Want to know what gives me hope?
Their ability to create.
Their desire to endlessly giggle.
Their incredible curiosity about how the world works.
Their simple joy.
In my life I have been so fortunate to travel to lots of places and meet children from many level of circumstance.
I’ve met kiddos from Cambodia with missing limbs due to landmine injuries who showed up everyday to greet me for the joy of learning, the sweetest kiddos from small town Mexico who shared a bedroom with their entire family and bathed in a bucket, smiling kiddos from Laos who spent their days barefoot, gathering water and climbing trees, and kiddos at a refugee center in Germany who all wanted to crowd around my son to curiously touch his little cheeks. Then there was the kiddo my son met on the beach in Hawaii who spoke only French but somehow they managed to play and “talk” for more than an hour. And finally, there are those kiddos close to home, such as the kiddo in a garden class I taught, who spent half her day walking to and from the Salvation Army for her meals, but in that moment was squealing with delight over the bugs she had just found in the soil.
What is universal? Their curiosity overwhelmed their inhibitions, their smiles disarmed everyone around them, and their joy superseded their larger burdens.
As a parent, I spend a lot of time thinking and worrying about how the struggles in our world impact children. I hoard away for hours reading through the latest news of concern, I seek out statistics, and I intellectualize with fellow parents about our deepest fears for what is to come. In fact, I spent much of the past weekend doing just this with a group of friends, all the while our children were busy creating “inventions” from items they had found in the recycling bin and on the forest floor.
Watching kiddos connect, create, laugh, and ultimately make magic happen, despite whatever odds they are up against, shakes me from my own story-line that the sky could fall if I am not attentive enough. Children remind me that I don’t always need to know the pretenses of how and why, but if I really connect with another person there is potential for shared joy.
As a working parent, sometimes exhausted by the daily grind, I know how easy it is to fall into my daily silo. I put my head down, dig in, and focus on the tasks directly before me in order to keep moving forward. I see other parents around me doing the same, some with deep burdens of financial struggle, family strife, or failing health.
But, standing before us are these complex little beings with a host of emotions. I know they are not immune to our burdens, our fears, and our hate. I know that there are so many conversations we could be, should be, and are having about the impact of our choices and the tone of our communication. But, today, I am going to focus on this one emotional lesson that children repeatedly seem to give us.
Joy is simple, it flows from connection, and we can give it away so easily… if we choose.
I have been thinking lots about this, how to give more joy in what seems to be a very trying time for many of us. As a parent looking around at all of these other parents who are doing the best they can to get by, here is what I know. We have got to lift each other up, be champions for one another, and find more ways to help joy supersede our burdens.
I was just looking at a report that lines out some of the burdens families are facing in Santa Cruz County. Santa Cruz County Child Care Planning Council recently provided a comprehensive look at the unmet needs of families with young children who are trying to build their lives in Santa Cruz County.
According to the data they provided, 45% of children are estimated to be living in households earning 46,000 or less annually. Looking at the MIT living wage calculator the average expenses for 2 adults with 2 children in Santa Cruz County is just shy of $75,000 and 1 adult with 2 children is just shy of $70,000.
Most simply put, nearly half of the families in Santa Cruz County are out there on a daily basis wondering and worrying, “how do we make it all add up?”
They are struggling. When we look a little closer we see that some are REALLY, really struggling. How can we lift folks up and bring more joy to their lives?
Taking a lesson from kiddos, our actions can be simple, straightforward and small but still bring great joy.
HERE ARE A FEW OPTIONS FOR SPREADING SOME SIMPLE JOY:
• ADOPT A FAMILY FOR THE HOLIDAY– What better way to bring a little joy to a struggling family by giving them the opportunity to watch their kiddos face light up when they find items under that tree that otherwise may have been bare.
•HOLIDAY NOTE WRITING – Camping Unlimited runs an annual summer camp for disabled children and they would like your help to send a handwritten card to their campers. Many of these kiddos are cut off from the outside world and don’t have family near, so showing them that they are remembered with affection and part of loving camp family is a great way to spread holiday cheer.
• ENTERTAIN, JUGGLE, DO MAGIC, SHARE YOUR TALENT- Help Toys for Tots create a day filled with smiles at the Alice in Wonderland Magical Breakfast on Dec 10th. This is a complimentary breakfast for all who bring a donation of an unwrapped toy.
• HELP A FOSTER FAMILY– When a family opens their home to a child in need it is usually on short notice and the family often needs assistance bringing cribs and other baby furniture to their home. If you have a truck or large vehicle and can occasionally help move items for new foster parents your help is needed.
• PICK YOUR FAVORITE CAUSE AND VOLUNTEER– Here is what I see everyday, when you volunteer for the causes you are passionate about it feels good and brings comfort to others. Not sure what you want to pick? The Volunteer Center is here to help you find the right option with our Match-Making Program. We invite you to learn more.
Dig in. Do the hard work, the necessary work, but don’t forget to give and receive joy. We can all use more of it.
Blog Post written by Volunteer Center Director of Communications Christine Loewe. Everyday she dedicates herself to promoting the endless possibilities for making our moments more meaningful.