We are living the city life. As big and bold as the “city of subdued excitement” can offer. But, to children who have always called the rural county home, it is a change.
A big change.
Our daily drives used to be long and tedious as we left the open fields and turned onto the freeway for the twenty miles one way it took to do our “life”. Now we are a hop, skip and jump from the city. A half mile walk down the trail to the heart of downtown. Less than fifteen blocks to Pepper’s school. A maze of bus routes to choose from.
It all there in front of us. Close enough to touch. The minutes are not spent in the car or watching the gas gauge visibly slide from full.
The bigger change, and one I did not forsee, is what we are seeing. Daily.
From our vantage point, the view has changed.
There are the semi-permanent campsites set up down the gulley from the walk we take into town. There are the old socks and empty bottles under the stairway we descend to our favorite trail. And, there are the same faces we see on the doorsteps, along the covered porches, huddled in sleeping bags and holding their signs. Our main road is littered with trash from top to bottom and the variety is a real life lesson in habits and lifestyle.
It is a kind of “in your face” change that cannot be ignored or overlooked.
The girls are seeing life first hand – right there on the sidewalks we walk, outside their car window and to the sides of the trail we traverse to the park.
The city is not new to us. We would visit frequently and in the big scheme of the nation, it is blurb on the map of CITIES.
My initial fear was that it would be too much. Too big and too real for a childhood. And, my apprehension that their questions would be too difficult to answer and too real.
Here is the thing. It IS real. Very real. And, it’s obvious because it is not behind hidden doors or in the open farm fields we knew so well. It’s out there – in the wide open.
The questions the girls have asked are thought provoking and full of honest inquisitiveness.
“Why have we seen the same man five times this week in the same clothes? Why would he be wearing the same clothes?”
After seeing a man wearing a skull encased hood with hollow eyes and bulging teeth, my girls asked “Why would someone wear something so scary? Why would they choose to scare someone? Does he know Halloween is only one day in October?”
We meet their questions with as honest of an answer as possible. And, humanize the figments that homeless people become when we ignore their signs, cast downward glances and do not return a request with a polite reply.
Their admonishments are also vocal and overtly loud as they witness the wafting cigarette smoke and see the lit stub fall to the ground. Their solutions are real and an authentic attempt at problem solving as we traverse our streets with trash grabbers and a bag in hand. There is pride in this job well done and the hand that directly changed the – both theirs and ours – environment.
In this ever real world, we are not delving into the real as much as we could. There is rarely an explanation given to the query of why that smoke* smells “sweet and nice”. Or why we make the personal choice to not give money but support with small tangible tokens of help.
And, we assuage their fears with reassurance that our job is to protect and teach. We explain that a terrifyingly realistic outfit does not necessarily represent the person within the darkness.
We talk of demons and the battles that some struggle with. And, that addictions – whether it is something relatable and observed daily like cigarette smoke or more sinister in disguise – are real battles that can change people’s behaviors and actions.
I am glad that we are broaching subjects that are difficult for even the wisest adults to explain and reason.
We are facing them head on. I am facing my own fears and apprehensions as we talk of walking the walk. Providing help to those in need. Giving when we can.
It is hard. The situations are not easy and the questions ever changing and equally difficult.
But, they are real.
And, I am grateful that we are seeing it, talking about it and figuring how we can help it.
Because to a child, nothing is unfixable. There are second chances and new beginnings in everything.
*Marijuana is legal in our state and is occasionally smoked in public.