As planned, our elf arrived December 1 bearing a letter and a special tree. Things haven’t gone quite like I envisioned. The boys didn’t enthusiastically start seeking out ways to be kind so they could fill the tree. They forgot all about adding ornaments to the tree unless I prompted them. Some nights at the dinner table, I ask them to think of something kind they did and they can’t think of anything. Maybe this is good. Maybe it means that all of the kind things they do all day – comforting a friend, sharing a toy – come so naturally that they don’t seem like anything special. So I remind them that those little things are special. When Bee shares a cookie with his brother or Zip tells me he helped a friend, we add those to our tree.
Even if it has not happened like I expected, our Christmas “giving tree” has had a profound impact on us and maybe especially on me. I started looking for ways we could help others, beyond the day-to-day kindnesses of a smile or a kind word. And I especially started looking for things the boys could be a part of, too. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the holiday brunch we hosted to collect donations for our local shelter for women and children. Last weekend, the boys helped make sugar cookies and care packages to bring to our community’s resource center, which provides a place for homeless individuals to shower, do laundry, use the computer, or simply get out of the cold.
In both cases, I brought Zip with me to make the deliveries. I really wanted to put a face to our projects. I wanted him to see what “shelter” and “homeless” mean. And, most importantly, I wanted to start showing him, by example, that regardless of what people have, people are people and everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and compassion.
We had a unique opportunity in that friends of ours volunteer at the resource center, so when we arrived to deliver the cookies and care packages they signed us in as visitors and took us around. I was immediately caught off guard by just how many people were there. We made 12 care packages, unaware that the center serves 30 people a day. And there were so many children. Our community has two long-term shelters, but if those shelters are full, well, families are $@#! out of luck. There is a temporary shelter that rotates between churches, but our friends explained that many nights there are more people than there are spaces. People are left to sleep outside or hope a friend will take them in for the night. How did I not know this about my own community? Maybe I did. I’m sure I read it somewhere, at some point, but then I went back to letting this part of our community be invisible to me. Standing in a room surrounded by people who do not have homes was eye
I’m not sure Zip truly grasped our mission of giving – he kept convincing the guys hanging out in the kitchen to give him the cookies we had brought for them. (The men were readily charmed by this grinning 6-year-old who bounced around the room as if I had just let him drink a 2-liter of soda!) But Zip also met a boy his age and they played games together while I talked with the boy’s mom.
We talked about the book she was reading her son for school – Charlotte’s Web, one of our family favorites. We talked about how she wanted to enroll him in a sports program. We talked about how he had just signed up for Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and she hoped it would give him some experiences she just couldn’t. We talked about how she hoped to find an apartment for them, but wouldn’t accept one unless it was in a safe neighborhood. This is a homeless family. A homeless mother, wanting the best for her son, trying to give it to him as best she can – just like the rest of us. A boy my son’s age, who loves school and, according to his mom, is a sweet, good kid. If you saw him in your child’s class you would have no idea that he is homeless.
I realized then that I didn’t have faces to go with our projects. In 37 years, I had never been inside a shelter or sat down to talk with someone who is homeless. Now I find myself wondering: What next? What more can we do? How do we keep this going when Snuggle flies off his little shelf and back to the North Pole? Because I want to keep it going. And I keep thinking about that mom and her son.
I believe that when we put our intentions to the universe, it eventually answers back. And sometimes life leads us to to a place that is so different from what we expected when we started out, but is right where we need to be.
A couple of months I was asked, “What is it you want from blogging?” It took some reflection but I am certain about the answer: Experiences. Connection. And to do good. Beyond writing about parenthood, which I love, I want to somehow make this a place that inspires and makes a difference. I have no idea yet what that will look like. I am waiting, trusting that things will unfold as they should and I’ll eventually look back and say “Yes! That is just how it was supposed to happen!”
And isn’t it funny how, just a few weeks after I finally put this into words (“My goal with blogging is to do good”), a gift card from Gymboree was in my hands (my very first sponsored post) and then I was dropping off an awesome collection of items at our shelter? I felt as though the universe had said: You want to do good? Okay – here. This might not be what you pictured, but do something with this.
And this Christmas magic tree, which I started in the hope of focusing my boys on giving, has given me some truly eye-opening experiences. It has also started to fill an unmet need in me. Because the longer I have been away from working as a therapist (over 3 years now), the more I have missed doing something that helps people in a really direct way. I have missed feeling like I am making a difference. I don’t think returning to the therapy office is the answer for me and I’m not sure a different job is even the answer. I’m not sure what is. So I’m watching and waiting, and keeping faith that the job I’m in now, working in policy and program development and program impact monitoring, is giving me skills and experience I am going to need. I will look back and see that it was all part of the plan, necessary to get me from here to there…wherever there is.
I trust that somehow things will unfold in the way they are meant to, even if I can’t yet envision what that will be. I have faith that the path I’m on is taking me where I need to be. There are possibilities over the horizon that I haven’t seen yet. I just need to keep my eyes and heart open.