Could you change his nappy love?”
“There’s no nappies here.”
“When was it changed last?”
“Two days ago.”
Eleven children in the home. No food. The younger ones can’t stop crying. Addict parents, drink this time.
And this is the world we live in. Addiction. Neglect. Hunger. Abuse.
I’d spotted the homeless man and the dog on the way to the event – Herfamily.ie‘s Cheerios charity breakfast to highlight the work that Childline does. It was at the event that I heard that one story, the case of a little boy who called the line regularly to report the stream of neglect his family were enduring. The only staple in his life was the kind voice at the end of the phone. Every eye in the room was wet. Mothers and non-mothers, crying for this helpless boy and his suffering sibling.
I can’t stop thinking about this family, who were eventually reported to the authorities and the children taken into care. Who else is crying right now? Who is hungry and afraid and living a life that no child should ever even imagine?
Anna Daly of Childline explained their work carefully. They don’t offer advice. They don’t tell children what do to. Instead they listen and support and encourage their callers to find their own answers, to come to their own conclusions about what’s best to do in their own situation.
It means the children can always call. And not feel judged. And not feel like they need to do something in their already pressured lives.
Sharyn Hayden, the lovely comedienne wrapped up the day wonderfully. ”I worry that I’m a bad mammy, “ she told us. “That I don’t give my child enough attention, that I do the laundry when my child wants to play laser beams and dinkies.”
And then, after a morning listening to the horrors happening under our watch, in the houses in our country, she and we realised that we are truly wonderful parents. That we have nothing to be worried about. That the only thing we should really consider is what we can do to help the helpless, to reach out to those who can only reach for one thing. A phone and a voice. For love from a stranger’s words. For Childline.
Text BREAKFAST to 50300 to donate €2 to Childline. Register to host your own breakfast at childlinebreakfast.ie or by calling 1850 50 40 50.