Hour Children is a non-profit dedicated to supporting incarcerated women and their children. Its founder, Sister Teresa has been nominated for a CNN Heroes Award. The group is also applying for a grant, so I wrote a little note taking a quote from my book and part of my blog entry Life is Fun to craft something new for that purpose. I wish I’d had more time to work on it, but here’s what I sent:
When my father was sentenced to twenty years in prison, I was consumed by shame, fear, guilt, confusion and heartache. I grieved, I presume, as one might for a father who had unexpectedly died without saying goodbye. A father who had been unnaturally stripped away in a swift, deadly blow leaving his family to wonder what had been the last words said. When was the last, “I love you” and had they meant it? This was my father’s due, but I was devastated. Despite everything, I loved him.
I had just turned thirty-one years old, a grown up seemingly capable of handling such a traumatic event. Ten years later, I spent my forty-first birthday with Jeaniah, my ten-year-old protégé from Hour Children, a girl whose parents have both been incarcerated.
She and I were matched last March and have logged many hours together in museums, theaters, bowling alleys, aquariums, parks, zoos and, of course, Chuck E. Cheese.
For my birthday, I took Jeaniah to the Spy Exhibit at Discovery Time Square Museum. The exhibit was interactive, educational and fun. We navigated a life-sized laser maze, took our photos & added wigs, glasses, facial hair and hats to disguise our images. I was surprised that, in spite of all the amusing things, Jeaniah wanted to spend most of our time there reviewing a timeline of major world events. Using a touch screen, we selected a year, which then gave us dates to choose. One by one, we talked about events like the falling of the Berlin Wall, World Wars I and II, Vietnam, Osama bin Laden and the Twin Towers.
Overwhelmed by what she had yet to learn, I thought, “Man! Kids don’t know anything!”
The history lesson led her to ask questions like just why had Osama bin Laden attacked us, followed by thoughtful discussions about various religions, tolerance and extremism. She’s a smart one this girl, quick and attentive. I don’t know how often, if ever, current events and such serious dialogue are part of her life, but I was glad to have been there to answer her questions with patience and honesty.
Afterward, we meandered through Times Square where we saw all sorts of colorful characters: people in costumes, a guy with eight rats dyed a rainbow of colors sitting on his shoulders and a beautiful dragonfly that seemed attracted to me and Jeaniah.
“This is the most fun ever,” she kept saying, and then would add, “Weird, but fun.”
Kids might not know everything, but they know enough.
In some cultures, it is believed that the dragonfly helps one let go of the past and if you see one in an unusual place, it symbolizes a transformation through a spiritual awakening. I’ve lived in New York City for twelve years and have never seen a dragonfly in a park let alone Times Square. It flew with us for over a block and even hitched a ride on J——’s arm.
In my forty-one years of life, I’ve traveled the world, met thousands of people and learned a lot from them. Yet, I’ve never known a single person who also had a parent in prison. Jeaniah is the only friend with whom I have this in common.
Thanks to Hour Children, she and I can let go of our past and transform with each other. And, for a child whose life has been fraught with tumult, Jeaniah can have an occasional break, look around and decide that life is fun. Weird, but fun.