Monday, August 3, 2009
This past Saturday my church teamed with 12 other churches in the area, over 500 volunteers, to descend on an area of the city with a high percentage of foreclosures. The goal was to weed, mow, clean, haul away trash and junk and just improve the area. My church was assigned a 2 block section that was in good condition already so we just worked on making it look even better.
A few days before we were sent an email detailing the plan of the day and some safety guidelines. While reading the email, which cautioned against picking up glass and needles and other hazards and wearing gloves if possible, I started wondering if this truly was an event that I felt good bringing my kids to! But we'd already discussed it as a family and my kids were so excited to go and deep down I wanted to go as a family; I felt it was important.
The Day: We arrived LATE. I don't like being late to anything so I was already in a bad mood now. The parking lot we were supposed to park in was full and the attendant told us to go "take a right"..... well, a right took us out to Capitol again! We finally kept making rights and arrived back at the side entrance to the high school we were supposed to park at. Knowing my kids and not knowing what to expect of the day, I had packed a few sandwiches and snacks as well as five bottles of water. In hindsight, I'd not have taken so much! It's a lot to lug around as well as my 18 pound backpack of camera gear. (ouch) Since I'm a bit compulsive about never being bored I also brought a book with me that I only read for five minutes while waiting for the bus. I'm happy it was only a paperback.
So, we arrive and I'm still having a bad attitude when I learn that the city requires a written consent form for every member of the family. That's five forms! I must've sounded really annoyed because a nice person I hardly know (even though she goes to my church and is the sweetest person ever) offered to help me fill out the forms. At this I realize that my attitude and annoyance has to change. I look over at my husband and he's happily chatting away. He's so easygoing and I love the trait in him. Sometimes. This was not one of those times as he encouraged me to "let it go" and have some fun and enjoy the day. Why am I in such a hurry? But I was because we were now well over 40 minutes late and had to wait for the bus.
By the time the bus arrived and delivered us to our assigned street I felt better. I hated to admit it but my husband was right. (he's usually right) My kids immediately started to work: Katie picked up every tiny piece of trash and cigarette butt on that street. (yes, I did cringe a bit) Conor was enjoying an attempt at raking and the middle child was.... well, being a stereotypical middle child. He at times just can't let things go, so incredibly stubborn. No; I have no idea where he got that from! Actually growing up I was the compliant chid. He's definitely not compliant. So David talked to him; I talked to him. Trying to reason with a crying 6 year old only results in frustration. So, I told him he had to take a walk with me. He did not want to but knew I meant business so off we went, he was still crying away. Passed a few church people that just looked at me quizzically and I just smiled..... 1 out of 3 being upset isn't too bad, right? The other 2 were beyond happy picking up trash, pulling weeds (well, in Katie's mind that equals picking dandelions and playing with them)
So, Reid and I went walking. Within 3 minutes he's calmed down; I suppose it's best to treat him like a 2 year old: Remove from the situation and distract. Hey, it worked and it was great to talk with the other volunteers, take some photos and I even connected with a friend I'd not seen in over 3 years that attends the local church we were partnering with. By the time we got back from our walk Reid was like a different kid: happy, fun, quiet and helpful. I really don't understand him.
So here's the thing I don't get: I loved spending the day with others but really did not do much physical work. Instead I do what I love to do: take pictures and felt like I was cheating the whole time! Granted, I was also tending to my kids but I enjoyed taking photos, even though it was bright sun and I'm not accomplished at bright sun photography. (Okay, I'm not accomplished at ANY type of photography! but I do enjoy it)
At the end of the day we were hot but happy to be out there. I really did nothing but there was such an energy. I can't describe it but say it was a very special, worthwhile day. As we all gathered up our stuff, I noticed a group of neighbor kids bringing out lemonade to the workers. It was really touching and my own kids really enjoyed interacting with the kids. I felt we were well received and know that Project Restoration did a huge amount of work that day and loaded so many dumpsters, and the block looked better, but I wonder if I came away feeling more blessed than the neighbors did? Of course, to this I readily admit to really doing nothing! I took photos. I'm always happy if I'm behind the lens of a camera.
I read and had thought that the post-work celebration wouldn't begin until 2 and it was only 12 so I never anticipated staying for the party but as the bus rolled up to the church, my kids instantly spotted the bright, large bounce house and inflatable slide. Yeah, had to at least play in that for a bit. As we neared the area we discovered that food was ready: Hotdogs, hamburgers, chips and my favorite: ICE COLD DIET COKE! I think I consumed 3 in 20 minutes. (I hope it wasn't one per person!) My kids were excited to discover that they also had cotton candy and sno cones! Everyone was so very nice, I was really touched by how nice the people helping with the food were. I was a bad mommy and allowed my kids to have multiple sno cones and cotton candy. (well, only one kid had a 2nd helping of cotton candy...... to my knowledge) It was a wonderful end to a Beautiful Day.
We left and within minutes my sugar filled children were asleep in the car. Later that day my four year old said she really enjoyed helping people. (she had a lot of fun with a little neighbor boy named Alex; they played ball together, climbed trees and colored in coloring books on the sidewalk) I think it meant more having my whole family there and I'm glad that nothing frightened me away from sharing this experience with them.