The Lost Boys And Girls

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

I have over the years written here about our sons and their struggles and triumphs with education. Joe was diagnosed with ADHD at 8, and then we discovered he also had some dyslexia-adjacent issues with math (dyscalculia) and writing (dysgraphia). When our youngest was 9, we learned he had severe dyslexia and needed immediate, intensive tutoring or placement at a specialized school to remediate these issues. It was hard to take in all this information as a parent. It was harder still to recognize and accept that our sons were atypical. They struggled to thrive in a traditional school setting. Whether we liked it or were comfortable with it or not, our sons needed something else.

To that end, we placed them in a special school for kids with learning disabilities. They started when they were in 4th and 6th grades, respectively, and they improved so much in this new paradigm that we moved them to a high school that allowed them to continue along this same pathway. Our recognizing and accepting our children as they were and where they were changed their trajectory entirely. We knew they needed help. We also knew we had no clue how to help them. So we found people who could.

Now, we were in the fortunate position to be able to afford a specialized education for them, and I recognize not everyone has the means we had to make a difference for them. Before we had them in private school, we used our insurance plan to get them occupational and speech therapy. After that, we tried private tutoring, but the overwhelm for them of trying to keep up in traditional school plus spend hours a week with a tutor was untenable. They were exhausted and frustrated with being “different.” So we looked for schools that would use school time for the catch-up help they needed. And, again, we were in the fortunate position to find not one, but two, such schools in our metropolitan area. These schools, with their student bodies comprised entirely of kids just like our boys, helped them see their own potential and proved to them that they weren’t anomalies. This made them feel capable and it taught them how they learned and how they could advocate for themselves to get what they needed in other settings as well.

I have been thinking a lot lately about how parents of younger children handled working at home and having their kids do school from home during the pandemic. I believe a lot of families have spent the past two years struggling with their children as they tried to learn and complete work at home rather than in the school settings they were accustomed to. I found a perspective piece in the Washington Post that seems to suggest as much. I assume some parents, when witnessing firsthand their students learning at home, may have realized for the first time that their child or children have difficulties learning that they were unaware of. While it is hard to determine the exact number of atypical learners because not everyone who struggles has been properly diagnosed, the statistics run somewhere between 10-20% of all individuals. Not every child is cut out for traditional education. Some need something different or, at the minimum, some extra attention. And not every child will go on to higher education. Some children will excel at trade schools or art schools or in local, associates degree programs. There are many paths through this life, but every child should be getting the help they need to get through their formative educational years. No child should be struggling because they have brain differences that make learning in the traditional paradigm less than optimal.

Our schools are struggling. I read just today that an estimated half of teachers are looking for an off-ramp from their teaching careers. Not only do we need to attract more people to the teaching profession and increase pay to retain the quality teachers we have today, we also need to bring in professionals to help the kids who are getting lost, be it due to learning disabilities, poverty issues, or social issues. We are failing our children. Every day I am grateful our sons were to be born into a family where they were able to get all the extra help they needed to grow, thrive, and move forward with their dreams. I wish other children had the same access to the type of schooling our sons received. We have so many issues in our country right now, but the children who have lost time in their education due to Covid, who might also be battling other issues outside their control, will still need to launch into their futures someday. I hope we find solutions for them or this latest generation might come to be known as the lost generation.

Baggy Clothes, A Shopping Cart, A Pink Blanket

Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

This morning I was driving near our last home in Denver when I had the opportunity to watch a homeless man, probably in his late 50s or early 60s, pushing a shopping cart half full with whatever worldly possessions he has now. He was moving quite slowly in clothes that were far too baggy for his frame. He had a light pink blanket hanging loosely over his shoulders for warmth. I passed him as I was on my way to drop off something at my sister’s house. On my way back towards the highway, I caught sight of him again down the road. I found myself wondering about him. Wondering how he got to be where he was. Wondering if he had family somewhere who had lost track of him. Wondering where he was heading and where he would sleep tonight. Wondering how long he had been a lost member of our society.

As I pulled onto the highway headed home, I thought about my current first world problems. I needed to purchase some duvet covers for new down duvets we recently bought. I needed to research puppy training for our new furry friend. I needed to figure out dinners for this week. Not one of these concerns of mine are anything other than intellectual. We can afford to take care of all three of the chores that were occupying my mind before I spied that man. My “worries” aren’t really worries at all, at least not in the same sense as a homeless individual. I have shelter, food, water, health care, warm clothing, and companionship. I’m rich in more ways than money.

There is a large homeless population in Denver. It’s unusual for me to go a day without seeing a person who is living without proper shelter and food. I often see homeless encampments or homeless individuals standing with signs on street corners or highway on/off ramps. I don’t have any idea how to help these disenfranchised, visibly invisible Americans. I donate clothes to homeless shelters. I hand out cash when I run across a person with a sign, hoping my assistance will provide some measure of comfort for them. I volunteer at organizations that seek to lessen the suffering of those who are without food and shelter security. But, at the end of the day, my efforts are barely a rain drop in a flood. All I keep thinking is how sad it is that, as the wealthy nation we are, we don’t do better for the people among us who struggle. We make no allowances for the unfortunate events in life that can leave a person without basic necessities. We can’t be bothered to care.

Call me whatever you want. Call me a bleeding heart. Call me a raging socialist. Call me a hypocrite in my lovely suburban home. Perhaps I am all those things. I don’t care. At the end of the day, I can’t help but feel we can do better, show more compassion, use some of our country’s wealth for the good of our people. If feeling this way makes me too sensitive and weak, a “snowflake” if you prefer, I’ll own it because I can’t understand why we won’t do better. And if you find yourself at church every Sunday and you still believe that those who suffer from homelessness or poverty simply need to do better for themselves, then it seems to me church is not helping you and you’ve not learned much from your holy texts. Look inside yourself and try to find your compassion, and then ask yourself why it is okay to malign those who struggle. Ask yourself how you would feel if your father, mother, brother, sister, child, or even you were in the same situation as the man I saw with the pink blanket today. Homelessness is not a Democrat or Republican issue. It’s a human issue.

“It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.” ~Martin Luther King Jr.

We can do better. We should do better. Anything less makes the United States far less great than we believe we are. It’s not the homeless who need to do more to change things for the better. It’s those of us with boots.

Food For Thought About Volunteerism

We rise by lifting others.” ~Robert Ingersoll

For the past couple weeks, Luke and I have done some volunteering at Food Bank of the Rockies. Luke needs 50 hours of volunteer work to graduate next June. When he and i were sitting down and weighing his options for volunteer opportunities, we decided on the food bank because we wanted to make an impact for people who are struggling with food scarcity, whether it be as a result of the pandemic or homelessness or other unfortunate, unseen circumstances. We are a lucky family because our biggest decisions regarding food are whether to stop at King Soopers or Target for groceries and whether to cook dinner at home or hit up the local food truck. But we aren’t blind. We see the growing homeless situation in Denver and the lines at food pantries since April of last year. So, the Food Bank of the Rockies it was.

Over our three shifts so far, Luke and I have sorted food, loaded and moved pallets for shipments to food pantries, and even prepared school lunches. And we enjoyed it. A lot. We walk in for our 3-hour shift and the next thing we know we are finished. The employees, as well as the other volunteers, have been helpful and kind. There is something about giving back, even in the smallest way, that can make a messed world seem more positive. Like the quote above, my spirit is raised when I do what I can to lift someone else in their time of difficulty. Instead of wringing my hands at the sky over things I can’t control, I can contribute in a positive way. It feels good. Maybe it’s the endorphins from lifting and carrying cases of food but, dang, that warehouse brings me joy and peace of mind.

Turns out you really can’t buy happiness, but you can step up and volunteer to get it.