It is tradition on this blog to re-post this story every Thanksgiving. I hope you and your family have a safe and wonderful holiday. ~ Mimi
When my son was fifteen he did something stupid. His dad, my ex-husband, gave him the usual “Atta boy don't do that again” talk, the school got their three days without his smart mouth and I was left with the what am I gonna do with this child? nightmare invading my dreams. In those days there was no dungeon, no chains, no rack – not that I would have used it ( I didn't even believe in spanking) – but you catch my drift.
He started to walk away.
“Well, I hope you'll still love me when I tell you what your punishment is going to be.”
“No. I will not ground you.”
The smart-aleck ceased for a moment and then....."Whatever, Mom.”
I was furious with him and at my wit's end. He needed to see how the real world works. I made arrangements. It took some doing but they finally saw it my way. "You want your son to do WHAT? But he's not a criminal (not YET I thought) and we're not a juvenile detention center." (well......) "Will you please allow us to do this? I asked the nun-like administrator of this facility. “I'm not trying to teach him a lesson here, that is not the point, but he needs to see and understand with his own eyes how lucky he is and how his actions now can affect the rest of his life.”
So for the next two months that summer we got up at five am, drove to another town and worked in a homeless shelter's soup kitchen. It was the worst of the worst neighborhoods. I had cleanup detail (you didn't think they'd let me near the food now, did you?) and he served the line.
Think of all the starving children just got real.
After one week of losing his summer sleep to ride an hour in my car at the crack of dawn - with music blasting all the way - and mingle with very old people volunteers and stir canned creamed corn in a pot for an hour he said, “Why didn't you just send me to REAL jail?! I hate this!”
Uh huh, I thought. Just stir, buster.
In the middle of the second week he started to actually get up before I did. “Hurry up, Mom. We have to get going.” (Oh great, I thought. He's met a pretty girl at the homeless shelter. That's the only reason he would get up at five am. My plan has backfired. Drats!) And what was this grand revelation I expected him to learn? Heck if I knew. I was just a parent with an unruly fifteen- year -old with no respect for himself or his elders or his life. I didn't even know if it would make a difference.
All I knew was that somehow the corn and pintos and no-dessert-for-you rule would magically translate into a light-bulb moment for him. Osmosis maybe? I just knew this was the right thing to do but I didn't know how or why.
Pumpkin pie.The man had returned to the window for another slice.
He was dirty. Shaky.
No teeth. Scraggly. Scary. Smelly. And hungry.
Up until this point he rarely made eye contact with anyone in the line. Especially not the kids. He plopped the food on the plate and reached for the next empty Styrofoam sadness shuffling through. People with their entire families in tow. Hungry folks down on their luck and needing not even a hot meal. Just a meal. Families living in cars through no fault of their own. On the street. Raggedy clothes crossing elbows with his Tommy Hilfiger jeans and watch.
Pork 'n beans, wax beans, any beans. Didn't matter. Please feed my child. My little girl is hungry. I saw it in their eyes. The sadness. And the shame.
But I was proud.
We finished our tour of shelter duty as promised and school started again in the fall.
That was fifteen years ago.
Did he straighten-up-and-fly-right from that moment on? No.
Were there more nightmare dreams for me through the teenage years? Yes.
But I have to believe that it shaped his understanding of the world a bit and through all his troubles that most certainly came later, I did see – and continue to see – a great compassion develop in him for people in need.
copyright Mimi Lenox