Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sleepless--and Fortunate--in San Diego

The girls are fast asleep tonight in their beds, easy targets after a night outside in sleeping bags on cots under the almost-full moon in honor of the homeless, and then a day of outings and parties.

On a late-night whim two weeks ago, I signed us up for the Sleepless San Diego experience.  It's been two years since I posted about Little Sis's optimistic appraisal of a homeless encampment near our neighborhood; in the meantime, the encampments have expanded as the effects of the struggling economy and our daughters' curiosity and concern have grown.  Over the summer, Husband and the girls harvested vegetables from the school garden and delivered them to a local shelter and soup kitchen.  Sleepless San Diego seemed like another opportunity to immerse our daughters in a memorable educational experience about the plight of people who are homeless, the resources available to assist them, and how we, too, can help. 

The girls and I registered as a team, with a minimum fundraising goal of $25 each, and sought  sponsors through Facebook.  On Saturday evening, armed with sleeping bags, pillows, and hats and jackets, and the donations of generous friends, we joined 700 other folks and a host of volunteers from the San Diego Rescue Mission at a local park.   We staked out three cots and then got busy circulating among resource booths, where Big and Little Sis learned about various ways groups and organizations are providing for the homeless in our city.  The girls helped decorate paper bags that would be filled with food and distributed to local school children the following Friday for their families for the weekend.  We learned that children of all ages can volunteer at Feeding America warehouses. 

There was an incredible spirit of jubilance and camaraderie among the participants and volunteers.  Across from the resource booths were games for children and face painting.  As the line for the balloon man grew longer, a group representing a church's "Ladle" service tried to draw attention to its free samples.  "Hey," yelled a witty volunteer, "we have soup in the shape of balloons over here!"

Part of the experience is the opportunity to build a cardboard "shelter" out of boxes and duct tape, and we watched several groups create elaborate roofed habitats (props to the boys "next door" to us!) before we set up our own walled (and cozy) structure.  This activity was more of a fun fort-building challenge than a lesson in resourceful survival; as this article in the San Diego Union Tribune asserts, the aim of the Sleepless program is not to simulate actual homelessness, but to raise awareness and dedicate one's thinking, community, and sleeping time to the cause for half a day, and then hopefully more. 

After a $5-each dinner of burgers, chips, and drinks, the girls and I joined throngs of teens from local church and school groups down at the stage for dancing and performances from musical troupes including a steel drum band from a downtown school serving students impacted by homelessness, and a youth percussion group making rhythm with garbage cans, tether balls, water bottles, and brooms. 

When the girls grew anxious to snuggle back in our cardboard-and-cot nest, we headed back to our spot, burrowed down in our bags and listened to documentary and live testimonials of formerly homeless teens, individuals, and parents, many of whom struggled with addiction and untreated mental illness.  Big Sis, in particular, was riveted. 

Little Sis slumbered sweetly.

I slept on and off, thinking about the role of faith and community in healing people who have experienced abuse, rejection, and the degradation of homelessness, and was particularly moved by a 31-year-old mother's story.  "There but for fortune go you or I," I acknowledged silently.  She could be the parent of my student.  My former student.  My friend, my neighbor.

The next morning a high-decibel blaring of Jimi Hendrix's "Star-Spangled Banner" roused us at 5:30.  Our cardboard casa had collapsed, and our pillows, bags, and cots were soggy with dew.  We visited the porta-potties, I fueled up on Starbucks-donated coffee, and we joined the ant-like participants efficiently dismantling the encampment and cleaning up.  We were ready to go home by 6:30.  Ready for soccer pictures, playdates, birthday and dinner parties. 

Many of us wonder how we should respond to people who are homeless among us, how we can help.  We have friends who make sandwiches for the man who camps at the intersection at the bottom of the hill; we have friends who regularly volunteer at food banks and soup kitchens.  Our neighbor has made ministering to the homeless and impoverished her mission.  One small step is to treat our fellow citizens with the dignity we all deserve. 

Here's a video with some suggestions--and perhaps you'll join our team for Sleepless next year...!

Friday, September 21, 2012

For Dreamers and Believers. For Now.

Big Sis and I are reading Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden.  Main character Mary, accustomed to being ignored by her parents and left idle indoors, claims, "I don't play...I have nothing to play with."  Her maid Martha retorts, "Nothing to play with!  Our children plays with sticks and stones.  They just runs about an' shouts an' looks at things."

They're six and nine, these girls of mine.

Still making sanctuaries for "dolls, birds, fairies, butterflies, e.t.c."

T.V. and computer games are seductive competitors for their attention, but I'm grateful that despite moments of disillusionment, there is still time for magic.

"Time stands still

Summer's going fast, nights growing colder
Children growing up, old friends growing older
Freeze this moment a little bit longer
Make each sensation a little bit stronger
Experience slips away
Experience slips away...

The innocence slips away."

--Rush, "Time Stand Still"

Friday, September 14, 2012

That Punishing Pooch

There was a period of time when I did yoga regularly...a time before I had children.  Now, I mostly run, because fleeing my home on foot only requires another adult left behind with the kids and no prior appointment. 

And, well, I love running

I love running so much that for decades I have pretty much ignored my upper body and, as it's become affectionately known, my core.  And then last year I was recruited into an inclusive club of colleagues meeting at 5:45 AM to work out to P90X videos projected on the wall of our dark and otherwise empty high school gym.  I have learned how to lift weights that weren't children or groceries.  I have learned how to make my abs hurt a lot.  I have learned that even though I run regularly, a good leg workout will mean I can hardly walk on those running legs the next day. 

I'm not trying out for a P90X promotional here; nor do I want to become part of Tony's Team, but I have to say, it's been nice to notice that my back doesn't hurt as much when I get out of bed, and I even sit and stand more comfortably since, allegedly, I have Strenthened My Core

This morning's o'dark-thirty workout incorporated some yoga, and I was reminded of a poem I wrote ten years ago, when I was dogged by one particular pose. 

Perhaps you can relate:

Down with Downward Facing Dog

I hate you,
Stretch that my dog achieves with such ease and grace and
sloping back
You make my calves burn and my arms ache.
I shift my weight and try, try, try
To push my heels down flat
while my biceps tremble and my eyes tear. 
I cannot turn my elbows outward
I cannot move my outer arms inward
I cannot move tailbone upward
I cannot release my head and make my back concave. 
I long to collapse on my haunches,
forehead on the wood floor.
I whimper when I hear the words

"Downward Facing Dog" 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"Nina Leven"

If there are novels you should be coincidentally reading when the anniversary of 9/11/2001 falls, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is surely among them.  It's a mirror held up to reflect our--ordinary citizens'--varying gratitude, mourning, horror, reverence, anger, determination, confusion, naïveté, patriotism, nationalism, globalism, fear, pride, bemusement, admiration, cluelessness, authenticity...the panoply/amalgam/juxtaposition/contradictions and oxymoronic American-ness of us in the wake of tragedy and in honoring our servicepeople.

What is the right thing to feel and say and do when faced with what we struggle to understand? We are united in wondering, and in not wondering and therefore freely feeling and doing and saying. How very American of us just to express ourselves, beautifully and offensively and gracefully and clumsily because we can.

Thank goodness (and our founders) for that, and for authors like Ben Fountain, who offer few apologies and more truth about who we, and our soldiers, are.

"You can't see some of the things we've seen and not think about the big questions.  Life, death, what it all might mean."

We are still learning.

Friday, September 7, 2012

This Week

1.  This week was the beginning of 1st and 4th grades and my third week of my 20th year as an educator.  That's a whole generation's worth of my career alone!  No wonder so many former students are having babies.

2.  First day of school:

3.  First week of coaching under-8 girls' soccer with my buddy from 5th grade; once upon a time we were on a recreational team together.  We were both nervous (now...not sure about then).  We learned that most of our players are afraid of being hit in the stomach by the ball and many of them like chocolate.  And we may have a few handballs this season.  Fun, however, is guaranteed.

4.  Each family member took turns having a little meltdown this week, each for our own reasons and in our own ways.  Big Sis was stung by two bees on Monday and was sure she'd forgotten how to do math.  I wondered how I'd manage it all (see #3).  Little Sis was overtired.  Husband reminded himself no one fully prepared him for the adventures of parenting.

None of this was surprising.

5.  Another week of eating on the run, on the fly, and poorly.  Don't get me started on packing school lunches (hint:  I barely got started.  But I hear school lunch is healthier than ever!).

6.  A week of appreciating family, particularly my mother, who picks the girls up from school on Thursdays and had them dressed in soccer gear and ready for practice when I arrived at the field.  The same mother without whose help I'd wonder even more how I manage it all.

7.  Another week of piling papers on the dining room table.  Good thing we didn't need it (see #5).

8.  Another week of feeling guilty for whining about the heat ('  Super hot for here).

9.  First week of homework...

10.  First home football game and high school dance ("Crazy in the Corridor") tonight.  Hoping the evening ends without "Intervention in the Office."