Thankful for: Kids Helping Other People’s Kids

A shout out for kids helping kids – good news in the midst of, you know, mostly blechy news.

Our public middle school’s Community Service Club is asking their fellow students to help Safe Place for Youth. (By the way, I am tooting the horn of other people’s kids. Mine are not in this club, though I must say they do community service. Sometimes under duress. But still.)

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Recall that all of SPY’s donated warm clothes and sleeping bags were destroyed in a fire.

Seeing these boxes bedecked with earnest handwritten pleas for donations was a welcome lift after the Parent Board meeting I had just left, which included the following snazzy agenda items:

  • Evacuation procedures in case of bomb threats!
  • Today’s “Shelter in Place Drill” (nee “Lockdown”) in case of active shooters!
  • Results from recent school fundraiser and pleas for several more fundraisers! (Because to be an excellent public school requires thousands of dollars more than they are allotted – for computers, science equipment, functioning sinks…you know, the “extras.”)
  • Gentle reminders about holiday gifts for teachers, because a little gift means a lot (see bullet point above re public school funding).

So the lovely part about this meeting was this news: Our heroic (yes, heroic; no snark or sarcasm should be read into this adjective) school administrators and counseling staff had identified two homeless families in our school. (That’s not the lovely part). The administrators had reached out to other school parents, and through the efforts, donations, and advocacy of many people, those families are now in temporary housing on their way to permanent housing, and have received donations of gift cards for supermarkets and restaurants so they can eat.

But wait, there’s more! Our counseling staff gives food gift cards to 25 additional families who, though housed, would go hungry without them. It’s especially crucial this week: with no school next week, those children miss their regular breakfast and lunch. (I’m cranky without breakfast for a day.)

Admittedly, with nearly 14,000 students in LAUSD homeless (no wonder LAUSD has its own Homeless Education program), helping two homeless families get housing is a drop in the bucket. But for those two families it is a waterfall of blessings. For the Community Service Club kids, whose collection boxes express their dream of a world that is kind, abundant, plentiful and whole, there’s no better lesson than this: changing the world one person, one coat, one meal, one family at a time is as good a way as any to change the world.

As overwhelmed as I can get by the enormity of need — to the point of doing nothing, because where to begin? — I appreciate the reminder, kids.

“Have a Great Day at School! Don’t Get Killed, Honey!”

Am I a lazy parent because I sent my sons to school knowing there’s a decent chance they will be shot and killed, but all I can do is hope for the best?

Because resignation is the feeling I had this morning reading more about last week’s “child murders children story.”

Do school shootings now occupy the same class of “terrible, unpredictable, unavoidable” as car accidents – they happen, but there’s nothing to be done besides crossing one’s fingers and not dwelling on the negative “what ifs”?

I know there are actions to take. Groups to support in their tireless efforts. Women Against Gun Violence. The Brady Campaign. The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. There are messages and memes to share on Facebook. But what does that amount to? The gun that the Washington state football-player-Homecoming-Prince boy brought to school was bought legally and registered to someone in the family. Distraught over a breakup, it seems he texted his friends to join him in the cafeteria and then vented his sorrow with bullets. We can imagine that if there were no gun at home, he’d have punched a hole in the wall, or even someone’s face, and lived with his sadness until things got better.

I join the groups and I share the buttons, but look: even legal guns wreak havoc! So is the solution to accept that this is the way things are, or to radically change the way things are…or to believe in slow change? Slow change doesn’t seem to be working.

Do you want to keep crossing your fingers every day that it’s not your kid who gets shot?

Do we end this tyranny of guns? Share your concrete suggestions. And please be civil to each other.

Little Guy, Big Ideas

I took Emmett out of school a little early last week. We were heading to a major orthodontist appointment: At long last, he was getting an expander. “It breaks your jaw,” his father explained to him last week, smiling wickedly. I blanched and gave him an “are you insane?” look, but Emmett’s into gruesome-ness, so he was okay with that.

Have you seen these contraptions? They attach with rings around a top molar on each side of the mouth, with a metal brace kissing the roof of the mouth. We have to crank it wider, about a millimeter or two, twice a day, so that our baby’s jaw will spread out and make more room for his huge teeth, also courtesy of my husband. Meals and snacktime are now accompanied by repeated “chaack!” sounds from Emmett’s throat as he tries to clear food out of its tangled wires.

This expander has felt like It’s been a long time coming. His older brother Aaron had one in the third grade, three years ago, and since then Emmett knew his day would come. He mostly looked forward to the day or two of pudding and smoothies and jello that would accompany it.

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Now the day was here. We crossed the empty schoolyard, Emmett’s pace slowed. He was nervous. He spoke then, so quietly that I had to lean down and cup my ear to hear him.

“It feels like it came so fast. And it’s going to be so fast until I’m off.”
“What do you mean, ‘off’?” I asked. “Until the expander is off?”

He answered without looking at me, looking straight ahead into his future.

“Off to college.”

I don’t tell you this because it’s cute or charming or precocious, but because my gut sank so deeply when I realized, he was dead right. I took his hand and walked through the school door, on our way to the next thing.

 

Little Guy, Big Ideas

I took Emmett out of school a little early last week. We were heading to a major orthodontist appointment: At long last, he was getting an expander. “It breaks your jaw,” his father explained to him last week, smiling wickedly. I blanched and gave him an “are you insane?” look, but Emmett’s into gruesome-ness, so he was okay with that.

Have you seen these contraptions? They attach with rings around a top molar on each side of the mouth, with a metal brace kissing the roof of the mouth. We have to crank it wider, about a millimeter or two, twice a day, so that our baby’s jaw will spread out and make more room for his huge teeth, also courtesy of my husband. Meals and snacktime are now accompanied by repeated “chaack!” sounds from Emmett’s throat as he tries to clear food out of its tangled wires.

This expander has felt like It’s been a long time coming. His older brother Aaron had one in the third grade, three years ago, and since then Emmett knew his day would come. He mostly looked forward to the day or two of pudding and smoothies and jello that would accompany it.

IMG_3693

Now the day was here. We crossed the empty schoolyard, Emmett’s pace slowed. He was nervous. He spoke then, so quietly that I had to lean down and cup my ear to hear him.

“It feels like it came so fast. And it’s going to be so fast until I’m off.”
“What do you mean, ‘off’?” I asked. “Until the expander is off?”

He answered without looking at me, looking straight ahead into his future.

“Off to college.”

I don’t tell you this because it’s cute or charming or precocious, but because my gut sank so deeply when I realized, he was dead right. I took his hand and walked through the school door, on our way to the next thing.

 

Read between the lines

My sister and I had a favorite sight gag as kids. Hold up your middle three fingers toward someone, palm facing you and say, “Read between the lines.”

This is something different.

Our eight-year-old is assigned to read 20 minutes every night. And every night, as we open a book to read, he rolls over and says, “You read. I’m too tired.” We try gimmicks – “I’ll read one page (or paragraph, or sentence) and then you read one!” Mostly he refuses, and mostly I give in and read to him. With his school reading scores pretty strong, I justify it thusly: it’s a wonderful thing to be read to, we are building cozy memories.

But still I worry (of course I do). “He must do the assignment! He must improve! He could be reading at an even higher level!” (Trust me, as I write this I am even annoying myself.) I continue to pester him about reading, and he continues to resist.

Then, this morning, a most inexplicable turn of events. On the drive to school, the little guy agreed to help his brother practice lines for the balcony scene in Romeo & Juliet. Motoring along the palm tree lined Ocean Avenue and San Vicente Blvd., my son who balks at reading The Hardy Boys aloud, eloquently read aloud the immortal words, “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art though Romeo?”

He did the entire scene, until he bumped with embarrassment over the word “breast.” It went downhill from there, screeching to a halt at the word “marriage.” He had a problem with saying he would get married to his brother. “Daddy,” he said with no room for negotiation, “you have to say the M-word, cuz I won’t.”

This from a kid who has no qualms spouting words more commonly known by their first letter. Which reminds me, I think he’d enjoy our old sight gag.Image

 

Playing Hooky: What Killer Whales and Floor Hockey Have in Common

“We went whale watching and we didn’t see any whales, Papa!” Emmett reported to his grandfather this morning, a day after our family played hooky to catch the grey whale migration. Whale watching was high on the list of “stuff to do in 2012” that Emmett came up with as 2011 faded into its final midnight. And while I get queasy from looking at a boat moored to a dock, whale watching sounded cool, and I did not want to miss seeing Emmett and Aaron seeing their first whales.

Their Dad’s January birthday seemed the perfect opportunity to look for gray whales moving toward warmer waters to have their babies. No matter that the birthday fell on a school day — all the better! I am a proponent of playing hooky – with one caveat: I can’t shush my inner voice that says there ought to be some kind of enriching element to it. God forbid we take a day to goof off. (Not all moms are so serious. I have a friend whose mom took him out of school every time a new Star Wars movie came out, so they could be at the very first screening on the very first day. That is ultra cool. I am who I am.)

That said, I’m getting better. Rather than sending the boys to school for two hours before our expedition, as we’d planned, I let them sleep in. (I warned them they’d better remember how nice I was being, even as I heard my words detracting from said niceness.) We spent the morning playing 2-on-2 floor hockey. Kids beat parents in a nail-biter, 15-14. Then it was off to Long Beach, for a three-hour tour that left all of us a little woozy by the end.

Back to this morning. “You didn’t see any whales?” Papa asked Emmett, puzzled.

“Nope.” Emmett smiled, his too-big-for-his-face front teeth separated by a gaping space, a beautiful smile that will someday be ruined by a well-meaning orthodontist and parental co-conspirators.

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“Weren’t you on a whale watching boat?” Papa pressed.

“Yep.” That smile again.

“What did you see?” Papa continued the friendly direct examination.

“We saw all kinds of sea animals!” Emmett exploded. “Sea lions, two kinds of dolphins, and the most rare kind of animal ever seen in the water …” he paused for dramatic effect… “ORCAS!”

He looked at me for confirmation. I nodded, adding “The naturalist said she’d only seen this kind twice in 25 years.”

“Wow. But, aren’t those whales?” Papa asked Emmett.

“No…they’re dolphins!” Emmett shouted his punchline. Then he lowered his eyelids, gave a lips-closed self-satisfied smile, and turned to go find his brother.

The absence note I gave his teacher this morning said, “Please excuse Emmett’s absences on January 18 due to illness, and January 19 due to a home school field trip.” (I didn’t mention the floor hockey.) I wasn’t sure how his teacher would take the “field trip” excuse. For a fleeting moment I considered saying he was sick both days and leaving it at that. But honesty, and I confess, a measure of pride, held sway. It’ a good thing, too. The first thing his teacher said to me this morning was, through her broad smile, “Was Emmett well enough to go whale watching yesterday?”

“Yes,” I replied, my own broad smile covering my relief. Without me knowing, he’d outed us days before, his anticipation for the whale watching too big to contain. As big as the whales we didn’t see.

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