Mi Casa Es Tu Casa

Mi Casa Es Tu Casa

I’m doing my meditation at the chapel when a Latina mom arrives with her little boy. The kid is draped over mom’s shoulder and is fast asleep.  Any parent who has carried a child when he is completely zonked out can identify; the 25 pound kid has gone to 125 pounds in an instant.

The mother needs to unload her kid somewhere so she can say her prayers but doesn’t want to wake her child.

Not to worry. The mother makes room on the carpet and gently lays her little guy down. Whoops! He wakes up. Knowing full well that the only one crankier in the morning than an adult without her coffee, is a sleepy little kid awakened from his nap. Mom takes quick action.

She kneels down on the floor next to her boy and starts to rub his tummy. The little guy’s eyes flutter, half open and half closed. Mom lifts his t-shirt and puts her warm hand on the child’s belly. Little by little, the kid returns to his deep sleep, perfectly at home sprawled out on the chapel floor. His mom sits herself down and takes out a prayer book.

There is a blessed stillness’ in the chapel. When I was a little kid, we used to call our church “God’s House.” In the silence there is something sacred about it now. Candles burn on the altar; I hear only the soft hum of the fan.

A little boy sleeps peacefully on the floor while his mom prays.  It’s only one moment in time but I want to hold on to it and make it last. It’s only then that it comes to me. It’s Mother’s Day. Of course it is.


A Dying Man, a Boy. a Legacy

                              A Dying Man, a Boy, A Legacy

      I was thinking recently about President George Bush and the legacy he left the nation in his memorial museum in Dallas. Presidents and former presidents get to do that sort of thing. I guess it’s okay.  Not a damn thing I could d do about it anyway.

     But as I sat by the bedside of an ordinary kind of guy dying of cancer, I

begin to think of the legacy this man left to literally hundreds of foster kids he worked with through the years. The kids who experienced the love and caring attitude of Jim were blessed.


     I wonder if many of us can relate to the traumas, the neglect, and the abuse that has been the lot of many kids in foster care. Abandoned by their parents, they troop from foster homes to group homes, never quite understanding what is happening to them.


     Then, for the fortunate ones, a man called Jim shows up as a house parent at a group home. He understands them. He respects them. He sees their possibilities. He does not give up on them. Wow! A seed is planted in the soul of a kid who, until then, thinks that he is a failure. Someone believes in him.

     As Jim lay dying in a board and care home, I recalled one of Jim’s proudest moments in his work at the Children’s Village (a home for abused and neglected kids in Santa Rosa.) A fourteen-year-old boy was in the throes of a major melt down. I don’t know what caused it, parents not showing up to visit him? Maybe being blamed for something he did not do? Being bullied by one of the other kids? Who knows what can set off the ticking time bomb that sets off a kid already traumatized by rejection and abandonment.

      The boy was out of control. He was cursing to heaven, blaming God, his parents, the village with all the energy of his fourteen years. He kicked garbage cans; he threw rocks; he cursed God. It was scary. 

     One of the other group home staff, fearful of the boys own safety and that of other kids, was about to call the police, to take him to mental health services for observation.

     Then I saw Jim quietly approaching the boy. He didn’t say a word. Words were of no use now. Instead he took him in his arms and hugged him. Just hugged him. Gently, this caring man led the trembling boy to a place on the edge of the village grounds. They sat together arm in arm for maybe ten minutes while the boy magically calmed down. In his despair, the young boy had found someone he trusted, someone who cared for him.

      Legacies come in different forms. For the rich and famous, it is wonderful that they can leave libraries and papers and all the things that make people sit up and notice them for all they have done.

      I have no quarrel with that but I am in awe of a man who showed up in the life of a kid who was starved for affection and respect and love and gave him all three. Now there’s a legacy.

      PS. Jim died two days ago, surrounded by a small cadre of friends who knew him and who will always hold him in their hearts. And the desperate kid who got his hug from Jim? He graduated from high school last year and is now attending college. Somewhere up there I am betting there is an ordinary guy named Jim who is rooting for him.




Words To Parents From Troubled Kids

Parents Might Learn from the Words of Troubled Kids

Every year, the Juvenile Justice Commission of Sonoma County sponsors an essay contest for youth caught up in the Juvenile Justice System, whether residing at Juvenile Hall or in one of the group homes or alternative schools scattered throughout the county, The contest gives these kids an opportunity to share their thoughts on what went wrong for them and how they would like to change their lives. It also gives parents a chance to listen and learn from what these teenage kids have to say about the kind of parents they would like to become.

“I would like to be the parent I never had. My friends said “Your parents are cool.” What they didn’t know was how I hated the way my parents did not care what I did or where I was or how late I got home. I wanted more protection but I never got that and I felt abandoned.”

15 year-old girl.

“Being a parent to me means you step up to the plate and make your child’s living environment stable as well as healthy. I want to be the kind of parent my kids will look up to and can go to for anything.”

15 year-old boy

“One of the biggest mistakes parents make is getting a divorce. In my experience my parent’s divorce kept my own father distant. When I needed a male role model, I had no one to look up to. I vowed to myself to never divorce because I know the damage that it does to your kids.”

17 yea-old boy

“As a young father, I want to give all the support I can give to my daughter and to be there for everything she needs from her first fall to the days of motherhood.”

17 yea-old boy

“Parents need to step up and lay down rules. They especially need to follow the # 1 rule, be a parent; not a friend.”

15-year-old girl

“I want to be the kind of parent who likes to hang out with his kid, teach him or her how to ride a bike and help him with his schoolwork. I will never spank my kid. That just teaches him to be mean.”

“I was told that drugs are bad but I was never confronted about my problem. My father didn’t know I did drugs until I was 16. He wasn’t a bad parent; he just worked too much.”

17 yea-old boy

The essays spoke of other teenage issues like bullying, teen suicide, gangs and other problems but most of the youth spoke of that universal yearning they had for parents who would be there for them, parents and other adults who would give them the gift of time and attention and understanding.

Just as important was their longing for a certain amount of structure and discipline in their lives. We do our kids no favor when in our striving to be “cool”, we lose sight of our role as parents.