Today’s prompt was to reflect on the growing lessons of 2017. My inner critic lit up. She said, “Where’s the love? Lessons? Lessons means you fucked up…” The old adage of experience comes from bad decisions also rolled on by. The character building of mistake making. The endless list of ‘why did I say that?’ And I was all ugh…don’t wanna go there. I believe I have stopped learning from that negative critic. I still hear her but take what she says with more skepticism. I do have a sense I might be on the cusp of learning to forgive myself and others more readily when these blurts of mouth of micro-misjudgements cause pain. I am starting (not quite there) to feel an ability to let it go when someone says something harsh. The pain eases quicker and I know these kind of things they and I do are usually, almost always, unintentional. Recently I said something so stupid to a casual friend that I hoped she thought I was drunk. I finally confessed to Burt and he had me in stitches over how embarrassed I was over a silly, stupid utterance. But I could see the light of awareness. We all say really stupid shit. The mouth moves faster than the brain.
Then I sat with the idea of learning as a positive thing. After all, I study Spanish and am always proud of learning new words.I like to learn. Of course learning lead me to the kids here that Burt and I work with. And then I saw the love I had learned this year. What had I learned in 2017? What had I sought out and actually accomplished? My area of most important growth was obvious. It’s all over this blog. The kids that surround us in our neighborhood and my husband as enabler had shown me a way to have meaning in this wandering lifestyle.
I am proud of us (and Jolyn and Tom and April and all our adult helpers) and I am proud of the kids. Over the course of three seasons we’ve developed trust and friendship. In the past I disliked working with children. I taught many a kid their first roundhouse kick and kata in karate for over a decade. It was draining and uncomfortable for me. I rarely found joy. Now I realize why. Some might say American kids blah blah blah…I say it is free agency. No parental coercion. Our kids show up because they want to show up. And they have little else competing for their attention. Like when I was a kid. They are free range. The kids play in the streets. Their parents don’t always know who’s house they are visiting. Tuesday and Thursday are Burt and Susan days. Friday is art with Jolyn. They come, they go.
Kids need guidance and support to achieve skills like piano playing or black belts. Higher skills require consistency and practice. Adults usually have to push. Most of our neighbors don’t have wi-fi, laptops, computer games, or TVs. Many are bored. For some of them we are the only show in town. So we’re trying to be the best show we can be. Consistency is the key. We must be consistent. The kids can learn to rely on us. Classes are regular and repetitive. Success is built in.
This was a new lesson in showing up. I long ago learned showing up meant I could learn a skill. Now I have learned its a way of finding love and meaning.
Many thanks to Burt for being both the sandpaper that smooths me and the blackboard to create with.
I’m always thinking like my Girl Scout leader Marilyn Nardoza. What can I do to show these kids a little bit more of the world? Mrs. Nardoza (she’s alive and well and following along on Facebook) took us camping, put on plays, crafted us from here to Mars and back, lead cake baking contests, drug us to area historical sights. She always had a team of mothers to help. My mom was one. You’ve already previously heard previously how I won the cake contest one year after my mom baked my cake when I screwed up the first one. I wonder if mom ever confessed.
One year we did some enormous walk-a-thon thing. The Battle of Monmouth was the theme. My memories are fuzzy but I’m sure we raised money for every mile we walked. I think Mrs. Nardoza added a kind of scavenger hunt activity challenge to keep it interesting. The scouts had to find certain things by following clues. We were obsessed with colonial America. That ‘we’ means society at large to a 12 year old. School, scouts, news media, even our home were all colonial style. It was the age of the bicentennial and it seemed as though everything that didn’t happen in Boston happened in New Jersey. So we walked some lengthy distance collecting leaves and measuring flagpoles in a clump of pre-adolescence wearing our sashes and passing by battlefields and Washington-slept-here homes. My most distinct memory is measuring the flagpole. Someone had provided the basic math and we needed a 5′ volunteer to stand at the base and the rest of the group would back off and see how many time the 5′ kid ‘fit’ in the length of the flagpole. I was exactly 5′ at the time. I felt very special in my starring role as human yard stick.
Yesterday we took on our kids to a 5K race through a neighboring town. This idea to take the kids to run a 5k must have been rooted in the deep sub-conscious of girl scout walk-a-thons. Or maybe it was the former ultra-marathoner in me. As soon as I hatched the plan I started to doubt myself. This kids loose in town scenario is way scarier than kids loose at the beach. Also, I wondered could the kids even cover a 5k? Would they want to? I presented the idea and it was met with frowns and silence. Seeing them like that made me think it was going to be a bust but I said, think about it. A few days went by. I asked, “Who wants to go run the race?” All hands went up. Apparently upon thinking about it they realized it was a ride to the big town and maybe food would be involved.
At 7:15 AM yesterday we picked up 10 kids (9 girls and the stoic Guillermo) and one mother, Vikki. Vikki is always ready to go. She is our guardian angel. So 13 of us piled into two cars and we motored over to Todos Santos in the cloudy dawn light. We had a 3 1/3 kids to adult ratio working to our advantage. We parked a block away from the race start. Remembering my Girl Scout bag of organizational skills I gathered everyone around and gave them a rule and a quiz: No throwing trash. Where is the car? What is my name? What color is my shirt?
Our kids are litterbugs. That 70s era anti-littering campaign that I grew up under is only just now reaching our community. We are constantly reinforcing the No Tire Basura rule. Change of habit happens slowly. Reassured that they knew where the car was and who they were traveling with we headed into the Todos Santos plaza to register for the race. Burt negotiated a group discount of about 30%. This race was a fund raiser for the local organization the Palapa Society. We were happy to contribute nearly $100. Next ensued some brief mayhem as I filled out entry forms with names and ages. The kids dictated and I wrote. A few of the oldest did it themselves. I did Burt’s. Then we pinned race numbers onto everyone’s front. The race number has a metallic bar code that tracks everyone over the course and records their finishing time. This is serious business.
For the next hour we took photos and warmed-up. After we had already done an excellent warm-up some random dude, Orlando, gave us an impromptu warm up of his own. My stranger danger alarms went off like crazy so I just watched. I am a natural paranoiac. Finally it was time to line up. The kids all got into the scrum of it with Vikki and Burt. I knew I was going to walk and also was carrying a bag of hold my-sweater, my-water, my-camera, my-hat, my-phone for the kids I took a spot in the back. And we were off.
It felt a little sad and lonely in the back by myself. After all the business of hatching the plan and getting everybody to town I was suddenly on the dusty streets of Todos Santos walking in silence. But it was also nice knowing they were all up ahead. Somewhere. So I walked in peace. Then an ambulance flew past and I was no longer calm. I was what you might call freaked out. Of course my mind went to all the worst places. It was an ugly time. I started telling myself this: Everything is fine. Everything is fine. Everything is fine. I chatted with some other walkers. I walked as fast as I could. About halfway into it all and a half hour after the start I spotted Burt with three stragglers. I told myself, “Ok, three are alive.” I caught up to them and Burt told me he had seen all of our group intact and moving since the ambulance had passed. For the next half hour we cajoled and sang our three kids towards town. As we passed a water station the staff encouraged us to just throw our cups in the dirt when we finished drinking. We were walking through a mat of discarded cups. Despite this, my three girls all ran over to a garbage can and threw their cups away. Hope rises.
Our group of stragglers was really only one slacker and two groupies. The younger kids had fallen into the abyss of the older kid. They were whining but walking so we just kept moving. The eldest told me it was her first and last race. I told her to never say never (nunca digas nunca). My smartaleck use of Spanish drew a smile. As town drew near we all dug deep and got to the finish line in style. The slacker ran in. I did a cartwheel as my waiting team cheered. Burt crossed hand in hand with the only child to truly be struggling. She was beaming. Burt was ecstatic. It was his first road race, too.
Everybody finished healthy and happy enough. We watched the award ceremony. There were some very fast runners. Afterwards we took everyone out to fish tacos. Burt and I collapsed for an hour and then headed out to play Bridge.