As summer fades into a crisp autumn day I find myself back in school. A two-day symposium on drug use and mental illness and the specialized court systems available to treat criminals with these issues. So, you know, best time ever.
This summer Hot Mama and I went to Las Vegas for a weekend. As we walked back to our hotel from dinner one night she commented that were a lot of children out late with parents. She wasn’t so sure that it was appropriate for elementary school aged kids to see what they were seeing. I observed that I hadn’t seen anything all that inappropriate. Apparently she was alarmed by the large number of homeless men and women out on the street. I told her I thought it would be a good thing for them to see.
The Things 3 are good kids. Perfect angels they’ve been called. But they are spoiled little shits with serious entitlement issues. I don’t believe I have exceptional children. I understand that most kids have episodes of “I want” when they are out shopping with their parents and the resulting “that’s not fair” when their requests get shot down. In that regard they are not unique.
We are not wealthy. We are not broke. We pay our bills and try to put a little money aside for fun from time to time. Our small community has plenty of poor and impoverished families but no homeless man begging on the street corner.
A couple of weeks after Las Vegas I got to put my theory to the test. My whole family went to Seattle for almost a week. As with any big city there were plenty of homeless men and women milling about. It didn’t take long for my children to spot them.
One evening I walked alone to the original Starbucks store near the Pike Place Market. I had a few souvenirs in a bag and a big cup of overpriced milk and ice with a little bit of coffee splashed in. As I rounded a corner and started walking up the hill there was a man standing on the sidewalk. He was clearly not on his way to a fancy apartment. Upon seeing my drink he told me “I could go for one of those, can I have it?” I smiled and kept walking. He continued, “naw, I’m just kidding, unless you want to let me have it. But I’d rather have a beer.” It made me laugh. I paused and turned back. I pulled a fiver out of my pocket and handed it over. I’m sure he enjoyed his beer.
The next day we were walking along the waterfront when we came across a homeless man with a plastic cup on the end of a string affixed to a small pole, holding a sign that read, “Fishing for Kindness.” Thing 2 had a few dollars of her own and asked me if it was okay for her to give it to him. I said yes and she walked over, dropped her cash in the cup and skipped away with a smile.
We returned home to our comfortable lives. The children were not magically transformed by the experience. They are, however, more aware now. They have seen real poverty up close and personal. When they act like entitled little shits they at least have a frame of reference when we point out there are others who have so little and we should appreciate what we have.
This seminar has been a similar experience for me. There has been a lot of discussion about trauma and its effect on behavior. It’s easy to see a client walk in my office (or more likely walk into the interview room at the jail) with another drug charge and wonder why that person can’t get their shit together. I don’t understand. I can’t relate. I am not an illicit drug user with mental illness brought upon by traumatic events. I don’t want to become a drug addict any more than I want my daughter to become homeless. But in both cases I think it is important to know those worlds exist and appreciate that, while we may pass through those places sometimes, we don’t have to live there.