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.


21-Day Gratitude Challenge: Day 2
November 8, 2013, 4:28 pm
Filed under: Writing | Tags: , , , , , ,

Today I decided to actually read the prompt for the Gratitude Challenge! Woo-hoo, I’m growing up!

The prompt asks you to think about a situation where you can never repay the individual that helped you–You can only “pay it forward.”

I am a very lucky girl, and I can think of many of these types of situations. I can recall two of my favorite teachers: Mrs. Kathleen Fischer and Mr. Robert Gorges. These two gems taught at Sheboygan North High School, and, for reasons no one knows, they were very kind to me and extended themselves for me.

I can also recall Dr. Crumrine, a college professor, who sat me down and told me he saw me falling asleep (often) in the Organic Chemistry class he taught. That day, we fleshed out some ideas on professional direction and life. I still don’t know what I wanna be when I grow up, but that conversation sticks in my head.

But when I think of all the many faces and people who have bestowed kindness on me, kindness that I can never repay, my mind drifts back to situations in which I was vulnerable. I cannot even remember the anesthesiologist’s name, but I can hear her whispering in my ear as I was in the OR after Ruby’s birth. Each word was a confirmation that I would be okay, and that she would be right there by my side while the doctors and nurses worked to stop the bleeding. I can also picture the faces of the critical care nurses Betsy and Penny, two of the amazing women who took such good care of my father following his open-heart surgery last April.

I think of the people that I can never repay, and it makes me want to be a person who never cares about being “repaid.” I hope I’m not carrying some enormous score card, where I keep track of the debts and credits of my life. Banish quid pro quo, unless, of course it’s my husband’s night to do the dishes, in which case it’s: “I cooked. I did ’em at lunch. Your turn.”

What I put out into this world in terms of kindness, thoughtfulness and general courtesy is an ends in and of itself.

Sign up here to get inspiring posts from

Merry Christmas to all!
December 24, 2012, 12:33 am
Filed under: Family, Just making conversation | Tags: , , , , , ,

It is nearly officially Christmas Eve as I write this, and my beloved family is fast asleep. My husband has had some version of the flu, so we decided to cancel most of our plans these past few days.

Can I be perfectly honest? I really didn’t mind. I don’t mean that I didn’t regret my poor husband’s crummy departure into virus-land (that stinks). I mean that the purposeful slowing down and staying in the house didn’t bother me. Christmas, and all of it’s lovely, joyful meaning can be lost in the busyness, don’t you think?

I try to be intentional with my life. My days are filled (often overflowing), but I hope that they are filled with the “good stuff.” We make cookies, we go to dance class, we play at the park, we call the grandmas, we fold the laundry, we run to the grocery store, we play, we rest, we stop and smell the roses (or the pine trees, as the case may be this time of year). But we can all fall victim to the hustle and bustle, and count me as a very big victim this year.

Sure, I still managed to wrap a few presents. I watched a few of my favorite holiday movies. I sent macaroons to my neighbor (but really, this was a boomerang move since she had dropped by to gift us some yummies). But any attempt at making the effort fell between caring for my sick kids and maintaining our regularly scheduled programming. I felt harried and silly and completely disorganized.

So, today I collect my thoughts and write my Christmas manifesto.

A Christmas Manifesto, by Jayme

This Christmas I will not feel Less Than, but I will take comfort in the Light that continually makes everyone and everything More Than.

This Christmas I will welcome the stranger and create hospitality and fellowship wherever I can.

This Christmas I will share and not hoard; I will give and not covet;  I will love generously and not keep track of the score.

This Christmas I will receive every gift given to me with graciousness and gratitude, but I will especially savor the gifts of the Present–the smiles of my children, the home cooked meal that my in-laws will prepare, the snow that may fall (there’s a 60% chance ! Eek!) and create a White Christmas.

This Christmas I will sing my favorite carols, eat the most delectable treats, and be awed by the youthful energy because it is a Celebration. This is a Celebration of the hope that entered the world some 2000 years ago. This is a Celebration of love, joy, kindness, justice, truth and forgiveness. There is a cause for celebration, and I will try to keep that at the forefront of my mind.

Best wishes to you and yours for your Christmas celebration! Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, I hope you have a reason to pause and savor some joy “just because” in the near future (and always, right?).

My new muffin tin from my mom--she so "gets" me

My new muffin tin from my mom. I look grateful and joyful, do I not? I can bake a DOZEN muffins in one pan now, what’s not to love?