If you think your children aren’t listening, think again. This passage was excerpted from my younger son’s fifth-grade essay prompted by the phrase, “If I were president. . .”
If you think that this is just a silly exercise for urban elementary schoolers, think again. Sure, a child’s naïveté shines through, but so does his character. I am proud of my son for these opening paragraphs. Editor’s Note: His essay did veer from the path when he stated he would add a basketball court, football field, and video game room to the White House because the White House is probably pretty boring after all that paperwork. But his lede? Pulitzer Prize-worthy.
Last fall, my family was hiking along an inter-urban bike path, its trailhead a five-minute drive from our home. The kids were interested in the tents pitched along the river. They thought it was super cool! Whoa, what a cool place to camp! I wish we could camp down there, let’s go check it out! Well. . . their observations led to a talk about homelessness, and how individuals and families come to be homeless. Camping along the Kinnickinnic River immediately lost its cool factor.
Sometimes as a parent, well as this parent anyway, you don’t know when you’re hitting the high notes. You throw your spaghetti against the wall and hope it sticks. You talk–sometimes you shout, you feel you shout into the void–and sometimes, against all odds, you uncover evidence that you’re heard.
For single men and women, three commonly cited causes of homelessness are substance abuse, a lack of affordable housing, and mental illness [not sure how to cite sources anymore, click here to learn more about homelessness in my home state.]
I can’t speak to substance abuse personally. I’m pure as the driven snow when it comes to any (in some states) legal or illegal drugs. I’ve never even smoked one cigarette in my entire life. Gross. Rizatriptan is the hardest drug I’ve ever done–suck it, migraines! I do enjoy red, white and green beverages, but have never felt the pull of the sauce so strongly that it’s interfered with my ability to function. I’m lucky.
Though my annual income was slashed over $10,000 when Wisconsin laws against public employees, no wait, I mean since Wisconsin laws to balance the state budget whose shortfall was apparently entirely the fault of public school educators were enacted, I’ve always had a modestly, yet decently-appointed place to call home. On December 31, 1994, I woke up with my house on fire. I was homeless briefly, which was terrifying, but I had family and friends willing to lend a guest bed or couch. I never had to seek a bed in shelter or sleep in my car. I was lucky.
If you suffer from depression, anxiety, or any one of hundreds of potentially debilitating mental health diseases or disorders and you can both afford to see a mental health professional and have prescription coverage, you’re lucky. Even if you don’t see always see it because depression lies, you are lucky. You’re also brave. Go, you!
This is a treatise on neither homelessness nor mental illness. There are important organizations whose work on behalf of its clients is life-changing for those they serve. I am inadequately informed or researched to publish anything with any authority. I will leave that to the experts. (I’m looking at you, NAMI, Stigma Fighters. . .) No, this is a treatise on the importance of decency: Speak and act in a way you hope your children sponge up and spread, and look to the stars with hope they do it better than you!
When you observe that despite what your child sees on the news in the despicable, embarrassing behavior of adults in powerful positions, he attends to the words and behavior of adults a little closer to home, your heart bursts. My baby’s heart is pure, and while his ideals are just a wee bit simplistic, a little, oh, how you say? Fifth-grade-ish?? Reading his essay gives me a sliver of hope that the divisiveness and bombast in current favor can fall out. Maybe this little voice will pick up momentum. Maybe if we viewed the world through a fifth-grader’s gentle blue eyes, we’d all better off: Be empathetic. Be generous. Be kind. Be helpful.
I’d vote for him.
If you agree that empathy and kindness matter, please share this message. My kid will probably die a thousand deaths in embarrassment, but I’m willing to take the heat from him for it. (I can take his wrath–he’s a really sweet kid, have you heard?) But if you’re a person who lives your life looking for castes, believing yours is better and more worthy than theirs, if you think or say “those people,” well, I don’t imagine this’ll change your mind anyway.