Dreaming with their eyes open

Featured image
Playing hide-and-go-seek in Central Park. Photo: JH.

Thursday, December 21, 2023. Four days till Christmas Eve. My memories of Christmas always take me back to the beginning when I (briefly) believed in Santa and even, when I was five, and heard (what I thought at the time) was his footstep by the front door. It wasn’t very loud — and it was downstairs of course — and it was very late at night. I somehow woke up to hearing it.

In reality it probably was my father hitting his foot on the step to cast off some of the snow he was accumulating outside. This was back when we had white Christmases.

I grew up in a house that was prone to harsh temperament

Watching the world go by from my terrace.

That wasn’t unusual growing up in that house, although it came and went. And on Christmas, it was the whole imagined scene. My father’s outbursts and my mother’s tears were set aside in my own worrying head: we needed a tree!

I remember a Christmas Eve when there was no tree to put up and decorate. There was also the issue of the two bucks to buy one. My father couldn’t come up with it, and my mother assumed that was because he lost it all in a card game or on a horse or a number; which was his habit.

We forget — or never knew — children growing up in stressful marital and economic circumstances suffer profoundly from the atmosphere of troubled parents. That night it was partly affected by the tree. However, I played the boohoo kid who has to go without a Christmas tree, and my mother came up with the cash. My father begrudgingly accepted it and took me along with him to pick out the tree. And I recovered from my deep disappointment instantly since there was the decorating the tree.

My mother and my father both came from great stress and hardship growing up. Both of their parents were immigrants in the late 19th century — my father’s from Ireland, and my mother’s from Poland when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. People emigrated here from great hardship to what was imagined to be the promised land: America. However, the hardship of immigration they were escaping was often matched by life in the United States for many.

My mother’s mother died in her 32nd year with all six of her children (five girls and one boy) standing by her bed as she expired. Her father had lit a candle at the foot of the bed observing that she was taking her last breaths. Her mother about take her last breath, in that state, crawled to the foot of the bed and blew it out. A few moments later, as they continued to stand there, she died.

My mother was nine years old at the time, the second of the six. There was an infant, a girl. And now no mother. Their father put them all into a Catholic orphanage where they all experienced the vagaries of life for parentless children. They were all eventually placed in homes where the girls encountered all of the classic abuse, to put it gently. Their father abandoned them and all except the son; and his children — with the exception of my mother — never saw him again and never wanted to.

When I grew up, over the years, I learned much more about my parents’ childhoods, and the way they were treated. The girls had it the worst because besides being “enslaved” by the mistress of the family that took them in, they had to deal with the men who exercised their male right to have sexual encounters when they felt like it. Probably because of that background I am very sensitive observing (watching) how children are treated and/or behave in public.

Which brings me to The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NYSPCC) which is globally recognized as one of the foremost child protection agencies. Having become familiar with them over the years, because of another commitment, I missed this year’s annual Fall Gala which took place last month at New York City’s Rainbow Room.

Mo Rocca, the Emmy-winning correspondent for CBS Sunday Morning and host of the Mobituaries podcast, led the evening. There were moving performances by the Young People’s Chorus of New York City and Mr. Chris Norton. The Gala included a successful auction led by famed auctioneer Lucas Hunt.

NYSPCC’s 2023 Fall Gala at the Rainbow Room.

The health and wellness spa Golden Door and insurance company Lemonade Inc were each presented with the Strength of Our Society Award, recognizing their support of the NYSPCC and their remarkable contributions to improving the safety of children.

“Thanks to the generous funds raised, our work will continue to make a meaningful impact in the lives of thousands of children and families,” said Jacqueline Holloway, the NYSPCC’s interim director of special projects.

General Manager/COO, Golden Door Resort Kathy Van Ness and NYSPCC’s interim Executive Director, Muna Heaven.

The NYSPCC is dedicated to offering effective, best-practice counseling, educational, and prevention services free of charge, providing essential support for critical child protection issues.

Proceeds from the event will advance the NYSPCC’s mission to safeguard the well-being of New York City’s most vulnerable children.

A performance by the Young People’s Chorus of NYC.

Founded in 1874, the NYSPCC is dedicated to reducing the incidences and impacts of child abuse and neglect. They promote through prevention programs that improve the safety of children, and intervention programs that help children and families heal. The agency’s innovative approaches serve as a model for child welfare agencies nationwide and across the world, helping the most vulnerable children of our community recover from trauma.

And, most importantly, their presence helps prevent child abuse through its work with parents, teachers, children, and foster care agencies.

Over the past 145 years, the agency has served more than two million children, educating more than 53,000 professionals working with children on child abuse and neglect issues.

For more information about the NYSPCC and to learn how you can contribute, please visit nyspcc.org

L. to r.: Mo Rocca; Scott and Alison Hutchinson.
Gabby Houston and Alex Dillon.
L. to r.: Maura May and Martin Tandler; Ngo Okafor.
Cosmin Panait, Lilian Yang, Olga Khosrow-Pour, and Mehdi Khosrow-Pour.
Caroline Laumann, Tania Higgins, Lucia Corral, Lucas Hunt, Yana Blackwelder, Elena Rubiner, and Lira Cohen.
Muna Heaven, Jennifer Marchini, Samantha Alvarez Benowitz, Jacqueline Holloway, and Jessica Trudeau.
Frank Sommerfield and Holly Kelly.
Sabrina Clark, Janine Millensifer, Seth Moroch, Carolina Ramirez, and Riley Gallagher.
Lucia Corral, Yelena Rubiner, and Lira Cohen.
Dahomey Coleman, Anthony Lee, and Marguerite Greene.
Chris Norton and Chynna Pope.
L. to r.: Alice Pirsu and Vladislava Skvortsova; Lindsay Hodgkins and Alison Hutchinson.
Ronnie Sturner, David Sturner, Muna Heaven, Julio Peterson, Candia Fisher, and Brian Balfour Oates.
Muna Heaven and Owen May.
Douglas Atkin, Maarit Glocer, Mulan Ashwin-Rinaldi, and Joe Rinaldi.

Photographs by Matt Borkowski/BFA.com

Recent Posts