I just read a really interesting article (http://mashable.com/2013/06/25/homeless-man-and-blackberry/) and it reminded me of some of the interactions Chris and I had over the years with the homeless.

There are two in particular that stick out for me. The first was a night in Nashville quite a few years ago. Nashville has a huge homeless population and we had spent the evening handing out dollar bills and cigarettes and occasionally a beer. Save me your “you’re only contributing to the problem” speeches.  On our way back to our hotel, walking up what came to be known as “the big damn hill”, we came across an elderly woman and a young man who seemed to be together.  She was lying on a bench and he was sitting by her feet. It was a very cold night in late October and they were huddled with blankets but it was COLD. And she was OLD. She was coughing and he seemed to be comforting her. Well we were headed to our very nice hotel room and we had been out imbibing all evening and I was having NONE of this.  It seemed perfectly reasonable at the time to send Chris to talk to the young man and let him know they could stay in our room. Really, some things seem quite logical after a few (lot) of beers.  Well between the language barrier and their apparent distrust/fright/confusion about this drunk couple trying to lure them to their hotel room,  it ended  with them scurrying away to find a new bench.  And me crying hysterically about the state of our society/healthcare/mental healthcare/social system. In retrospect I’m thinking the desk clerks at the Hyatt we were staying at probably would have raised an eyebrow, or a fuss.

It took me a long time to get past the horrid feeling I felt as we passed those two people. I can still very clearly see that womans eyes as she watched us walking by.

Fast forward a few years and we are up in Chicago engaging in our usual antics.  We are meandering downtown after stumbling off the red line and decide to grab a 6 at an all night package store and head over to the bridge on LaSalle, running over the Chicago River.

I’m having a grand time playing the winnie the pooh game (drop a stick and run to the other side of the bridge to see it flow past you) crossing 4 lanes of almost non-existant traffic at 4 am and a homeless man wanders up.  We say hello, introduce ourselves,  offer him a beer and a smoke and get to talking.

His story was very similar to others we have heard. Hit a rough patch, doesnt want to ask his family for help. Most of them are barely better off than he was at the moment.  Trying to find work, which is almost impossible without a place of residence. He was getting by. Hoping to have pulled out by winter, he wasnt looking forward to winter. He was decently dressed on this coolish summer night. a clean shirt and jeans. He was well spoken and at one point had held a professional job, tho the details now escape me. We talked for maybe an hour and he thought it would be best if we got moving on and back up to our room. We gave him another beer and half a pack of smokes for the road and he thanked us for hanging out for awhile.

He stuck with me too. And these interactions almost always brought me to tears. As we were out spending 100’s of dollars on craft beer whooping it up in Chicago, here is this guy, just trying to get a toe hold, trying to get his life back. By his own admission, he made some mistake along the way. He didn’t feel society owed him anything. He felt confident he’d get his life back on track. We offered him money. He declined. He was truly thankful for the camaraderie in the early morning hours and a drink among friends.  He went his way. We went ours.

I rarely don’t make eye contact when I walk down the street. I am that person who says hello to everyone. Sometimes it makes me a mark. I can chose in that moment if I’m going to pay or pass. I never feel bad about either. Its my choice to do so. But I’ll damn sure smile and say hello.

For a more eloquent version of this type of story, check out the link above. It absolutely presents yet another layer of human to the homeless story.

Change sucks.

I remember when Steve and I bought our second house, one of the first things I did was paint the living room from white to a nice soothing green. I loved it. We had nice big Oak trees out front and a nice big windows in the livingroom and it made the room feel like an extension of the outside. My then, just turned two year old, threw a fit. For two years he talked about my painting that room like I had broken his heart.

The Ochs always joked “the Smiths dont like change”. And we don’t.  

We like tradition. We like rituals. We like vacationing in the same area again and again because we know it, and we like that.  Its not that we are opposed to new things, but we like the sense of “coming back” to things. We tend to stop at the same gas stations on road trips. We like familiar. The holidays all have their own set of traditions. I didnt realize how much that was a part of us until Chris and I met and the Ochs had so very few. 

So the 4th doesnt have a hard set routine. We have mixed it up a bit as you tend to do with blended families. The 4th was one of the holidays I let Steve take the reign on as its more about exploding things than anything with my kids and all that always made me nervous. As Steves back declined I took it back and Chris handled the exploding of things and I nervously patrolled 4 boys and made sure no one lost a digit and Tay and I did sparklers and fountains.  

So yesterday. Chase was invited to a buddys uncles house for a big family 4th hoopla. Taylor got stuck working till midnight. So it was Harrison and I and one of his buddies for the fireworks. And all day I was just sad. I’m used to having a big family around me and the chaos of that. I kept trying to psyche myself up. And kept ending up napping. I finally drug myself out of bed. Took the boys to Phantom Fireworks. Promptly had an anxiety attack (what is it ABOUT that place?!) and headed over to IPFW. 

As I laid there on my blanket watching all of the families I went through a whole host of emotions. I was missing my kids. Missing Taylor telling the boys what to do. Missing the boys all jacking around wrestling and running around and not eating the snacks I brought. Missing having my partner there with me. 

I engaged in a decent amount of self talk. Change is ok. I wasn’t stressed. I wasn’t aggravated. Which having 7 people navigate the holidays can sometimes bring on. I watched couples snip at each other and yell at their kids. I didnt have that either. So I stared at the sky and took stock of what I was thankful for. My son who hates change was at a large family gathering with a bunch of people he didnt know. Thankful he can push himself out of his comfort zone sometimes and do that. He couldnt always.

Thankful my daughter has a strong work ethic and a good boyfriend who brought her sparklers since she had to miss the fireworks.

Thankful my youngest is a roll with it type of kid. Who accepts everything as it comes and in a sea of boys playing ball around us, had a friend with him who was happy just climbing trees. 

And while I didnt have a lap to lay my head in to watch the exploding colors, as so many years I haven’t, I did have the realization that I’ve spent more holidays solo than i have partnered and I’m just fine. 

Chase ended up coming home instead of staying the night away, and we blew things up and watched the fountains and I jumped in and lit things for him to sling-shot across the street instead of being the parent that says “i dont think thats a great idea”. Because sometimes you just have to be the parent who lets your kid do that and when you play both parents sometimes that is your role. 

In a few short years all of my kids will be off doing their own things on the 4th. And all the grown up parties that its seems most of my friends participate in, I’ll be eligible for again. And that will be fun too. In the meantime, I’ll try harder to embrace the change that is inevitable each holiday, as the kids grow older and life moves on.