My mom adventures in Fort Collins


One night in Santa Fe

I always envisioned raising my children with a sense of a bigger world. I want them to be philanthropic and service-oriented, volunteering their time and energy for those less fortunate. I want to instill in them a sense of social justice and what the Jesuits call, a “Preferential Option for the Poor.” I see in my daughters an open-minded, welcoming attitude that I want to nourish and encourage. I don’t want them to grow cynical the way that many of us do.

This idea of cultivating kind, equality-minded children is nothing new, but I think it is one of those parenting ideas that falls into the category of “Be Careful What You Wish For.”

Last week, we visited Santa Fe on our way back from a family vacation in Arizona. We checked into a hotel downtown around dinner-time, and set off to find pizza. Within four steps of leaving the hotel’s property, we were approached by a woman. The woman could have been 40-years-old or she could have been 65-years-old. She was petite in stature and had the rough skin of a person who has spent a great deal of time in the sun. Her blond hair was stringy and graying, and the gaze behind her filthy glasses appeared tired yet persistent.

“Excuse me, sir.” My husband and I shared a knowing glance.

In a rehearsed cadence she said, “I am sorry to bother you, but I am homeless. I need $20 to stay at the Motel 6. Could you spare some change?” She crossed the street with us in order to deliver her message.

Down the block, we heard a man holler back, “I’ve got it!” The woman didn’t appear to notice this, and we simply said that we don’t carry cash. She then proceeded to the next man traveling down the sidewalk and we overheard a similar exchange. Meanwhile, the man on the end of the block kept yelling back to her, “I’ve got it! I already got it!” The woman crossed the street and traveled in the same general direction as us. At the corner, the man who had been yelling at her all this time appears agitated, and I noticed he seemed years younger than the woman. He spoke loudly in her face, “I kept trying to tell you that we already got it!”

We tried to maintain our original trajectory: head to the pizza joint on the third floor of a building a mere block away from our hotel. However, my kind, sensitive six-year-old was absolutely overrun with emotion. She said repeatedly, with a lilt in her voice, “That woman didn’t have any home?” It was beyond her comprehension that someone could be wholly without a home. She was visibly distressed by this whole exchange.

Now, this incident could have happened here in Fort Collins, and it could have happened in any one of the communities where we have traveled. In fact, I’m certain that Scout has seen homeless folks before, she just may not have been approached directly by a person asking for money.

After we arrived at the pizza place, I needed to determine what, if anything, I could do to help. One thing was certain, she felt sad and helpless. Someone in this world didn’t have a place to sleep tonight and she felt awful. I said, “Honey, do you want to go back out there and find that woman and give her some money?” She looked confused, “BUT I DON’T HAVE ANY MONEY, MOM!” And I said, “Well, I do, and Dad does, and maybe we could figure something out. How much money would you like to give this woman?” She thought for a second and said, “I think three dollars would be good.” I dug to the bottom of my purse, the exact thing I purposely avoided on the street when the lady asked for money, and I found my change purse with $11 cash in it. I handed Scout my single, and I suggested that her dad might have more. We found an additional two dollars and set out to find the homeless woman.

All this time, I did not acknowledge that homelessness is a complicated issue. I never said, “I don’t think we’ll be able to find her.” I didn’t try to diminish her quest by pointing out that I overheard her working with another guy and I suspected that they came up with whatever money they needed. I never apologized for the fact that I didn’t give the woman money when she originally asked, and Cory & I spoke after the fact that Scout must have realized that her parents had lied. In this earnest attempt to find this woman and allow my little girl a chance to contribute to a safe place for her to sleep, all I hoped for was to return to the restaurant $3 lighter. This was not about setting us free from the drama of a bereft six-year-old, this was just about making the attempt. Trying.

When we left the restaurant, we looked up and down the streets in every direction. We walked up to the corner, and, unfortunately, we never did find the original woman that set this entire story in motion. Across the street, I noticed a few folks sitting on benches in a small plaza. I had to give this a shot, and I figured if we could connect with someone–anyone–who needed the money, maybe my dear girl would be satisfied. I offered to approach this group of people and ask if they might know the woman. Scout pointed out that these people were strangers and she felt shy approaching them. I asked, “What do you want to do?” She looked downhearted and disappointed, and finally said, “Let’s go back to the restaurant.” I wasn’t thrilled with that option, and I felt that we could certainly find some reason to give somebody that $3.

Just then, I observed a man take the lid off a public trashcan and dig through the garbage. I assumed he was looking for food. I quietly said to Scout, “Did you see that? I just saw that man dig through the garbage. I think he is hungry. Why don’t we give him our money?” She nodded. “I guess that would be okay.”

I said, “Excuse me, sir.” He turned around, and I said, “Are you hungry?” He was scraped up,  and his skin was dry and red on his cheeks and nose. He said, “Almost always.”

To this man, who introduced himself as Chad, I explained our situation. “My daughter saw a woman on the street asking for money for a place to stay, and we tried to find her but we couldn’t. We saw you and thought you might like some money to buy some food.” He seemed genuinely touched, and he took the money from Scout and he took her hands in his hands, the same hands that were just digging through the garbage. Chad, this man that we met by happenstance after he quietly dug through a refuse bin, thanked Scout and said that he would never forget this.

We said goodbye to Chad and we crossed the street back to the restaurant. Scout was still fairly disoriented by what had just happened, and in her typical private manner, she did not want to discuss the events at the dinner table. At dinner that night, Cory suggested finding a volunteer opportunity for her.

Walking around downtown Santa Fe

Walking around downtown Santa Fe

Even the next day, she was upset when I brought it up. She caught me relaying part of this story over the phone to her grandmother, and she left the room because it was so concerning for her to hear all of these details again.

Since that night in Santa Fe, it still breaks her heart to think of the woman who didn’t have a home. We continue to talk about homelessness and hunger. I don’t quite know that I have the right words or suggestions. I have tried to explain to her that there are organizations that try to help people like the woman we saw on the street that evening. I told her that our family supports different organizations, though maybe we could do more. I said to her that even though she is young, there are ways to make a difference in the lives of others.

It’s a difficult chapter we’ve just begun. I want to encourage her spirit of caring for others, but allow her to see that homelessness is complicated and homeless people are a diverse bunch. There is no one way to expose your child to these worldly issues, but this feels like a very organic starting point.

What about you, reader? Can you relate to this story about my daughter’s first encounter with a homeless person? Do you have a story of your own? I’d love to thoughts on how to translate a child’s concerns into a positive contribution to the community.

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I’m not really a Wallflower, but I’ll try

Have you read The Perks of Being a Wallflower? I am not quite sure why, but I only recently read this book. Well, I actually devoured this book. In any case, I have been inspired. Also, I haven’t written a post in a long time. So, let’s see if I can merge these two things…

March 13, 2013

Dear friend,

I have had every intention of writing to you, but this is my first attempt. Time has been scarce, it seems. But when I think about it, time has also been plentiful. How is that? That time can seem infinite and also so limited?

Family is weird and lovely. But mostly lovely. I felt drawn to go visit my father for his birthday this year. He happens to have been born on Valentine’s Day, which is kind of weird but he can’t help it. The kids and I took a trip to Wisconsin for five days, and Cory stayed home because he doesn’t have the same kind of flexibility that I do as a stay-at-home-mom. I did enjoy the face time, and the kids enjoyed the toys my parents bought them.

My dad and me

My dad and me (self-held camera shot)

On the day that we left Wisconsin, my dad traveled about 60 miles to spend time at a hospital where he saw a ton of new doctors and had a lot of new tests. I kept waiting for him to call me, but mostly I called my mom to find out how he was doing. He spent 11 days in the hospital and came home with new medicine and new information. The new doctor suggested that he could have a heart pump, or an LVAD as the heart pump is commonly known. I read a bit about the LVAD, but mostly I can’t stop thinking about the plotline on “Grey’s Anatomy” where Dr. Izzie Stevens falls in love with her patient Denny Duquette and she cuts his LVAD wire so that he can be moved to the top of the heart recipient list.

Oh, Denny and Izzie... why'd it have to go so WRONG??? From greysanatomy.wikia.com

Oh, Denny and Izzie… why’d it have to go so WRONG??? From greysanatomy.wikia.com

My older daughter has been really anxious about school. Many mornings have been difficult these past few weeks.

“I don’t want to go to school today.”

“It’s hard to go to school when you don’t want to go but sometimes we all have to do things that we don’t want to do.”

“I won’t go to school. If you make me go to school, I’m going to steal all the jewelry out of your jewelry box.”

“That doesn’t make me want to keep you home from school.”

Acting not at all anxious with Papa

Acting not at all anxious with Papa

My younger daughter does not like to wear pants. She likes to wear skirts. The skirts have to twirl, though. She will wear the skirt all day and then put it on over her pajamas. She sleeps in a twirly skirt over her pajamas, and it’s probably not comfortable but she does not seem to mind. Other people think she looks nice, though, and they will comment. When they say, “Oh, how sweet!” I really just want to cringe and say, “She actually slept in that stupid skirt last night.”

But I don’t.

One of the "twirly" skirts

One of the “twirly” skirts

I am very annoyed with daylight savings time. I read a poster in a Jimmy John’s not too long ago. The sign was a list of some wisdom of Dave Barry. I really like Dave Barry. It said things like, “There comes a time in life when you stop making a big deal about your birthday. That time is age eleven.” But one thing I remember is that it also says, “No one can ever give you a good explanation for why we observe Daylight Savings time.”

I agree with Dave Barry on that.

I have been leaving messages for a woman who works at our credit union. She is never there, but I keep hoping that she will return my message. I had my debit card stolen out of our truck two weeks ago. The first person I spoke with at the credit union led me to believe that this was no big deal. I’m pretty sure that $2100 should be reinstated on our account. I  didn’t spend $2100 at Target, but someone did. My husband filled out the card dispute form and he even turned it into a PDF, which I found pretty impressive. Why does the credit union need to take two weeks to reinstate the money?

Good thing I don’t actually need money to survive.

That was supposed to be a joke. But maybe no one even laughed. I don’t know why I’m saying this. I really just wish that I could write a post in order to move my blogging process along. I really hope that this post did accomplish that.

Love always,

Jayme