On May 12, a 98-year-old lady named Irena Sendler passed away in Warsaw, Poland. During World War II, Irena obtained permission to work in the Warsaw Ghetto as a plumbing/sewer specialist.
She had an ulterior motive. Irena knew what the Nazis’ plans were for the Jews. She smuggled infants out of the ghetto in the bottom of the toolbox she carried. In the back of her truck, she kept a burlap sack to carry out the larger kids.
Irena also had a dog in the back of her truck. She trained the dog to bark when the Nazi soldiers let her in and out of the ghetto. The Nazi soldiers didn’t want anything to do with the dog — and the barking covered the kids’ and the infants’ noises.
She was eventually caught; the Nazis broke both her legs and arms, and beat her severely.
Irena managed to smuggle out and save 2,500 infants and children. She kept a record of the names of all the children she smuggled out of the ghetto and hid the list in a glass jar buried under a tree in her back yard.
After the war, she tried to locate parents that may have survived and reunited the families. Irena helped the children of parents who did not survive the Holocaust get placed into foster family homes or adopted.
Last year, Irena was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She lost. But the hundreds of children she saved from certain death won. Because of Irena’s actions, the children she saved lived to become part of the future their parents never saw.
Thank God we and our children are not in a fight for our survival as the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto were. Nonetheless, we need to be as zealous of our children’s future as Irena was of the Warsaw Ghetto’s children’s future.
Summertime affords us more time with our children. Being with our children, sharing experiences with them, laughing with them, holding them, showing them through our actions how much we love and cherish them are vital investments in their future well-being.
Before today is over, hug your kid. If you’ve already hugged her today, hug her again. Give him a totally unexpected “attaboy,” like, “Wow! You got up before noon today. Attaboy!” Tell your son or your daughter that you love them — every day — no matter what their age — even if they’re in their 40s or 50s.
This is not some touch-feely philosophy from a parenting handbook. This is my experience. Our daughter’s future is in jeopardy because she did not receive these emotional investments in the first 10 years of her life before we adopted her. She did not have an Irena looking after her well-being. Now, her ability to even survive to adulthood is in question.
If you are an avid, everyday practitioner of filling up your child with love, good for you. Keep it up. If you’re not, it’s never too late to start. God knows, we’re desperately working to fill our daughter’s seemingly bottomless need for love and affirmation every day.
Irena’s Warsaw Ghetto children were winners. So are our children. Let’s let them know that — even if the going gets tough.
If Irena could do it, so can we.
Have a great summer, and give your kid a hug from me!