The Day I Lost My Mind

Tomorrow will be one year since the day I lost my mind.

Late the night before (a year ago today) I violently poked at the remote control to the television and tossed/ threw it onto the sofa.  Then amid expletives, tears, and arms flailing, punctuating the air, I marched upstairs to bed. But I couldn’t sleep; I marched myself back down those stairs and into my office.  I shook the mouse to awaken the computer and logged into my Facebook account.

I was tired, raw and angrier than I probably have ever been before; and I have been angry many times before.  I was angrier than when at age 10 my beloved grandmother died, after having a heart attack in my house. She was there because while my cousin and I were spending the night at her house, she fell ill and asked me to call my mom. My cousin and I had been messing around late into the night ignoring her pleas that we go to sleep. Then my mom picked us up and my grandmother came home to rest in our house.  I can’t remember where my cousin went.  Perhaps she was dropped off at her house.  The next morning I awoke to the sounds of rushed whispers and an ambulance in front of my window.  I don’t remember anything in between that scene and the point in time when my mom told me that my Abuelita died.  Time stood still. Forty years later, I am still unable to talk about it without tears.

Back then, though I was mostly angry at myself, I was also angry at the world.  I should have known she was having a heart attack since I had just seen a tv commercial or show (can’t recall which) about the symptoms.  I should have not played with my cousin so late at night, giggling and laughing. I should have called my mom earlier when I did know she was sick. The ambulance should have gotten to my house sooner, and driven faster.  The hospital doctors should have saved her. I felt lots of anger and regret not speaking out.

The experience of losing my grandmother was probably the first time that I responded to an event that while painful and sad, was not something to be angry about.  Since that time I have continued that pattern; morphing a variety of emotions into anger.  I’ve just in the past decade come to realize it and have been working on it.  I’m failing miserably I might add.  Although I often look angry on the outside, it’s more likely that I am hurt on the inside.

A year ago I was mad at the world for allowing someone better suited to be a snake oil salesman to not only run for POTUS but to win.  How could Republicans not see the danger in voting for him?  How could we allow the vote to be split? How could people choose not to vote?  How could we have let this happen?

I wrote a long scathing indictment of his words and those who believe in them. I called out to my FB “friends” to remove themselves from “my friends”  list if they felt so strongly in support of this man because I could not fathom any understanding.  I was furious at them for betraying me and my beliefs; the beliefs I consider the cornerstone of my character, my actions, and my life.  Yet, there were some of my friends telling me that indeed, they are not who I thought they were. I learned that I didn’t know my friends nor what they believe in their hearts.

I lost my mind and I wrote a long post and one very long comment on that post asking people who voted for Trump or against Mrs. Clinton, to remove themselves from my FB account.

I did this on the night of his election. I lost a lot of  “friends” that night and the following day.  My sadness deepened into grief.  How could I have ignored all the signs all these years?  Why did it take this election for me to say, “I don’t like who you are and how you act!” Why did I put up with 8 years of racist comments, terrible jokes, and uninformed complaints from people I rarely saw and barely knew?  Why didn’t I call them out for their hypocrisy when it danced itself in front of me?  Was I being polite or lazy? Why was it so easy for them to attack me back and easily jump out of my life when I finally did speak out?

Some people did contact me and we talked. Some people told me I was spewing hate. Others said I was judging them and that was the bigger problem.  Others said we could remain as friends, just not on FB, which is exactly what I  proposed initially. Others reiterated their complete and blind support for the new president. Some agreed that who you support is a reflection of your own values….which is why we vote in the first place, to make sure that our leaders reflect the majority. (I won’t get into the electoral college argument.)

Since then I have gained some distance from my initial anger and outrage at the voters in this country.  I have learned an incredible amount about the election system as well.  I have learned how to spot “privilege” speaking and on occasion quash it from my own lips. I have learned that the best way to fight despair and hopelessness is action; both in demonstrations of resistance such as joining marches and protests and making phone calls, and helping where needed as often as possible.

A year later, I have come to understand that my hurt was not reciprocated.  My disappointment in my friends and family and my despair over the loss of their affection was not felt by them. There have been no efforts to reconcile; not on my part, not on their part. No one has admitted regret at supporting Trump and his hateful, corrupt actions. Well, at least no one has admitted their regret to me.  So, ergo they still support him a year after the election day.  They support him even knowing his rhetoric is bad for this country.

As such, my sense of loss is lessened.  I have twinges of missing some of the people who removed themselves from my life. But then I turn on the news and it goes away. They are happy defending a man simply because they voted for him.  It’s like a clinical denial has taken over this country. Knowing that they voted for him,  they cannot admit that he is destroying the United States because it would be like admitting they are complicit. So they continue to argue that all would be well if someone would just do something about Hillary’s emails.

That day, the day after the election was as eye-opening as the day I discovered that 10-year-old children cannot hold themselves accountable for the death of their grandmother.  One year later I am even more determined to live my life according to my own core values. I will no longer entertain friends who values don’t align with mine and I will not be silently complicit when my friends do or say things that hurt others, including myself.

If you are reading this you may or may not be a friend of mine in the strict sense of the term.  You may be a fellow writer who follows my blog. You may be on my “friends list” on my FB account. You may be a reader looking through your friend’s FB page feed. You may be a related to me or a friend of someone in my family.  As such, this blog entry is not meant to say anything to anyone in particular other than that one year later, I am permanently changed.

I won’t be quiet. I won’t pretend. I won’t listen to anyone’s rhetoric without being able to respond; and if I am not allowed to respond, then I will remove myself from its source. I don’t wish ill will on anyone. I just want to be true to myself.

One year ago, I lost my mind and found my heart.

Siempre adelante.

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Posted in Civic Duty, Family, Memories, Regret, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

It’s Official: The CIM That Isn’t For Me

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Two days ago I officially requested a deferral of my CIM race entry until 2018.  It was a very difficult decision and one that took over two months to make.  I have been keeping my fingers crossed, praying, rehabilitating, denying, and ignoring my injury and its impact on me since it occurred at the 6.5-mile turnaround on a “long run Sunday” with my CIM training group.

After a glorious August filled with a half on Anacortes island in Washington State and the Bridge of the Gods run in Cascades Lock, Oregon I took on my training group run with not a care in the world.  My previous runs were not great, but uneventful, so when I decided to add a mile to the scheduled 12-miler I thought nothing of it.  At about mile 7 or so I took a step that sent pain shearing down my right leg.  I stopped to stretch and thought, I better take it easy.  A coach rode by and asked if I were doing ok.  I described my pain but told her I would continue on.

It’s funny, but just a few weeks earlier I told my friend, also a runner, that the pain study some of us enrolled into was doomed to be a failure.  I hypothesized that the study would be skewed by the mere fact that runners are trained and seek to be able to run through pain.  So asking people if they stopped running because of pain would be a moot point.  She agreed with me.

I continued to run, and with every step, I felt first my lower back and leg tighten, then ultimately, my middle back and right hip as I fought to return back to the starting location.  The coach rode with me and offered me her bike. I declined and stubbornly continued on at a snail’s pace. She noted I was sweating salt like crazy and wondered if perhaps my fueling and hydration was the culprit since my muscles seemed to be the problem.  I went home and straight to bed.

The next few days I could barely move. I couldn’t turn over or adjust my body position without involuntary gasps and moans.  I felt stupid and defeated. I have a history of back pain so I decided to try a Chiropractor. I received some adjustments and electrical stimulation which aligned the rest of my back (upper) and provided temporary relief of my discomfort.  However, when it didn’t seem to get better, I went in to see my doctor. I was provided with some muscle relaxers and a referral to an MRI and eventually a CT scan to rule out a fracture of the sacrum.  The tests were “negative’ but showed some pretty good swelling at the SI joints.

Ok.  I didn’t know anything about SI joints. I do now.

I made and kept an appointment with a Sports Doc who recommended I undergo a PRP procedure.  Platelet-rich plasma injections from my own blood would be administered directly into the joints at my lower back.  I can tell you that it felt like someone was forcing toothpaste into my back, and down my legs.  I am pretty pain tolerant as evidenced by my stupidly continuing to run when I should have been carried back. Well, this procedure was no fun at all. The goal of the procedure is to stimulate my own bodies response to the injury in such a fashion that recovery would be accelerated.  In my heart, I wanted to get back to running as soon as possible.

Now mind you, I couldn’t even get into my car without severe pain, but somehow I hoped I would still be able to run the 2017 CIM. I felt so sad, and that’s putting it mildly.

I follow the Fleet Feet CIM training group on Facebook. It is usually a source of camaraderie and a way to share our experiences. I felt myself being left behind. I have over the last three years made friends with people I met in training my first time around, in 2015. Now, I felt even more alone because I wanted to be with them as they talked about their increase in mileage, the changing weather, and their training progress.

Sometimes, and seemingly more often than in other years, people posted about their own injuries and frustrations.  I felt their pain and wondered if they were sad too.

I gave my Urban Cow Half marathon race bib to a lovely friend of mine so that it would not go to waste, and instead volunteered. By the end of the event, I could barely walk and spent the next couple days nursing my back.

Three weeks after the PRP procedure I enrolled and attended physical therapy at the same location where I was assessed and accepted into the pain study.  When I wobbled in and turned in my barely started chron they all sighed, knowing they had one less subject to follow.  The goal now is to stabilize the SI joints by strengthening my core muscles.

I love the people helping me get better.  They understand when I cry because I have terrible balance; balance I worked so hard to improve through three years of my yoga practice, a yoga practice I can no longer attend. They laugh with me when I break out in a heavy sweat after just a few squats and walk out on shaky legs.  They support my efforts and keep my hopes up that I might return to running if I just work hard enough.

I am planking, squatting, bridging, superman-ing, rubber banding, etc, etc.   I have to. My goal of running a half in each of the 50 States has been placed on hold after 18 states. Everything seems to have stopped. My routine is altered. The dog is getting fat. I’ve placed myself on a strict diet since I’m not exercising except for physical therapy sessions. Everything is screwy.

I am still sad. I’m a little scared. Imagine if someone told you to stop doing something that you not only love doing but makes you feel good because you do it. It’s a double whammy.

I miss my runs. I miss the meditation they brought to me.  I miss my friends. I miss the flopping ears of my dog when she ran with me. I miss it all, even the tired muscles and the stinky clothes. I miss it enough to do my best to get it back. Only this time, I won’t complain about planks, or Goddess pose, or getting up early, or that the dog pulls on the leash.

Sounds like I’m bargaining with God, doesn’t it? Well maybe, but mostly I’m putting all my faith in Him and asking, no demanding, that my faith is rewarded with results. Afterall, what else can I do? I’ve got a race in December 2018.

Thanks for listening.

 

Posted in Injury, Running | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

You Best Don’t call Jesus’ Butt

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~This is the 8th blog entry chronicling my experience as a volunteer at a school for homeless children.  I will not identify the children by their given name and in general, I write of composite personalities so that I can best illustrate common experiences among the children without violating their confidentiality and as importantly, the trust of the people who allow me to volunteer at the school.  

This is a very late post as I have been busy with life and haven’t been able to find quiet time to reflect and write about these brilliantly funny and wise children.

Last month we were able to take the younger children (5-7 years old) to a hands on private play place. As usual, we loaded up a van and went on our merry way.

As anyone who has ever transported kids of any age anywhere knows, turn up the music and sit back.  It took all of about 5 minutes before their absolute favorite song in the world came on the radio and they were singing away…. in Spanish, a language they don’t speak.

Yep, you guessed it.  They were in love from beginning to end with the song of the summer, Despacito.  We watched through rear view mirrors and reverse facing iPhone cameras as the kids bopped, danced, yelled and clapped together.  I can’t find the words to tell you how it makes me feel when they are having so much fun. It’s literally the goal of the program to let these babies find worry free time in their little lives.

Eventually, their singing turned to discussions about their lives and situations.  they shared information on the hotels they have lived in, why they liked them, and who else from school (not in the van) also lives/d there.  They laughed and cracked jokes and poked fun at each other. It’s probably the most fun part of the trip, for the adults.

Given that it has taken me so long to write this, I have given this day more thought than normal.  In fact, school is back in session and because of a running injury, I am unable to volunteer quite yet. But as soon as I’m better you can count on me in one of those classrooms.

Anyway, as we are going back to the school, as often happens, kids have disagreements and arguments, usually much ado about nothing.  As we traveled, I heard a change in the tone of the discussion. I turned ever so slightly to see who was talking so assertively, and about what.  Just as I turned, one of the younger little girls’ eyes grew wide and she shot me a panicked look as she said, “Oh, teacher, she said something baaaadddd!”

Now I actually heard what was said, and mark my words, there was nothing inappropriate about it. Nevertheless, Mari was convinced that they not only were being rude, but they were insulting her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

“They said, ‘You best don’t call Jesus’ buttttttt!!!!'” she yelled as she pointed at the offenders. 

The two girls in the seat furthest back stared at me, mouths agape waiting to see what I would say.  Then their mouths started to form their response as I started to understand what had occurred.

So much has happened in August in this country that I think yet again, that children are the only wise ones among us, true to their hearts.  The two girls were discussing Jesus, his teachings according to their parents, and how people forget to pay him respect and show deference. They were talking about instances when people were mean to each other.  They were in agreement that this is wrong.  One of the girls said, “My momma told me, ‘You best don’t call Jesus’ bluff!'”

My fellow chaperone and I laughed heartily as we explained to Mari what she misheard. She cracked a shy smile and dropped her shoulders and said, “Oh.” They all went back to singing.

These babies have more compassion and love in their little hearts than many of the grown ups in this country.  I’ll leave it at that.

Thanks for reading.

Posted in Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , ,

Bridges and Waterfalls. 

There’s something to be said about taking a chance on people and doing something new with them. 
I have been very busy the past few weeks and particularly the last two. I have been coordinating a huge home project, helping my daughter at her new home, traveling, running, training and trying to keep my own home somewhat clean. 

Thursday night in an effort to pretend I’m in control I stayed up until about 230 AM to wash, clean, pack, and prepare my home for out of town guests since I in fact wouldn’t be there. I am in Oregon for the Bridge of the Gods half marathon. 

This run is a make up run for “State Run” which proved a miserable time in Portland a year ago. It is also a bucket list run in that getting to run across this bridge will be awesome. 

I was already signed up when I realized that a couple of ladies I know from a runner’s training group would also be there. So I reached out, and we ended up traveling together for the race. 

Last night we agreed to meet at 6 AM to hike to see a few waterfalls.  I don’t recall what time we said goodnight, whether it was 4 PM or 6 PM but I retreated to my room and put on PJs. I don’t mind telling you I set my alarm and went straight to bed. 

This morning I awoke to a knock on my door at 622 AM!! I slept at minimum 12 hours and possibly as much as 14! 

I was shocked, embarrassed and annoyed with myself. I dressed as fast as I could and eventually off we went to breakfast and a wonderful hike. 

They ribbed me for being late; not something I want them to think about me on our first date. But oh well. 

We had a great time and laughed a lot. I’m so glad to have asked to join them and that I now have two more “real” friends that started off as Facebook pals. 

Let’s see what tomorrow’s race brings. For now, I need to set multiple alarms for an early wake up!  

Posted in Hiking, Running, Wild the Movie | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Through the Looking Glass


~This is the 7th blog entry chronicling my experience as a volunteer at a school for homeless children.  I will not identify the children by their given name and in general, I write of composite personalities so that I can best illustrate common experiences among the children without violating their confidentiality and as importantly, the trust of the people who allow me to volunteer at the school.  

I don’t normally volunteer on a Monday but since the preschool is short on assistance and seems to have more tiny tots lately, I went in on a day less likely to be fully staffed.  I arrived at the school knowing that I would work directly with the preschoolers and their very amazing summer school teacher.  Clear about the big picture, I resigned myself to being a silly referee over toys and perhaps, being a story time reader.  I fully expected to be hot, and uncomfortable supervising playground antics but I didn’t expect to get the emotional jolt I was given today.  Afterall, I have been volunteering for some time now, and well I guess I thought I was used to the reality of it all.

As I walked in, I recognized some of the more regular little faces.  Today there were also a set of twin blond-haired beauties, so close in looks, that I couldn’t tell them apart.  I looked over at Marvin. He dropped his gaze to the ground.  He said not one word.  In fact, I have never heard him speak.  I thought, “Today, he and I will be friends.”

After morning circle we were instructed that it was JOB TIME.  Everyone immediately grabbed a rug and a “job” and found a spot to sit and work.  My friend, Monique quickly grabbed a spot at the painting table.  She handed me a pick plastic bowl and while she opened up her water color palette said, “Can I have some water please?”  And “be careful,” she warned, “don’t spill it.”

Eventually, I got around to sitting next to another 3-year-old, only one with a lot less to say than Monique.  In fact, he had nothing to say.  He nodded in response to my questions and if I pressed, he averted his eyes and shrugged.  As we sat to play, he decided to grab a magnifying glass from the table at the rear of the room.  We took turns looking at the variety of rocks and glass marbles set out for a child’s exploration.  Marvin quickly separated all of the marbles and glass and focused on showing me the rocks.  We moved on to Lincoln Logs where to his delight he learned to stack the pieces expertly and created a building.  Of course, he does not know who Lincoln is nor has he an understanding of a log cabin, but he nevertheless maintained his focus until it was time to choose a book to read.

Marvin did not want to read.  He did not want to pretend to read.  He couldn’t decide on a book and pointed instead to the Lincoln Logs.  I spied with my little eye, the Brown Bear Book.  AHA!  I showed it to him and his eyes lit up.  We sat together and I probed, “Do you know this book?”  He smiled and nodded excitedly.  He opened to the first page.  He said, “BBBBBBB   BBBBBB Brown BBBBBB BBBBear.”  I realized he was very nervous and was stuttering. I literally bit my tongue and let him continue without my help or interruption.  He repeated the words.

He got to, ” I sssssee sseee seee a” and he turned the page.  “Bird!” he shouted.

I said, “red bird!” and he repeated, “rrrr rrrr red bbbbird!”  He continued reading.

I joined him and sing-songed the next page. “Red bird, red bird what do you see? I see a yellow duck looking at me!

He looked at me and repeated the rythmic lyric. And we were off.  He stopped stuttering and simply sang the book.  Some of his colors were off, but we corrected and moved forward. Marvin read the book three times until we heard the cleanup bells telling us it was time for a short recess.

Like Marvin and his rocks, and Monique and her care not to spill her water for painting, I too had to learn to look carefully and be extra gentle. I recalled the instruction on my first day of orientation when we were told that our role was to help the children be children, that’s all.

Marvin and Monique taught me that they know what they are doing, I just had to learn to let them tell me what they might need me for.  Anything above that was outside the scope of my magnifying glass and really more for me than for them; which is not why I volunteer.

A week later, I was greeted by a smiling Marvin. Guess which book he told me he wanted to read?

Thanks for reading.

Posted in Civic Duty, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Who was the first man on the moon?

~This is the 6th blog entry chronicling my experience as a volunteer at a school for homeless children.  I will not identify the children by name and in general write of composite personalities so that I can best illustrate common experiences among the children without violating their confidentiality and as importantly, the trust of the people who allow me to volunteer at the school.  

The hot summer days in Sacramento have proven brutal this week.  Imagine if you will that you are homeless.  It’s difficult to find relief from the heat both during the day and the night.  If you’re lucky, your motel room has a good cooling system.  If you’re unlucky, you are living in a car or tent and it’s difficult to sleep at all.

The children at Mustard Seed were, as usual, treated to another field trip yesterday.  Having arrived just minutes after they left the school, I chased after them to arrive at the Discovery Museum.

As I walked up, the staff waved to me and I was assigned one child to monitor.  He looked at me and immediately started crying. Trying not to let my feelings get hurt, I asked him, “What’s the matter? Don’t you like me?”

He looked up at me with big tear filled brown eyes and said, “I wanted to go with Mr. Paul.” I know that what he was really saying is that he wanted to be with his best and closest buddy, Miguel.

I assured him that we would walk with Mr. Paul’s group and that it would be ok.

As we progressed through the museum the boys took turns playing a video game where their body movements controlled a salmon swimming upstream, navigating a series of obstacles. I was surprised at how cooperative they were with each other and how once they either completed the run or failed (eaten by a bear) they simply stepped aside and allowed the other his or her turn.  There was no whining or requests to do over.  They had a great time and this pattern of cooperation transferred to other games as well.

The group learned to create healthy balanced meals, measure their heart rates, view X-rays of broken bones, play doctor, balance on a timed disk so that they, in fact, were in competition with each other. There was only one instance of upset.

James grew tired of watching Miguel playing with a stethoscope and demanding he turn it over to him.  Miguel kept saying, “But I’m still playing with it. I got it first.” James persisted until Miguel having had quite enough, pulled the earpieces off his head and looking directly into James’ eyes said, “Look, I am still using this. I’m not ready to give it to you. It’s my turn. You need to stop yelling at me. It’s not nice and you need to stop!”

James is used to being the more aggressive of the two so Miguel’s statement stopped him in his tracks.   I fully expected whining, tears or a plea from James.  Instead, he said ok and went on to a different activity. Yay for Miguel! Yay, I didn’t have to intervene!

Eventually, we instructed all of the children to try to go to the bathroom because the next phase of the trip would be in the planetarium where no one would be allowed to leave or enter once the presentation started.  The children understood that this rule is based on the need for participants’ eyes to adjust to the darkness and that opening the door would hinder the process.

Once inside the wonderfully cool room (it was about 104 outside where we were waiting in line), I was a very impressed at the amount of knowledge many of the kids had about space.  They were eager participants in the discussion about planets, stars, asteroids, comets, etc.   As the lights were dimmed to darkness in incremental stages to allow our eyes to adjust I heard heavy breathing. Only three minutes had passed since the lights went to the red stage so I thought someone was pretending to sleep.

As the presentation continued, the heaving breathing turned into outright snoring. I turned to see who was making the noise and saw a 6 or 7-year-old little girl, head relaxed backward in her seat, sound asleep.

When I first started volunteering I was reminded that sometimes kids come to school to sleep. We make them comfortable and don’t wake them because sleep and rest are a priority. So it was with this darling little girl. She slept in the cool, dark room.

The presenter continued without flinching. She expertly engaged all of the children by asking them to count down with her as she changed lighting, or moved to a powerpoint video in the dark. She asked them to point to N, W, E, and S, on the dome so that they could orient themselves to the night sky as it would be last night, on the summer solstice. The children were fully engaged and enjoyed the praise she showered on those naming planets or providing correct answers to a variety of questions she posed.

She transitioned from planets to a discussion of our moon. She asked, “can anyone tell me the name of the first man on the moon?”

From the darkness, a small voice said confidently, “Jason Bourne.”

The adult chaperones snickered.  The child was referring to Matt Damon, from his role in 2015 film, The Martian, but got his name wrong.

The presenter kept talking, then as if she finally got the reference, she started to laugh. She couldn’t regain her composure for a couple minutes. We all laughed, but now because she couldn’t help herself.  It was a silly, special moment. A moment that caused our sleeping child to wake and stop snoring. Everyone was present, engaged, and carefree for a little while.

I would say, mission accomplished!

Thanks for reading.

Posted in Civic Duty, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Parks Make Life Better

parks matter

~This is the fifth blog entry chronicling my experience as a volunteer at a school for homeless children.  I will not identify the children by name and in general write of composite personalities so that I can best illustrate common experiences among the children without violating their confidentiality and as importantly, the trust of the people who allow me to volunteer at the school.  

Summer has arrived and with it, summer school.  Only this is different.  There are no teachers….just the managers of the summer program.  This can only mean one thing.  Nothing to worry about folks….just fun stuff.

I missed my first volunteer opportunity because I was sick so I didn’t know what to expect yesterday. As I arrived at the school playground, I was met with a bright smile and the happy word, “HOLA!”  There he was, my ready-to-learn-Spanish-pal.  We shook hands, said good morning and went directly to the basketball court.  Really, it’s just a basketball hoop between the play structure and the building where all the playground equipment is kept, but it provides for some of the loudest laughter and deepest discussions nonetheless.

We played until the ‘bell rang’ and off we went, all twenty of us, into the largest classroom.  We went over the prerequisite ritual of voicing the day and date then introducing ourselves by name and favorite animal.  After playing games, eating snacks, playing ping pong and eating lunch, the kids were provided with swimsuits and flip-flops and loaded into vans for a trip to a splash pad at a nearby park.

Upon arrival, kids were sprayed down with sunblock and reminded of the rules. As I stood and watched the youngest and bravest of the kids bolt onto the pad, and into the fountain streams screaming their surprise at the water’s temperature, I was joined by one of our three teens.  James (my ping-pong partner) walked up to me and said, “So. Do you think that parks make life better?   I turned and looked at him.  He smiled widely.

I said, actually, I do.  Parks help people relax and have fun.  Why do you ask?

He pointed to banners on poles around the splash pad.  The banners said, “Parks make life better.” He turned to join the other boys who just discovered the water cannons.

We spent a total of about 2 hours at the park.  We played on the playground equipment, in the water, with frisbees and a whiffle ball. They had a grand time. One of the boys yelled out, “This is the best day ever!”

Twenty children had a wonderful time. Teens gave in to their inner little kid and played like they used to. The littler ones found thrills in unexpected buckets of water pouring down on them.  The girls flaunted their new swimsuits with ruffles. A couple of the children found great delight the false protests of volunteers being threatened with their cold, wet hugs.

It had been only two hours, but no one complained when it was time to go back to school. They had played themselves into a calm exhaustion and were ready to go.

Knowing it is sometimes hard to sleep at night when you don’t feel completely safe, I hoped that this good, tired feeling would continue to help them relax through the rest of the day and into their night.  I hoped that their little spirits were renewed and that they would look forward to their next day at summer school. I hoped that there will be more trips to parks this summer.

And… I thought, yes, James, parks make lives better.

Thanks for reading.

Posted in Civic Duty, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , ,

Mermaids and Worms

~This is the fourth blog entry chronicling my experience as a volunteer at a school for homeless children.  I will not identify the children by name and in general write of composite personalities so that I can best illustrate common experiences among the children without violating their confidentiality and more importantly, the trust of the people who allow me to volunteer at the school.  

When your six years old and someone allows you to use scissors, well you go a little crazy.

In fact, perhaps we all went a little crazy today.  I arrived at the school earlier than I ever have before. I was so early that there was only one child on the playground, though we were assured that more were on their way.  The preschool teacher lovingly held Louie’s hand as she sipped at her morning coffee.  She squatted right down on her haunches as only a very young woman can do, and sat him on her knee as she balanced herself.  He hugged her and sat quietly.  Louie has been very sick and is still not feeling well.  His cute little face and perfect smile betray the exhaustion in his eyes. His houndstooth hat tipped as he snuggled into her neck.

Soon more children arrived, of all ages and cultures, sizes and circumstances. A beleaguered man, wearing a well-worn coat walked in to drop off his little girl, who similarly, looked like she needed a long bath and a clean set of clothes.  Her hair was braided in an attempt at keeping her baby fine blond hair manageable. She hopped around playing as her hair, backlit by the bright early morning sun glowed like a halo around her head.

The school bell rang joyfully as Demarcus flailed it above his head with a huge smile and a feeling of superiority since he had been chosen to call an end to the morning gathering recess. As we lined up, Dayshawn said to his little brother, get in line, “your too small to stay here.”  Later at the end of the day, he would gather up the sack lunches given to him and yell to his sister, “look at least we have something to eat.” She smiled a toothless smile and nodded as they waited for her mother to arrive. Their younger brother (preschool aged) sat next to me, forehead wrinkled as if he were done with the day and just wanted to leave.

As the rest of the kids lined up, I was assigned to the first-grade class, where the teacher immediately attached me to a little boy who literally could not force himself to focus on any one thing more than 30 seconds at a time.  Jay bounced around and was loud and disruptive for most of the day.  When he wasn’t getting the negative attention he craved, he became upset and acted out emotionally, to let us know that he felt ignored, neglected and slighted.

Dayshawn and his sister dove into their school assignments and seemed to enjoy not only each other’s company, but got along beautifully with all of the rest of the children. There were 6 total, three boys, and three girls. Jay, however, seemed to make up for the rest of them and struggled throughout his day.

After lunch, Demarcus chose to work with a piece of paper and a pair of scissors.  He cut a shape out and said, “Hey this looks like a butterfly!”  He quickly attached antennae and flew it around the room. He came back and said, “I want to make a mermaid.”  I said, hey wanna make a cool flower?  He agreed and we folded a square cut out at least three times.  I made a pencil mark and asked him to cut carefully lest he catch his finger in the blades.  When he unfolded the flower, he quickly added a stem and said, “I want to make a mermaid.”  Facing my fear of failure, I quickly sketched an outline of a mermaid. I added a bra-like top and long flowing hair.  He laughed hysterically at her top but soon jumped in and cut along the outline until she was ready to be pasted onto a larger paper. He worked on her for a long time and proclaimed, “I’m proud of this. It’s beautiful.”  He glued the flower to one of her hands, and the butterfly to a corner of the paper and declared his joy.

A little later, the kids were split up so that they could accomplish some routine tasks. Three of the children would go outside at one time, brush their teeth in one of three sink areas, and then water the garden they planted weeks ago.  The other three would work inside and after a time, the two groups would switch. Jay was in heaven.

He brushed his teeth and headed out to water the garden.  I don’t think he even managed to water one plant before he started digging. It wasn’t long before he hit pay dirt and found a worm.  One of the other volunteers talked with him and helped him brush all of the dirt off the worm.  Jay took his job seriously and concentrated fully.  He observed the worm and talked about it to the other children as they used scissors to trim the mint plant to chew on its leaves.

Eventually, the volunteer asked Jay to return the worm to the earth so that he could go back inside. Jay carefully placed the worm back in the wet dirt and gently covered it up. He was, however, not happy about having to go back inside and immediately complained that someone moved his water bottle…on purpose.

At the end of the day, the teacher praised Demarcus’ artwork and asked if he would like to display it in the office.  He thought about it but declined.  He said, “I really like this and I want to look at it.  I want to take it with me.” She said she understood and helped him pack. Later, when his mother arrived to take him home Demarcus couldn’t wait to show her. She praised him and said it was beautiful.  He beamed.

At closing circle time the children talked about what they liked best about the day.  They took turns holding a marble as they shared their thoughts. As they talked it became clear that the experiences, while wildly varied, all contributed to a good time for all. Some liked reading, some liked doing their math, some liked drawing pictures, and some liked digging worms.   One of the kids asked if tomorrow would be Friday, and if so, would there be cookies?

As they waited for their rides, the principal came out and said, “Look, everyone, the Friday cookies came a day early this week!” The kids looked at each other excitedly and everyone went home happy….even Jay.

Thanks for reading.

 

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Hug Life

~This is the third blog entry chronicling my experience as a volunteer at a school for homeless children.  I will not identify the children by name and in general write of composite personalities so that I can best illustrate common experiences among the children without violating their confidentiality and more importantly, the trust of the people who allow me to volunteer at the school.  

I bounced into the administration office to sign in and was greeted by the program director.  Today the 4-grade class only has three kids so would you mind jumping into the junior high class?

Wait.  You want me to work with my favorite age group? I thought to myself.

“The teacher is not here today so you can help the substitute.”

“Sure,” I said, and off I went to the playground where the four boys were engaged in a game of organized dodge ball.

Yeah…dodgeball is not my favorite game.  And immediately I remembered why.  One of the boys AJ was silently being pelted by the more aggressive, outgoing kids on the opposite team.  His team member was not supportive, but neither was he derisive.  AJ just didn’t seem to want to challenge or further incite the gleeful opposition more than he needed to.  Eventually, the teams were changed, and while still not completely engaged, AJ was at least not the main target anymore. As much as I wanted him to nail someone with that ball, I knew he knew that it would only make things worse.

I addressed the behavior of the most aggressive child, Isaac and he scowled at me.  He became louder and wilder in his behavior.  The PE teacher corrected him, reminded him of the rules, and at times, helped the losing team by retrieving balls, stopping play and in general slow down the assault. Isaac continued to try to dominate and immediately decided he would not listen to me at all.

Time to go in and the teasing continued.  AJ simply drew his hoodie over his head and sat at his table. Isaac was dispatched to another room to do computer work. From there he continued to interrupt and draw attention to himself, disrupting the other students.  I went in and sat next to him to see if I could engage him.  He said, “This is stupid and way to easy.”  I told him he was right about the way too easy part.  So we made a game of beating the computer’s time standards and we chatted a little about his friends and where he grew up.

The day progressed and the boys were assigned a reading comprehension test.  The narrative described the life of Beverly Cleary, author of many beloved children’s books. Several questions followed.  Each youngster sat quietly doing their work.

Eventually, after lunch, the second substitute arrived at the classroom.  She, knowing AJ, asked that I take him to a different room for silent reading time with me so that he could actually read aloud.  She needed a better assessment of his ability. AJ grabbed his book, “Hoot” and off we went.

I asked him for a quick summary of the book. He readily provided a quick synopsis and we began.  He read well and with a strong voice.  Where he stumbled, I pronounced and defined the words so he could continue.  On occasion, I looked up videos of the animals described so that he could see exactly what they looked and acted like. He seemed to appreciate the help and before we knew it, it was time to return to the class.

As we entered, the boys looked up and Isaac rolled his eyes.  AJ joined the group and took notes while watching an episode of the series Earth.  There was a lively discussion about the mating habits of a particular frog, and why Chimpanzees are sometimes cannibalistic. AJ observed quietly and Isaac dominated the room.

Isaac had now softened to the idea that he was stuck with a substitute teacher and a volunteer he never met before. His humor started to show and at one point had everyone in the room burst out in laughter. We watched as a male, black and blue bird performed its mating dance, escalating his courtship to the point he was hopping all over the place, only to be denied by the female he was courting. Isaac turned to face the class and said, “Now that female is asking way too much.”  See for yourself, Bird of Paradise.

Between subjects, I snuck into the library section of the room and looked for any Beverly Cleary books I could find.  I located three and walked them into the room where the boys sat.  I showed them that what they had read about earlier was real and that they could choose to read her work if they wanted.  Both AJ and Isaac widened their eyes and smiled.

I later read that today was Beverly Cleary’s 101st birthday.  Imagine that.  I wish I had known that when we were studying about her, the boys would have been amused.

As the school day came to a close we walked over to the area where parents pick up the children.  Having an abundant lunch due to low attendance the staff handed off grocery bags filled with food for the kids to take home to their families.  As kids left, we exchanged jokes and smiles of recognition when the kids I’d spent time with saw me for the first time that day. AJ smiled shyly as he turned to say goodbye to me.

As the numbers dwindled, Isaac became louder.  He said to one of the other volunteers who looks a little like Hillary Clinton in hair and body shape, “I bet you drink tea on your balcony.” He mimicked what that might look like with pinky out and everything.  Other adults looked away to hide their amusement as the volunteer simply said, “Oh, you do, do you?”

Eventually, it was just Isaac waiting for his uncle to show up.  When he saw the vehicle coming he stood to peruse the contents of the remaining two bags of food set out for the children.  He asked, “Can I have one?’

I asked the program director if he could take both since he was the last child there.  She said, “Of course!”

Isaac turned and yelled at me, “HUG LIFE” and held tight.  He ran to the table and grabbed the bags.  As he struggled to carry the bags to the car his uncle said, “Here, let me help you.”

Isaac said, “No. I got it, I know how you like to eat.”

He shot me a smile and a wink and off he went. Hug life indeed.

Thanks for reading.

The school is called Mustard Seed of Sacramento and can always use monetary donations so that on occasion they can help parents keep their kids in school as they work to stabilize their housing situation. Look around, there is likely a Mustard Seed school in your area, too.

 

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Cesar Chavez Taught Me to Love Climbing Mountains

 

A little late, but I was reminded to share this when I took my 78-year-old father, my 89-year-old father-in-law and my 22-month-old grandson to visit Helen and Cesar at the National Memorial. I mentioned to my mom as we worked in the kitchen later that day they with Helens passing, The Cause felt more like history than ever before. Visiting the memorial was a wonderful reminder that we must still fight for basic human rights. Someday, when my grandchild looks at the pictures he will be grateful for the sacrifices his grandparents made in planting the tree so that he might have shade.

Source: Cesar Chavez Taught Me to Love Climbing Mountains

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