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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 12, 2003

Nancy Kern is the HIV/STD prevention coordinator for the Hawai'i Department of Health.
A toddler's cry in the night

By Nancy Kern

It happened or a recent Saturday, early in the morning, about 3 a.m. I was just getting back to sleep after waking in the night when I heard the unmistakable sound of a toddler's cry outside my window.

All I could imagine was that someone was outside walking a small child who couldn't sleep, trying to soothe him or her before returning home.

I waited for the plaintive cry to disappear, but it became more insistent, so I walked down my front yard walkway toward the street, and there I saw a sight that stunned me: Dragging up the middle of our street in the blackness of the night was a tiny girl in a diaper and T-shirt, clutching a cup of water with a spout attached. She was barefoot, sobbing and totally alone. She appeared to be about 2 years old, and her helplessness and fragility were both heartbreaking and endearing.

My mind raced with possibilities. I tried to convince myself that her parents were close by, perhaps momentarily distracted from watching over her. Still, it was 3 a.m. and no one else was in sight. It was truly a surreal experience.

When the little girl caught sight of me, she turned toward me, still crying. By this time, I had determined that no parent was present. The only living creatures on this street were me and an exhausted, frightened little girl.

I picked her up and took her into my home, called HPD, sat down with her in my living room, soothed her, rocked her and talked with her, gradually helping her to stop crying and to begin to trust this stranger who had plucked her off the street in the middle of the night. We read together — "Oh, the Places You'll Go" by Dr. Seuss.

The magic of reading together worked wonders. This little girl began to follow the words of the story and to point to objects in the pictures. Temporarily, her troubles were forgotten.

The sight of three HPD officers in the living room doorway, however, unnerved her, and the crying began again, but only momentarily. Soon, we were walking up the hill near my home with the officers, the little girl still in my arms, headed in the vague direction she had indicated when I asked her, "Where's your mommy?"

This story, thankfully, has a happy ending. The officers found the little girl's family while canvassing the neighborhood door-to-door, approximately two blocks from my home. The toddler had apparently been sleeping on a lanai with her parents at her grandmother's home and had awakened in the night and decided to take a stroll.

I find myself thinking of this beautiful little girl often each day. It's as if, in the hour that our paths had crossed, we reached out to each other and found someone who symbolized something important for the other. I know that my little friend won't remember me, but perhaps the experience we shared will be kept forever, somewhere in her subconscious, ready to be used at future times in her life when she needs that extra ounce of courage or stamina she demonstrated so well that night.

As for myself, I am clear what this little girl means for me. She symbolizes that child who appears unexpectedly in our lives and who needs that extra support, love, attention or caring. She may belong to another family or to a little-known acquaintance, and she may enter your life only transiently — a neighbor's child, the daughter of a distant relative, the coach's son.

But for the split second in your life that this child crosses your path, you have the opportunity to do the right thing: say a kind word, play a quick game, share a joke or riddle, give a little hug. It's a chance to show a child what love and caring is all about. So, if that opportunity is given to you, consider it a blessing and act on it. Ultimately, it may make all the difference for both of you.