NEW ORLEANS — There are plenty of things missing from New Orleans these days, but perhaps nothing is as noticeable as the absence of children. The city is virtually "childless," and that's done little to lift people's spirits here.
In a town of empty playgrounds and abandoned toys, David Day's son, Thomas, is alone.
Where are his friends?
Thomas pauses, looks up and sadly says, “I don't know.”
His hometown's reputation as an “adults-only zone” is painfully accurate, now. In the French Quarter there’s nightlife — the bars are open — but the public schools are closed.
Even kids who do return to assess the damage, like Parker Neill, are greeted by mold and fruit flies hovering over trash.
Parker’s only playmates are his pet rabbits, which, somehow, survived.
“I've never seen it like this,” says Parker. “Barely anyone's here now.”
Why would anyone try to raise a child in this town, when it's hard enough in cities that work? Because, slowly, places like Children's Hospital are opening — and raising hopes.
Adam and Ginny Wirth just returned from Florida with their son, Duke.
“We were e-mailing back and forth within our play group,” says Ginny Wirth,“and everybody was really kind of saying, ‘who's going to come back first and test the water?’”
Patti LaPeyre revived her snow-cone machine, but the customers are still adults.
“We need,” says a smiling LaPeyre, “to let everybody in New Orleans know that it's okay to bring your kids back!”
If only that were true for the poor, like Michaela Walker.
Who does she play with?
“Nobody,” she says.
Michaela’s mother, Joycelyn, is unable to afford repairs to their house.
“They told us we can come home,” Joceleyn says. “So we try! But it's not livable!”
Not livable for them or thousands of other children.
That means Thomas may continue to miss his friends and, like we all wish we could, pretend none of this ever happened.