Sunday, January 06, 2008

where do the children play (part 2)

I was haunted by the little girl I mentioned yesterday so I went back to see what we could do. I walk in and see them immediately, mom sitting watchful over the sleeping toddler on a mat on the floor. I quietly inquire and learn that one of the staff found them on a street panhandling and hungry, and they can't speak english. I round up an old timer who's able to translate and go and sit on the floor next to the mom. After some back and forth I learn that the husband had work for a while but it's gone with the weather, they are unable to get any sort of governmental assistance as no one has papers and they have literally no money at all.

The little girl wakes up while we are talking, she is radiantly beautiful with thick black hair and chocolate eyes. I smile at her as she clings to her mama, a shy smile peeking through. After obtaining her permission to see if we can find room at a family shelter we make some calls and come up empty but weekends are tough like that and I wasn't surprised. I then ask if they need anything and the mother says they have no diapers or warm clothes beyond what is on their backs. That's easier to manage so we quickly call a co-worker and arrange delivery for all of it (thankfully with holiday generosity our supply closets are full). I can't help but notice the little girl's fingernails, they need trimming and they are black with dirt. I can't imagine how she keeps her kids clean the way they are living and even though I've seen it a thousand times I am getting soft in my old age, or better said my mothering age and I feel lost sitting there because it's still going to take a few days to find something else and this is no place for kids.

The mom stands up and as she does I realize she's not only pregnant but hugely so. She already looks young, terrified as can be, and now this. The old timer translating didn't know either, he looked at me as she stood and his eyes widened. Shit, he said in english. Embarazada, in Spanish. She nods quickly and looks at the floor and my mind is reeling. I ask her how far along and she says seven months so I ask if she's seen a doctor and she shakes her head no. I am gripped by this, this young woman terrified and homeless, about to give birth without any prenatal care sitting in the pouring rain with her child and a hundred street folks. I gently ask if she'd like to see a doctor and she nods her head yes.

Her daughter is two but acts much older. She doesn't leave her mama's lap, she doesn't fidget or complain. She sits that way for over two hours, something M could never do in a million years. She's so well behaved it breaks your heart, as if she's learned to expect so much less in such a short time. Her mom is so good with her, tender in the best sort of way, a way I fear I might not be able to muster if I were in her shoes. I am curious to know how they ended up here, how or if they crossed the border as a family, how they've survived till now but it's a dangerous topic and besides, we've only just met. I tell her in broken spanish that I have a little girl too, perhaps her daughter would like someone to play with and she nods her head yes, a smile on her face. She tells her daughter and she smiles broadly at that so I promise to return with M tomorrow and let the girls play.

I leave shortly after, on the way home I remember I need to stop at the store. I am standing in the produce section mindlessly choosing organic fruit over the other when all of a sudden I start to cry. I am looking at bananas in tears because it's fucking audacious and incomprehensible that I drive away while she sits with her daughter on her lap in a cold room on the floor and I get to choose fruit without thinking of the price. I almost want to do something crazy like throw myself on the floor and wail amidst the tomatoes, the vine ripened and the romas, the fancier ones that were probably imported from a million miles away but instead I finish, head down and purchase things we could most likely do without while a woman just like me has absolutely nothing, and I mean nothing in this world to call her own but the family around her.

Occasionally some of you ask me how I do it and today I don't know. Today I am haunted by this woman, this girl. Today I hate poverty and I hate the unfairness of money and chance and luck and lineage. I hate borders and hunger and the priorities of our nation. Today I am shamed that our house only has three people in it and we have money in the bank and food in the fridge. Today I will bring my child to a play date at a shelter because I don't know what else to do.

45 comments:

Omaha Mama said...

I'm sorry for your grief today. Be pissed, but keep going. What you do is important. Thanks for sharing it.

thailandchani said...

I have way too much to say about this for any blog comment forum. And much of it is vitriolic.. so, for now, I'll say "it's a beginning." Doing what you are doing is a beginning. And sometimes that's all we get.

QT said...

This brought tears to my eyes, jen, it is unbelievable and scary what people will do to reach the supposed "greatest country on earth", my heart goes out to that mother and her children.

And I echo Chani's words of wisdom..

mamatulip said...

Chani is right. It's a beginning. It's a start.

It's something in a world that seems, many times, full of nothing.

bgirl said...

my gut is twisted as i imagine your heart to be with all you see, especially lives like those you describe in this post.

all that you are doing not only touches the people in the shelter, but us, out here. your path has greatly impacted mine.

thank you for sharing, thank you for doing, loving, feeling, and all that you do.

Joker The Lurcher said...

jen, do take care of your self. i know this sounds like i am saying be selfish but this is how it started going wrong at work for me. the children, the toddlers growing up surrounded by bladesfor cutting drugs and bongs and needles and no sheets on the bed, the kids who only eat if they steal sweets, the kids who feel so unloved they try to cut their own throats. a person can only take in so much of this before they crack. make time to regroup.

your little one will learn so much from playing with kids like this one. that is the best gift you can give both her and the little girl with no home - letting them know that they are really just the same.

Magpie said...

Oh jen, you are good people. good on you for taking care of others so well.

Family Adventure said...

Oh Jen. My heart breaks for this mom and her little girl.

I know a lot of people will protest this...but in countries such as the Scandinavian ones, with a more socialist/well-fare state slant, there's funds available to take care of people like this family. I'm not saying these countries are perfect...but their priorities are a little different than what we are used to in North America.

Have you ever thought about taking your fight to the political arena? Your knowledge could make a huge difference!

Heidi

kristen said...

my heart hurts for you and for the family. i feel sick knowing she's pregnant and relieved that she found her way to you honey. that's the gift here, that she found you. much love, friend.

and yes, i'm planning on july. xo

Her Grace said...

I think that anyone who has a heartless stance on immigration should read this post.

I also think that I'm becoming a better person, just by coming here.

Janet said...

oh, babe. i don't even know what to say. it's so effing surreal and twisted and unfair.

Redneck Mommy said...

I couldn't do what you do. I don't have the strength.

Thank all that is holy and good, that you can. The world needs more people like you.

Sigh.

alejna said...

This breaks me up inside, to know that there are families who have to go through that. I know that guilt you describe about having space and warmth and choices about what food to buy.

I know I've said this before, but I think it's so important that you share these stories. That you share them from such a personal viewpoint, that you share them again and again. You have a voice that people will listen to, and people need to hear what you are saying.

I hate poverty, and borders, and the unfairness, too.

I'm sorry for the hurt you are going through.

painted maypole said...

your kindness and empathy are astonishing, and it's ok to cry sometimes. I have a friend who is a social worker, working with kids, and he LOVES it, but he says sometimes he just has to go home and cry so he can go back the next day and do it again.

flutter said...

I wish that we were all armed with the tools to make this not so.

There is no shame in you, jen for being part of the solution.

thordora said...

Sometimes I think all we can do is cry, and then try harder.

And having your daughter to play with, having that normalcy for a few moments-who knows what small change that can make.

I hope for the best for this woman. I cannot imagine.

Julie Pippert said...

Oh my heart, it broke reading this.

You. Thank you for going back and getting them what they needed right then.

I hope the rest comes soon.

wheelsonthebus said...

THis may come out wrong, but I will try.

The problem is not that you have a comfortable life and can buy healthful food for your family. The problem is not that you have things.

The problem is that they don't.

I fear we sometimes confuse the two and feel guilty. But, it is a waste of blessings to feel guilty about them, especially for YOU, who is giving so much to others and has nothing to feel guilty about.

Emily

Amy Y said...

:(
Oh, Mama.
I just don't know how you do it. But I'm glad you do.

Mrs. Chicky said...

This made me cry.

You have more strength than I to keep doing this. That woman and her family will stay in my thoughts.

KC said...

Your giving is a gift. Unlike the many that are blessed with so much, you are using your talents and your gifts to help others who are less so.

You are a hero in every sense of the world and never feel badly for that.

M will know this too.

Beck said...

Poor baby girl. Poor scared young mama. This made me cry, too.

Suz said...

This family has grabbed a hold of my thoughts as well.

Bon said...

message received.

and it is a start, what you're doing. the process and the system aren't really linear, as you well know...but all little acts of humanity make a difference to the humanness of those who are often dehumanized by the system itself. and occasionally, just that little foot in the door helps a lot. other times, well, at least there was kindness, and a playdate.

that sounds so fatalistic. i don't mean it that way, at all. just trying to say i hear you. and i still think what you're doing matters.

Kelly said...

I know I've said it before here, in comments, that I would be curled into a ball, weeping uncontrollably, most likely unable to return.

It is with these thoughts that I am so incredibly grateful for people who face these scenes and do not run, but stay and make playdates, because that is the genuine human thing to do.

It seems trite to say how much you rock, but you do. You really do. You're a hero to many.

Tabba said...

this brought me to tears.

i know this post is about something bigger than all of us. and my heart aches for this barely-holding-on family. and i will be thinking of them. but...

you are so raw, jen. you are rubbed so raw. i can hear it in your writing. please take care. i wish i had the balm that you need. but i second KC and everyone else.
i just don't even know what else to say...i'm overcome by it all.

Aliki2006 said...

I'm sorry for the two (three?) of them, and for the poverty that has existed for so very long in this world. Since we can't seem to wipe out poverty and hunger and misery, at least there are more resources in place to help this woman, her daughter, and her unborn child. At least there are people like you, working hard to make a difference.

I don't know why we can't figure this out after all these years, and all this "progress."

carrie said...

You share with us.

You inspire us.

You teach us.

You are doing so much more than what you see in the shelters, on the streets. You are doing good.

I would be swallowed whole by what you've seen. A puddle on the floor. I don't think I 'd be strong enough. But you, you are.

Jocelyn said...

For this:

"I am looking at bananas in tears because it's fucking audacious and incomprehensible that I drive away while she sits with her daughter on her lap in a cold room on the floor and I get to choose fruit without thinking of the price. I almost want to do something crazy like throw myself on the floor and wail amidst the tomatoes, the vine ripened and the romas, the fancier ones that were probably imported from a million miles away but instead I finish, head down and purchase things we could most likely do without while a woman just like me has absolutely nothing, and I mean nothing in this world to call her own but the family around her"...I find myself loving a perfect stranger--you--for your amazing heart.

And you made me love that woman and her girl, too.

Lawyer Mama said...

Well, you care, Jen. And that's a start. It has to start somewhere. And you're teaching M and so many of us as you go along too. Hopefully, one day, the people who care and actually *think* about it, will outnumber those who don't.

((hugs))

heartinsanfrancisco said...

This brought back painful memories because I ran a shelter for battered women once. All my clients were below the poverty line; abuse cuts across all sectors of society but the richer women can usually make arrangements so they and their children don't end up in such a place.

It's heartbreaking every day, but thank God you have a heart. You can never do all you want for people, but everything you do is more than they had before - just to put it into perspective.

Because you care, you will be shown the way to help them. It never fails. Good luck, Jen.

Jenty said...

Well done for helping where you can. It's not easy at all.
I have just started getting involved in a Childrens home close to where I work, and I feel so helpless, and just go home to hug my kids.

hele said...

When I was in rehab I had a social worker who was a real person like you.

While I was there she got little feedback or appreciation from me yet just knowing there was someone there who cared - not because she was hoping to go to heaven but because she was just like that - helped me get up in the mornings.

When I got arrested for theft while in rehab she was willing to stand bail for me saving me from three months in jail. I'm not sure how I would have turned out if this happened.

A few years later I went back to say I made something of my life, I changed and you played a big role. She was gone. The heartbreak of working with addicts got too much for her.

I wish I could tell her how much difference she made in my life even if it didn't show at the time.

I wish I could reach across the space that separates us and be there for you my sister.

shay said...

It's something I struggle with too. How to reconcile the riches we have with the lack in so much of the world. I love that you can at least help and reach out. I hope the play date is fun for both kids.

Amanda said...

Jen, honey, I'm so sorry, but so grateful You keep us all in check.

Oh, The Joys said...

I hate that there aren't more of you.

Lora said...

I found you again after a really long time! I used to read but my computer crashed and I lost all my favorite links. You've become quite famous since I've been gone! Congrats!

gumdropsandbubblethoughts said...

Oh, Jen you are truly indeed one of a kind. And I am so thankful that there is someone like you.

It is an unfair world we live in but no matter what there will always be people, like you, who keeps it in balance.

Sober Briquette said...

Oh, Jen. I have no words, but wanted you to know I'm reading. Thinking. Trying.

Kyla said...

Oh baby. You do good, but you are just one person...and that weight around your heart is a heavy one. You do good.

andrea_frets said...

You are doing such good. I know being a legal aid attorney you want to tear your hair out because you are so limited in what you can do. You really are doing good for that family and many others.

The Expatriate Chef said...

I don't know you, but I love you for these thoughts. I don't know how you do all this. I've had such a feeling, once, when my father was recovering from a head injury. I would go nearly every day, and the children there, there by accident, by drunk driver, the children would crush me. I was not even a mom yet. I felt guilty for being whole. Like I should just cut off an arm in order that there be some kind of justice or equity. Who am I to be whole? Look at the mistakes I've made ...
You are whole, Jen, and with choices because you do so much for others with those choices. No guilt, no sadness, please.

Anjali said...

Oh, God. Heartbreaking.

Daisy said...

Yes, it is heartbreaking. You needn't feel guilty for being financially stable. Your attitude is obviously positive and helpful, and your job has so much heartbreak potential. I've learned to limit the amount of money/things I donate, but I can't (and won't) harden my heart. Please don't let the sadness harden yours.

Tis I. said...

"She sits that way for over two hours, something M could never do in a million years. She's so well behaved it breaks your heart, as if she's learned to expect so much less in such a short time."

I know these children.

I cry for them, too, Jen. You are amazing. Keep doing what you are doing. Your efforts matter.