“From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.” ~ Arthur Ashe
I started working in a nasty corner charity shop that was dark and grey and smelled like dead old people. It was for my community service hours as part of a national philanthropy organization, which shall remain nameless. Never, even once, did it feel like I was working for my community or making the world a better place. It felt like a lame, monthly obligation. And it was.
I grew up helping people at events designed to give kids “community service” hours. It was good for our high school applications, and great for college entrance brownie points. But, it missed the point. My Community Service didn’t feel remotely like I was part of a community, and even less, providing a service.
Going out on a limb here: I want my kids to want to give.
I suppose if we were part of a church, there would be built-in community service. If we were part of Boy Scouts, then we’d have charity work at-the-ready. But truth is, even that kind of giving is forced giving. It’s what you have to do, not what you yearn for.
So, a year ago, I plated the seed with my then twin 9-year-olds. I told them when they turned 10 in July 2013, they’d begin service to their community. They’d pick their own avenue of giving, be as creative as they wanted to be, but that there were two rules:
- Each child must give their age in hours monthly. (So at age 10, they’d do 10 hours per month).
- You have to stick with your choice, however difficult, boring, tedious, for a period of one year.
July came around and the kids set out to pick their organizations. There is power in choosing where you want to put your free time and they were excited. But that faded pretty quickly when we realized that our community is not used to kids giving just for the sake of it.
My son tried his first pick, the library. No go. No kids can volunteer until age 13. Then came his second pick, Sacred Heart Community Services. Nope, no youth volunteers. My daughter tried ASPCA. No way, too much liability. Her second try at The Thrift Box — they don’t take kids, even with adult supervision.
Then the third, fourth and fifth tries came and went. No luck. No one wants 10-year old kids who want to give their time to help the community.
We’re stumped. There has got to be a way for our younger kids to learn the feeling of giving, however small.
Got any ideas?
I’d been traveling about five months when I got to Cairo on a eerie late afternoon during Ramadan. Americans had been advised to avoid the mid-east region and I’d gotten out of a scary situation in Istambul just days after the USS Cole had been bombed in Yemen. I had chosen Cairo as a safe place to lay low until the high drama of the attack settled down. It also happened to be election time at home in the US and there was a lot of ridicule flinging around the media and streets. I’d heard that in Cairo, I’d be safe.
I landed in Cairo, and, as I walked through the airport, heard an American voice. As a rule traveling, I avoid Americans at all costs. It wasn’t until I walked by him that I realized the man was calling my name. I was, quite literally, shaking and just walked right past him. He stopped me, gave me his card and I kept walking. The card was white and crisp with dark blue writing. It was from the US Embassy in Cairo. They were waiting for me. I think. I’m sure they were there to help. I think. I’m sure they wanted to ensure my safety. I think. I’ll never know, because I bolted as fast as I could, making my way through a rough customs transition and into a parking lot where a man grabbed my backpack, offering a taxi and instead tried to ram his tongue down my throat. Even that didn’t convince me to turn back toward the American dude calling my name. Forget that. I was safer with the Egyptian French-kissing hoodlum.
I’d been sick for a few weeks with a parasite. It took me awhile to figure out that it was something I needed real medical care for and I chose to check in to the best hotel I could find. I loved traveling, but a girl’s got to get a bubble bath and a doctor every now and again. I found myself in the street during an insane rush hour in Cairo. In the middle of the street stood a tall, broad Egyptian man. To this day, I refer to him a “Abuud,” although I never knew his name. He took my backpack, wrapped himself protectively around me, screamed at cars between us, and walked me to the door of The Four Seasons hotel. Finally, I felt safe. Safe in Cairo.
Despite being the season of Ramadan, I was taken care of beautifully over the next several days. I went on a pre-arranged date with a very nice grad student, and despite the fact he took me to “TGI Fridays” on the Nile (no joke), I had a wonderful time. I received medical care from a serious doctor and her nurse. I walked the streets without fear, tried foods, bought goods and drank warm Coke. I laughed at the insanity of the cars bolting without order through the streets, and watched the seemingly organized chaos between people in the stores and grand mall. I was not afraid of the military presence; I liked it. I wrapped myself in the beautiful sound of the call to Muslim prayer and the pure, unfaltering dedication to faith and fasting. I found Cario to be crazy, beautiful, western, eastern, unique.
I traveled to the southernmost part of the country and up the Nile and was struck by the stench and dirtiness of the Nile. I asked about public service announcements that droned on and on — they were to warn Egyptians to not bathe or wash clothes in the Nile. The contamination was causing disease and death. The more remote, the sadder I became. I drove through rural desert, often, with military stops ensuring my safety. This was not Cairo. Not so safe. Area after area was filled with extraordinary history, mind-blowing artifacts and edifices, combined with desolate poverty and signs for Internet cafes. It became confusing.
I had one moment in time where I became angry. I saw a man hitting his children after I’d given them pencils, candy and small Legos. I watched him beat two of them, throwing — literally throwing — one of his children into a makeshift house. The children had black in their mouths, ripped jeans, no shirts. They smelled. I made eye contact with a couple of kids and my adrenalin starting rushing. I saw a nearby white delivery van. I thought I’d steal the kids, throw them in the van, pay with my big American dollar bills, my jewelry, whatever and beg the driver to scram. I’d drive to the embassy and claim refugee status for the kids. I’d adopt them, bring them home and raise them with dental care, clothes and vows that in my home, there would be no beatings by a half-dressed uneducated man. But reality hit me as the van drove off –– it is not my place to force my reality onto those of anyone else.
It still isn’t.
I’ve been watching the destruction of Cairo and Alexandria for seven days — the images of places I’ve been, streets I walked, people that all look familiar. I watch the protests against their leader and against our own leader for not renouncing the Egyptian government and I can’t help but think of that day in Abu Simbel where I learned that my reality is not the reality of others. I know that everyone is awaiting what America will do for the Egyptian people, but the truth is the same today as it was for me in that small town: the Egyptian people must take care of their own reality and we must ensure we are doing our best to respect their quest without forcing our democratic style on them.
The good people, like my “Abuud,” will rise to the top. Those are not the looters, the burners of buildings. The true Egyptians are making human road blocks to protect their national treasures, their history, their culture and museums. The good people of Egypt are where I choose to focus my mind this week. As the city burns and the protests become uprisings and the government becomes uprooted, I am reminded how safe I felt in Egypt, how strong the people are, how full of faith and history the Egyptian youth are. I choose to remember my love of Egypt and how dearly I hold it in my heart today and hopefully, can show to my own children someday, in-tact, full of freedom and peace.Read More
I always knew cancer as the big scary C-word. My dad’s best friend was a hard-living smoker, drinking wild cowboy type and died of lung cancer at 40-something. But moms with cancer? F-off. That’s not fair. Over the years, various cancer devils have sunken lives of friends and family, but none has broken me until this year.
My family and friends with cancer are ass-kickers. They are true take-no-prisoners type women. I don’t feel sorry for them. It seems irrational, incomprehensible that in my 30s (still for another few weeks), I can have friends who are in remission from very serious cancers, two that are still fighting like hell, one that moved onto his next life, one that is cured and several that are not. What the F? Stupid f-ing cancer.
Susan’s latest post about feeling lucky as she plows her way into the first days of a new, experimental treatment, was one of the most inspired I’ve ever read. I sent it to the women I know — not for sympathy for Susan, but in hopes that they too, surrounded by cancer as we all are, would see what living means.
If you want to know what true living is like, read WhyMommy’s written work or participate in her brainchild, working to give Lymphedema Sleeves to cancer patients. You can leave a comment on several blogs where friends of Susan are donating $1 toward Cricket’s Answer, the organization working with Susan to provide needs to women with breast cancer.
Hey Susan, all the way from California: No Princess Fights Alone.Read More
…under my feet. I feel the sky tumbling down. I feel my heart start to tremble; whenever you’re around.” The lyrics to Carol King’s song keeps going through my head. I’ve been singing it for two days while the horrible disaster in Haiti unfolds before my very finger tips across the web. I laughed out-loud at a still image of a woman in her bra and underwear carrying her child through the rubble — “D’oh!,” I said audibly. And last night I watched hours of CNN’s earthquake coverage not for the story or for the massiveness of it all, but because I couldn’t stop looking at how hot Anderson Cooper looked in his ragged in-the-trenches garb. Really, honestly, what the hell is wrong with me?
I suppose coping mechanisms for disaster happen all the time. As the aid flies in toward the complete devastation zone, I think about the survivors more than I think of the dead. Not the ones that might survive or that we’ll see plucked from the rubble, but the ones who survived just fine. I have lived in California most of my life, where earthquakes are common and I’ve survived just fine but not without being shaken to my core with fear. On January 17, 1994 at 4:31 a.m., my world rattled when the Northridge quake hit my community with an angry fervor.
The mattress on my bed slid off the frame as the picture above my bed crashed onto my back. I tried to scramble out of my apartment while the seemingly endless jerking motion pushed me into the wall. The contents of my apartment were literally flying across the room. I climbed over the toppled heaps on my floor and made it to my front door. From there I could tell the power was out and a smell of sweet gas in the air. I ran down the hall toward the emergency exit, not even noticing the cuts on my feet. Before making it to the stairs, the earth shook so severely that I was knocked into a doorway of another apartment. There I found a dozen or so Vietnamese students I’d never met, huddling in the door jams, crying and shaking. We all held each other in the deepest dark I’ve ever known. I will never forget the smell. Moments later, we held hands as we tried to get down the fire escape. The stairs had separated from the building. Together we made our way down the damaged exit and ran to an open parking lot with hundreds of other apartment dwellers. I looked around in complete shock and fear and then, started uncontrollably laughing. Everyone was in their underwear! For some reason, this struck me as hilarious! Coping mechanisms, like I said before, are your brain’s way of not simply dying of fear.
In the end, my apartment was orange tagged. Most of my stuff was gone, but really, I didn’t have much anyway. And the clothes I did get out of my apartment were donated, since I couldn’t get the smell of gas out of the fabric. It made me gag. For years — literally years — I woke up at 4:31 a.m.
What will the survivors be like after the dust settles in Haiti? How long will they wake at 6:21 a.m. with the deepest fear? Will the smells change the way they breathe forever? What is the life ahead for them? I simply got a new apartment and decked it out with new things. What if there was nowhere to go? What if I couldn’t get rid of my soiled clothes because those were the only ones I had left. During the Northridge quake, we rationed food and water. Some people were selling batteries, bread and milk at a 500-percent markup; others were standing in the street handing out the items for free. There are good and bad people everywhere. Just like Haiti, the dregs and heroes of society will rise during crisis.
There is so much that Haiti will need. There are so many places to give, so many resources, social media communities and volunteer groups that will help. I feel so hopeless for them all. Not surprisingly, I woke at 4:31 a.m. this morning. For now, all I can offer is the empathy I have for the survivors’ fear, for the rattling noise ringing in their ears.Read More
My very least favorite holiday of the year. Well, sorta.
I don’t mind the kids and the candy (even with 1000, yes one THOUSAND) trick-or-treaters annually to our house. I don’t mind the dressing up, my kids’ endless search for the right costume or even the crazed sugar highs and lows that go hand-in-hand with 10lbs of candy my kids collect.
What I don’t like is the scary stuff. I don’t like the freaky dead people costumes, the devil costumes and the people from the crypt with bloody faces. It scares me. I don’t like mean, scary looking clowns and I sure as shit don’t want to take my kids up to the door of some freaky house with a fake body hanging from a tree from a noose.
Maybe I’m old fashioned. I liked it when trick or treating was cute and fun. I liked it when we knew the people whose houses we went to. I really liked the community of it all. We’re a far cry from that life now.
I took this photo a couple days ago at the Halloween Spirit store where my son and I went looking for costumes. He literally ran away from it and then didn’t want to find a costume to wear for himself because he was so scared of the masks and axes and noises coming from around the shop.
I’m not going to boycott Halloween, but don’t come to me if you think scaring the shit out of my kids or me is your idea of fun. We’ll have our annual chicken chili and play Charlie Brown’s The Great Pumpkin and that’s gonna be it. It’s enough for me.Read More
For hours on September 11, we didn’t know where my brother was — phone lines were down, of course — and New York under siege. My brother, a bond trader, could have easily perished on September 11. Eight years ago today I prayed with every ounce of myself. I went to my home office, turned off the lights and knelt down, my great-grandmother’s rosary in my hands. I prayed in the dark for hours.
The manic memories from that day and the days that followed with him — racing away from the Empire State Building with my mom screaming at my brother in the phone, “RUN SON!” when there was a thread of another attack there — are ones I will never forget as long as I live. For days, we camped out in my livingroom, sleeping on a mattress on the floor, unable to sleep and fixated by the images on every TV station in the nation.
My brother was married last week. His best man was a friend he was with on September 11 while we prayed in the dark, someone knew he was alive. There’s something painful and precious in knowing that he was a-okay — today, I couldn’t be more grateful.Read More