Wednesday, December 12, 2007

two little girls

Every year we open our winter programs which provide a few hundred additional beds for folks who need a place to escape the cold. I breathe a sigh of relief every year because I know how desperately those beds are needed for folks who manage to survive in the elements the rest of the year. I make a point of bringing M to the site regularly during the winter. She loves to go to mommy's work and help put the mats on the floor and I love it because she gets to see my passion and expand her mind.

Tonight started off the same, running into some old timers and old friends. One of the staff came up and said I am glad you're here. We've had more children the last few nights. It's no secret to anyone that children in these places damn near kills me and they know it and I know it too. Just as she finished speaking a family walked in with three kids, the youngest looks the same age as M. M noticed her immediately and ran up to her and the little girl reached out her hands and M took them and as it is with little ones, friendship was instant. Poverty is irrelevant, social class and all the rest. Children are always so much smarter than the rest of us.

Her mom approached and we started talking. Her story is similar to the thousands I've heard over the years and no less heartbreaking and once again this is no place for children. It may be relatively safe but her kids are on the floor in a warehouse amidst a hundred adults, a seething, exhausted place where the lights never go out and the concrete never gets warm. They have no car, no phone, no money. They spend their days at the library and their nights here with us. She's afraid to bathe them properly because there are no private shower stalls. Her children are beautiful and well behaved. Everyone smiles at the kids, the sadness and the joy of it, the old timers and the punks. Everyone smiles at the kids.

I cannot bear that this is the best we can do for these kids two weeks before Christmas so after obtaining her permission I start calling in favors and pulling some rank. There are kids here tonight, I say several times to several people whose cell phones I call after hours and yet they pick up we need to find them a place to live. After a bit some of the best case workers I know agree to come down and see what they can do. It's this spirit that never fails to move me. We move into action together and each person will bring something; money for the deposit, the friendly landlord, an open unit in their system. We bring these things and pool them and sort them out and see which one sticks this time around.

While this is happening M and her daughter are racing around up and down between the huddled masses. There is no fear to M, the burly, filthy, bearded men step around them in amusement and probably some annoyance as they sing and hold hands and dance their way around the room. They are both three and in this moment it would be easy to forget how different their lives are, how this little girl will sleep cold huddled on the floor after M and I go home. I see M flop down on the little girl's mat, laughing, she kicks her shoes off. This is fun for her, I know she can't understand and yet it feels wrong for her to do this. In this moment the unfairness rages inside of me. But they are two little girls having fun.

It's finally time to leave; all that can be done tonight is done and I promise her I'll return tomorrow with some warm clothes of M's and a case worker or two. She walks us outside and to our car and leans over and hugs me. This is so hard, she says. I squeeze her tightly and hold on. You are so brave, I reply. It might not feel like it but you are so very brave. We can do better than this. We will do better than this. And I know I am promising this to both of us.

On the way home M is chattering about how much fun she had. She asked if she could go to her new friend's house sometime and I turned around and looked at her. Baby, she doesn't have a house. She sleeps in that big room on the floor at mommy's work. Oh, she says. Oh. But we have a house, mommy. Can't she get a house too?

And we drive home to the warmth, the unfairness of it still rages on.

And ironically given how I am feeling tonight, I have a new review up about a toy M played with recently up at my other gig. If you want something a bit lighter and certainly more fun, clickety click.

45 comments:

flutter said...

they are all just the same, after all these little ones, aren't they?

thailandchani said...

Wow... great story.. and you're so right! Kids are much smarter than adults in the important ways.

Julie Pippert said...

IMHO, children that age take for granted the life they lead, but not in the way adults do. It's just a norm to them, and when someone else lacks what they know is necessary, they are shocked and concerned. It's beautiful and heartbreaking. The solution seems so simple to them: well get her a house. And when you try to think about why it is so complicated, there is nothing good to say.

This was, as always, a poignant and moving post.

I loved the visual and the emotion.

Julie
Using My Words

nyjlm said...

I will never, ever, understand how we allow this to happen in our country, where so many love to talk about 'family values' all the while allowing children to have no food, no home, no healthcare.
Thank you for doing this work, and for sharing with us.

Family Adventure said...

One step at a time. One family at a time. That's the only way to not go crazy with the unfairness of it all...

Your little girl is a very fortunate girl, in many ways. But especially because she has you as her mother.

Heidi

biodtl.diaryland.com said...

That brought me to tears. It's heartbreaking and infuriating that in this obscenely wealthy and well-fed nation that this could happen.

I have a question for you - give us some advice on what we can do. I try to do what I can, like giving to toy/clothing/blanket drives, voting for change, donating to shelters and food banks when I can. But is there something I'm missing - something I don't know that I could be doing that would help? You know much more than most about these things and I welcome any advice you could give.

alejna said...

Jen, I'm so glad you write these things. This was so moving, I was crying over my cereal. I only wish that more people could read what you have written.

Like the previous commenter (biodtl), I am left feeling like I should do something. I know you have given suggestions for actions in the past. Can you post a link to some of those earlier posts? Maybe even in your sidebar, so we can look for it regularly?

Oh, The Joys said...

The call of service can be so hard too.

You are also brave to hear it and heed it.

Thinking of you.

The Chick said...

She and other children are growing up so much more enlightened, I really do think. Here's to the future!

Janet said...

Typing through tears in my eyes. How *does* this happen? Thank God for you and the people who answer their cell phones after hours. Really. Just, thank God.

radical mama said...

It's a shame we don't all think like children. There would surely be more fairness in the world.

painted maypole said...

"as it is with little ones, friendship was instant. Poverty is irrelevant, social class and all the rest. Children are always so much smarter than the rest of us."

yes.

mitzh said...

Children these days are truly amazing!

Blog Antagonist said...

I don't know how you do it. How do you not break down weeping? How do you not take them all home?

I know, I know...you can't. That's why you are such a very special person.

Glad you are in the trenches.

Jennifer said...

Oh, Jen. What can we do? Can we send money? Clothes? Toys? Blankets? What can we do?

Kyla said...

Oh, your beautiful heart. And the small one that matches.

It should not be this way.

Lawyer Mama said...

Oh Jen, you just made me cry. You're right. We should do better. We can do better. It shouldn't be like this.

Magpie said...

You are a shining light in the darkness. We can and should do better, and I'm glad that you keep reminding me.

Amy Y said...

I know I've said it a hundred times, but why aren't there more Jen's (and M's for that matter) in this world?? :(

Sigh.

BOSSY said...

You are so profound and fighting the good fight, and all Bossy does is play with Barbies. Oy.

kristen said...

i love you for your big heart and for opening my eyes, always. xo

Candy said...

You brought tears to my eyes, along with the realization that I don't do enough for others at this or any other time of the year. People like you are a blessing.

Andrea said...

What did the blogosphere do without you, Jen? This was beautiful.

I wrote a post for you and Mad today to celebrate your anniversary. I hope you like it.

Andrea

kgirl said...

yes to what andrea said, but really, what would your city do with you? what would the world do without you?

i'm serious - the size of your heart is tremendous, and so is what you are teaching your daughter.

meno said...

Both of you mothers are brave.

Karen said...

It's amazing what M can give - really almost because she takes her life for granted - she can give honest friendship and not worry about its perception or purpose or power - she can just give herself. Good job, Jen.

KC said...

bless them,jen. and bless you.

Victoria said...

I've been reading you for a few months (directed to you via Jen @ Faking It), and have learned much. Tonight you really made me feel deeply. Your stories are intense and betray the truth some many don't see (won't see?)

This: "Children are always so much smarter than the rest of us"? So true. I would love my kids to learn from yours.

Thank you.

Eve said...

Okay now that I've shed a few tears...I feel like such a schmuck. I've been griping about having no health insurance.
Thanks for putting things in perspective again.

liv said...

my heart just soars to know that M is learning so early that truly not much of anything separates us as humans. it's a fine line at best.

Jocelyn said...

I have this little thing where I want you to mail every single one of your posts to the President.

You put such a human face on injustice.

Pgoodness said...

As always, I feel like I am there with you when I read your stories. Good for you letting M see the world as it really is and letting her learn. And good for her proving that even in the darkness, little girls are still innocent and instant-friends, no matter what. Those 2 were meant to bring smiles to those sleeping there - just as you were meant to do what you do. You are a brave, strong mama and I am proud to know you.

QT said...

Oh that M - you have to love the innocent, yet so real questions.

And that mom - I can't imagine what it would be like.

Ally said...

This post left me blubbering, crying my eyes out at the injustice of it all.

I am encouraged that there are people like you, and the social workers, landlords, and friends, who pick up their phones after hours, and come and respond to people in need. But still. It is rarely enough, is it?

blooming desertpea said...

Children way much smarter and more natural at M's age. Too sad that a part of them are going to be corrupted at a later age ...

Christine said...

this story broke me up jen.

it just broke me.

hele said...

I wish I could build a house so big and filled with so many blankets and meals and corners of warmth and privacy that no-one needs to feel without a home.

I wish I knew why things are the way they are.

I wish I could make things better.

So much that my heart aches.

Anjali said...

Oh God. This is crushing.

bgirl said...

jen this is such a good post on so many levels.

my heart aches for them as i'm reminded of what so many of us are fortunate to have and too easily forget.

carrie said...

If only the rest of us could see through the eyes of little girls . . .

You're doing good. You are.

TIV: the individual voice said...

This is beautiful and tragic and enraging and people need to know about this and I know how easy it would be for you to just do this work and go home exhausted and mute, so that the fact that you are writing about this is a gift you are giving all of us, and the people you help. It helps us think, think, think about ways to take action. Thank you for this vivid story.

Binky said...

And it all started with M making a new friend. You two make a fantastic team.

Binky said...

Oops, I meant to post the previous comment on Part II of this story. I got my screens mixed up!

Mrs. Chicken said...

I've been reluctant to read this and the follow-up post.

It hurt me too much.

And hurt it did, indeed. When I finished I was in tears and I went to the bathtub where my three-year-old girl played, safe and clean and warm and anticipating her cozy soft bed.

Thank you for once again pointing out how the world is larger than my back yard. This only galvanizes my resolve to start volunteering next month.

I have so much money, money I don't deserve, money my father left me when he died.

Some days the razor edge of what could have been keeps me up at night.

I could have been that mother.

Tis I. said...

"Baby, she doesn't have a house. She sleeps in that big room on the floor at mommy's work."

Oee is accepting donations to the women's shelter at the 6th birthday, this year, instead of gifts. She wants little girls to have toothbrushes, 'so they ahen't so stinky like me (her) when I wake up'.

I'm proud of her. But sad at what she doesn't know yet and will someday and that someday.. this will still be the case for hundreds.. how can we stop it. how can we.