Taking care

I have been taking Ri to the homeless shelter for years. It is one of the few places where you can take kids and allow them to interact and help others in need. Ri and I would go and make crafts with the kids. She did such a great job with them; she especially loved the toddlers because she could help them use scissors and help them draw. 

Now that Mario is eight, I figured it was time to get him involved, also. I had taken him with Ri and me a couple of years ago but he didn’t remember it. I also asked his football friends’ moms if they’d be interested. A lot of them were and between all of us we had a boatload of supplies and snacks for the kids.

I was a tad concerned that the boys would use this time as play time rather than help the kids. It’s hard being eight and a boy and coming to a place that has room to play tag or wrestle. Temptation creeps up.

But they all did superb. They invited the kids to sit down at their tables. They said hello and talked to them. They made crafts and instructed the kids how to make them. They were patient with the younger kids. They also created a new craft (we had given them two to work on with the kids). They created paper airplanes and made designs on them. Then they all moved to the play area and flew them together.  

At one point, Mario approached me and asked if he could read his new book to some of the kids. One of the moms at the shelter was sitting next to me. 

“Yes, you bring that book on over here, son.” One of her sons looked at her and complained that he didn’t like books. She scolded him “boy, you need to like books to be smart!”

And with that, Mario began to read. The younger boy, around five, listened intently. Mario used the same inflections I use when reading to him. My heart be still.  

Giving back

I took Maria to the Van Buren homeless shelter last night to help me serve food to the women staying at the shelter. Mario was going to head over with us but Jon arrived home just as we were walking to the car, and he chose to stay with his dad. Ri was glad. She likes that alone time with me.
It’s been a few months since we went to the YWCA Family Shelter to do crafts with the kids. Ri did such a great job with the kids when we went there on Sunday mornings. She loved when toddlers and pre-schoolers showed up because they let her help them draw and glue and gave her hugs. She soaked it up.
I didn’t know what to expect at this homeless shelter because it was our first time serving dinner. They had told me Ri might get bored because she couldn’t serve food from the kitchen (I did not disclose to Ri that she couldn’t serve food because she had her heart set on it and I didn’t want her to be upset before we even left for the shelter).
We arrived to just a few women sitting at tables in a large room. I introduced Ri and the volunteer helpers welcomed her. The coordinator of the dinner quickly reminded me that Ri would have to stay in the dining area. I asked what we could do in the area and she directed us to a pail and washcloths. Ri didn’t hesitate. She got her washcloth and began wiping down the tables. And the chairs. I know she had wanted to serve food but she didn’t whine or complain at all.
When the women stood in line to get food, the leader brought out pitchers of juice and cups. Ri volunteered to pour the juice and give it to the women after they got their food. And so we did. The women were a so sweet to her responding with “thank you baby” and “aren’t you darling.” She’d take the juice over to the table for the women who had a hard time walking. After all the women went through the line, she walked around the tables to see if she could get anything for them. She didn’t feel awkward or nervous. Rather, it came completely natural to her.
If I’ve done one thing right as a parent, it is installing in her the gift of empathy and helping others. I have always felt strongly that she needs to understand how lucky she is to have happened to be born in a first world country, to working parents who have a home and can afford food and transportation and clothing; and to have such a support system of family who think the world of her. I don’t want her to take it for granted and I want her to respect all people, and understand that everyone goes through rough times. In the end, we are all much more alike than we are different.
It’s always been pretty easy with Ri – she seems to innately understand and be sensitive to others’ feelings.
Sure enough, one of the women was telling Ri about her grand daughter and how much she loves to take her to the park and another woman was talking about dressing up as Wonder Woman for Halloween. Ri smiled as they spoke to her and engaged back with them.
I have grown up with parents and family reinforcing in me that “there but for the grace of god go I.” We are all struggling to make the best of this life; all struggling to find happiness and joy. The woman at the shelter could be me. And she deserves respect and love and compassion.
As we were packing up, a lady called out “Mom, hey mom. Come here.”
I walked over to her. She wrapped her arm around me.

“You’ve got a heck of a daughter there. It’s wonderful that she’d spend her time helping us. She’s beautiful.”

I couldn’t agree more – on the inside and out.


Hittin’ the jackpot

Jon and I hit the jackpot with our kids. No doubt about it. Sure, they may be rather animated at times and want to butt their way into many a conversation but their warmth and depth and compassion bring me to my knees.

Last night, instead of playing Skylander or having a friend over, they gathered clothes and books to take to the Overflow Homeless Shelter. We drive over and dropped off our items and ended up staying for a half hour because Mario was making the male staff members crack up with his dancing and Maria was engaged in an in-depth conversation with the female staff members about school. As we walked out, they both thought of ways we could help out next week.

“Maybe we could get blankets so they stay warm.”

“Could we bring them coats so when they have to leave in the morning, they won’t be cold?”

Ri has always had that caring soul instilled in her. Since she was three, she has always been willing to give her stuffed animals away to children in need. Mario, well, he needs a little more teaching. But he is coming around. He likes to give his time to others and loves to make people laugh.

I was so proud of them last night.

Then we wake up this morning and I come out of the bathroom to find Mario rubbing Ri’s back because her tooth hurts. I asked him what he was doing and he looked up at me as if I had no reason to be surprised by his actions and says: “I’m taking care of my sissy.”
8 am rolled around and Ri engaged in her usual sergeant drills pushing Mario and I to hurry up. But when she saw Mario struggling with tying his shoes and heard him plea with Ri and me to watch him tie them, she let go of the time and watched him. Indeed, she even video-taped him so dad could see “what a big boy Mario was this morning.”

Yep, no doubt about it, we hit the jackpot with these two pumpkins.