Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Pt 2 of What the Homeless Men Taught Me About Mothering

  (what happened the next day)

I had emailed my best friend, confiding in her what had occurred like it was some dirty secret. But she didn’t write back and I guessed she was as abhorred with my actions as I was. I kept picturing the two men needing to buy food and being a dollar short. What had I done? But, try as I might, I couldn’t forget Michael’s words and the sadness that took his face when I attempted to refuse his right to give.

The next morning I rose with a mission. I baked a loaf of bread. We were living out of backpacks, eating with plastic cutlery, definitely sans measuring cups and it was no easy task, but I managed. Back home, bread-making was something I excelled at and I was going to share that skill here.

The kids made a card for Russell and Michael, putting into misspelled words what they guessed Scarlett wanted to say to them. I pulled some money from our grocery stash, stuck it in the card, grabbed my loaf of bread wrapped in a plastic sack and headed out the door. I had no idea how to find them in a city as big as Boston, but we were starting out early and my best inclination was to hit the track again.

“They’re here!” My son yelled, charging towards a far-off group of men with a shopping cart. I was a bit more reticent, we were still a few hundred yards off, and though these men did indeed have a shopping cart, I wasn’t sure they were our friends or how they would feel about a loaf-wielding six-year old thundering toward them. But as we got closer, sure enough, it was Russell and Michael.

Exuberant Charlie reached them twenty feet ahead of the rest of us. By the time I reached him, Michael was clutching the bread and in tears. He held a hand out to me, obviously not recognizing me from the day before and asked who I was. I sat down next to him, reintroduced myself while shifting Scarlett in hopes that he might remember her. He smelled strongly of alcohol and he looked tired, but his eyes were as friendly as the day before.

Russell took over the reins of the conversation today, saying, “Michael forgets things. Give him a second.” He spoke to the kids and remembered Scarlett and the previous day’s exchange. He read the little note and struggled with the crazy misspellings of kid language. A few words in he got weepy and found a hanky. He shoved a corner of it into his nose and left it there, hanging, every once in awhile wiping at a silent tear with the back of his hand.

“They’re crying over your bread, Mom.” My son said at my leg.

Both men laughed hard. The humor seemed to snap Michael back into sobriety. “You remember these times.” He commanded me. “I have two kids. All grown. Good boys. You just keep being a good Ma to them.”

Before even realizing the words were out, I asked the question, “How do I do that?”

It was something I hadn’t even asked my own mother-- my closest friends. Only my husband knew that I was struggling with this heavy burden of terror that I was a horrible mother. I don’t know if it was the sudden flash of lucidity that made Michael appear to me like a spiritual guru that had all the answers, or his yesterday’s breaking of a social absolute, or if it was just that I’d been waiting for so long to have an emotional connection with someone, anyone, who would give me an honest answer.

His answer was immediate, “Love ‘em. You can’t do it perfectly, but you can do it good.”

Russell repeated the words. “Love ‘em.”

I nodded, a bit stunned by the wisdom and the simplicity of their guidance and how it was just what I needed to hear. A lot of things came together for me right then. Yesterday, I had tried to deny a man his right to be generous, purely because I ignorantly thought I had more to give. Also, because taking money from a homeless man wasn’t what a perfect mother would do. I had almost messed up a beautiful moment because I was too afraid of messing it up. I realized I was doing the same thing with my children.

Russell added, “…and get ‘em ice cream every once in awhile!” They both whooped at that.

That night I quit worrying about money and being perfect and doing what was socially acceptable. That night we all had ice cream for dinner and I loved my kids.
               Not perfectly, but good.


GregandAmyFish said...

We were waiting to read together tonight! Greg just got home and asked me to read it to him. We love you! Please keep writing - you inspire us.

Lady in the water said...

I can't tell you how this post touched me. Lately it seems I can only compare myself to others and see where I lack. Truthfully your one of those people who seems to be talented and fearless where I am struggling the most. I am challenged with a hammer and wish I could work on my house and am a frustrated artist/writer. While you seem to have single handedly built your house and written a book at the same time. You are also cataloged under people I wish I spent time with. My social calendar is pretty full with trying to survive the terrible two's with twins while scheduling my older children's activities. Couple that with a husband who travels and I feel like I never leave my house. Your post both humbled me and left me feeling like so often we mother's forget that dark secret that we all have. We don't know what we are doing! We all have days we feel like we are failing our children because in truth we are works in progress ourselves. I also know that we live in a community that has so much monetarily wise that sometimes I forget how little others have and sometimes I get angry with trying to be frugal, wise and responsible. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful story and helping me to see such simple and profound truths.

Trisha said...

What a beautiful story. So inspiring and so full of love.

Tiffany said...

Jen, I am crying and I want to say amen to all that the lady in water said. I needed this story and I love you so much. I have been doing a lot of soul searching lately, and I will definitely be adding this story to my inspiration to stop trying so stinking hard and just love. Thank you again. Keep up the great work.