Without a doubt, I have enjoyed a wonderfully blessed life right from the start. My childhood was pretty darned nice. We always had presents for birthdays and Christmas. There was always food on the table. The only times I didn’t sleep in a warm bed was when I chose not to. I don’t remember ever having old clothes or worn shoes. We lived in a nice safe town in the suburbs. Family and friends came around constantly.
So it surprised the heck out of me when I found out just how poor we were and how hard things got for a while. Sure, I kind of understood what happened when my father got laid off. When we lost our house, I knew my folks were upset, but we landed in a comfortable rental.
How was I supposed to know that cold cereal with powdered milk for three meals some days wasn’t normal? I knew my father’s new job wasn’t real good. But he always found a few cents for bubble gum or pixie sticks.
My first clue of our poverty was probably when my sister found government-issue cheese and peanut butter in our house. “What if my friends see it?” she wailed. It was embarrassing to her. I remember my mom telling her how most of the town, including her friends also received some of what was a well-advertised distribution of government surplus food to “poor families”.
Somehow, Mom made my sister feel good about it all. She always did.
Mom was awesome. She always knew what to say to make us feel special, or happy, or just loved. She worked to help us have enough money, but she was always there when we needed her.
When I was sick, she was there. When I was struggling with school, she was there. When I was misbehaving, she let me know without raising her voice or hitting me. When I started writing stories, she would always read them. When I played sports, she was never too tired to hear how I did.
I never realized how unusual she was until I got older. I always assumed every mom was as wonderful as mine. It never occurred to me until her funeral how many other kids didn’t have the constant counseling, hugs, and love I was blessed with.
There were plenty of kids in my town with missing parents, abusive parents, and unloving parents. There were kids who loved their scout leaders, teachers, and friends’ moms so much because they lacked a motherly influence in their own home.
Dozens of them showed up at my mother’s funeral. The number of stories of how she touched other children was astonishing. My mom had a lot more children than the five of us.
By that time, I was working as a nurse in emergency care. The importance of a good mother had become way more obvious. Children who showed up unkempt, unfed, and unclean always made me sad. Parents who showed up and didn’t care enraged me.
On more than one occasion, I had to be restrained from lashing out at adults who claimed to be parents. It was difficult to send children home sometimes. I got to know way too many child protective service agents.
Here in Guatemala, there are kids who also suffer with absent or poor mothers. But I worry as much about the plight of many kids with good moms too, especially in the rural or mountain regions.
Many moms stay at home because they need the whole day to cook food and retrieve water or wood. Going to the market entails tying a child on their back and walking home with a basket on their head or a cart of vegetables in front of them.
Trying to keep a house with a dirt floor and no windows clean is a daily endeavor as well. The result is that the kids have virtually no play time or other personal time with their mothers. The kids are in the care of siblings or sitting on the floor while mom cooks and cleans all day.
It is no wonder that really young children are seen carrying wood and water or cooking with their mom. This is the best way to get close to her. That is the culture here and is difficult to change. But in the USA, there are more options to help kids lacking parental time.
We can all be a mother to someone who needs us. We can find opportunities to touch lives in our own neighborhood. Volunteer with scout organizations. Coach or be a team mother (or dad) for the soccer team.
Don’t just bring cupcakes, but talk to kids and make them feel important. Work with your church’s youth groups or children’s study classes. You don’t have to be an expert at anything to make a difference in a child’s life. You just have to be human and care.
You could be filling a void in a child’s life. If you don’t radically change a kid, you can at least make him smile for a moment he may not have enjoyed without you. You may never realize the impact you are having; but don’t think for a minute that you are not providing something worthwhile.
Working with children is awesome. I know I never feel as blessed as I do when I am talking to or playing with children.
If you are fortunate enough to have a loving mother figure in your life, be sure to give her (or him!) a great hug and say thank you this weekend.
As we celebrate Mother’s Day in Guatemala tomorrow and in the USA on Sunday, Yesenia and I will fondly remember our own mothers, both living with the Lord today. We will surely say thank you to them and to God for all the blessings they gave us.
HAPPY MOTHERS’ DAY TO EVERYONE WHO HAS POSITIVELY IMPACTED A CHILD’S LIFE!