These Aren't Chipmunks We're Raising Here

Jan Jamison I recently spent two hours listening to a story—the story of an amazing child surviving some of the most terrifying of circumstances. Circumstances created by adults, survived by children. Sometimes.

As a child younger than 10, Rose Kahn not only survived the Holocaust, but was instrumental in helping her mother and father in ways that we today would not think a child capable: approaching Nazi soldiers to garner information, purchasing groceries in dangerous circumstances, finding a doctor for her ill father, making arrangements for his admittance to the hospital.

As I sat there listening to Rose Kahn (now, and for the last 59 years, Rose Westheimer), I couldn’t get out of my mind that although she stood before us as an accomplished woman, this story of horror happened to her when she was but a small, innocent child. At that moment it occurred to me: for the most part, children of today are discounted. 

Think about it. True, we love them dearly, we protect them, we “go to battle for them,” but would we entrust them with the responsibilities that our lives depended on? Would we ask them to do what this woman standing before us had been required to do when but a child?  When she was asked how she could accomplish such feats at such a young age, she answered simply by saying, “I just saw what needed to be done and did it.”

Could the children of the world today accomplish what this child did?  I believe they not only could, but do. We don’t like to think about it, but today there are children who are forced to accomplish many tasks that are unsuitable for their age. One or two of these children may live right down the street from you. She might be a five-year-old whose parent has to work and leaves her alone to babysit a still younger child. They might be siblings whose parents are passed out in a drunken stupor—but the baby needs milk, and so they go out at 11 p.m. to pick up milk. 

Children today, like children in all periods of history, are very resourceful and capable of great things. If you really want to find out what children can do, ask them. Challenge them. Give them the responsibility they deserve. Yes, they will make mistakes. They will also grow as a result.  

Now, when I think of Ms. Westheimer, I see this little girl, exhibiting no fear, doing what was in front of her. She had to know that people’s lives depended on her, and she did not flinch. I cannot get this picture out of my mind.  

I pray that our children never have to face the terrors Ms. Westheimer and so many like her had to face. Still, we aren’t raising chipmunks here. We’re raising children—capable, resourceful people who can do far more than we might think. And I know that down deep within the hearts and abilities of our children today still rests the will and determination of those children so many years ago. We are in good hands.