Children in my homeless shelter are happy.
That’s right. You read correctly.
I spent so far 22 nights in the homeless shelter in Dallas. There are dozens of families staying with me – families with both a mommy and a daddy and several kids, a family with just a mommy and four babies under age 4, a single mom with one 10 year old daughter, larger families with more kids, families that are just a daddy and a mommy and one child. I gotta say, I have never seen such happy kids. That’s right. The children who are living in the homeless shelter are happier than other children in other American families.
And I can tell you why.
The homeless shelter has a rule that your children must always stay by your side and no-one except their own mother or father (or grandparent or aunt) is allowed to babysit them.
So what happens? Except for the time spent at school (because all the school district buses pick up all the children from the homeless shelters every school day), homeless kids get to spend all day and night with their parents. At breakfast, I saw fathers feeding cereal to their kids. At dinner, I saw fathers feeding pizza to their kids. They sit in the cafeteria booths and talk to each other. I saw them playing together and I heard them laughing together. Also, the fathers treat their children with so much love. I don’t know if it’s because they do not allow even verbal abuse in the homeless shelters or because the families have nothing but each other and a few suitcases. I don’t really know why the fathers behave so sweetly to their kids, but the kids respond. Of course their mothers are there, too. In the shelters, families live and sleep in one big room with two king-sized beds. The families are together all the time.
Watching the children laughing with their parents and watching the fathers taking part in the childcare duties, got me thinking about my own relationship with my parents. My mother is an awesome, awesome woman. She left a violent and cruel husband in order to protect me. Then she remarried to a man who she has dearly loved for 35 years. Too bad he is a child molester. Oops. Anyhow, my mom loves me very much. She is sending me the $10 a night to stay in the homeless shelter and I haven’t even told her what I am actually using the money for. She has no idea that I am homeless; but she runs interference between her husband and myself. Whatever I need, she gets to me. Unfortunately, that’s the problem. When I ask my mother for attention, she writes me a check.
I thought about the times that she spent ‘alone time’ with me when I was a child. The first memory that comes up is when I was 9 or 10 years old. My step-father went on a business trip for almost a week, and my mother let me sleep in the big bed with her while he was away. I don’t remember her spending any time with me before this. Ten years old. How sad is that? Maybe some other memories will come back to me now that I am concentrating on this subject. I am under quite a lot of stress and stress does make me forget things temporarily.
My next memory of one-on-one time with my mom is 5 years later. We were on a family vacation to New Orleans. We were waiting to be seated in a restaurant. I was 15 so she bought me a cocktail and we chatted. It was not the best chat. Mom warned me that alcoholism runs in our family and I must always remember that I can’t drink liquor the way other kids can. I was going to college soon and I must always remember that I was different. We were genetically scarred. It was good advice and it was true, but it was kind of a bummer to enjoy my illegal cocktail after her speech. But I did understand that she loves me and wants the best for me.
By the time I started college in 1986, all hope was lost. Our relationship had degenerated into an unpleasant tug-of-war. I wanted her attention; and she wrote me checks. Thus we spent the next quarter of a century. And it continues… In some ways, I envy those homeless kids. They get to spend all day with their father and mother, and it makes them happy.
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