Monday, February 13, 2012

Failing at my "Don't-Do-Anything Semester"

Moving to Richmond was a lot like how I clean out my closet.   I take everything out and pile it in a big heap on my bed, and then decide what goes back in it. 

Our life was frenetic madness in Hampton Roads. Good.  But messy. So many great things and great people, filling our days.  But there were times when just emptying out the closet and starting over sounded really nice, too.

Coming here, I had to say good-bye to the Sudanese families....left the children's co-ops and my work there...quit my job teaching at the local college...and all of our friends.  


So I decided I was going to treat our New Richmond Life as a sabbatical of sorts.  I'm not signing up for ANYTHING or making ANY commitments for the first semester.  Or so I said. 

Maybe this would be the point in motherhood when I'd actually find a routine around the house, and not just throw food at my children in the car as we drove somewhere. 

My goal: I was going to decide what I really, truly missed and only add back in those things.  

The empty space was really nice.  For a few weeks. My floors have never been cleaner.  We were sitting down for a home-cooked meal at a regular time every night.  Since we weren't driving an hour home from co-op (only FOUR MINUTE commute now), people weren't napping in late afternoon.  I could have everyone sleeping by 7, clean up a bit until 8, do my work until Steve gets home at 9 or 10.

It's been very "Betty Draper" (Season 1) around here since we moved in.

But all this empty space in my life has been a bit deafening -- I guess I'm not used to it.  So one month into my Don't-Do-Anything Semester, I've already applied for teaching jobs and written to the local Refugee Resettlement organization, and they're going to start their background check on me.  

Minimum I can start doing anything with them, though, is several months out (training and background checks).  And while I don't understand their full scope yet, they seem more categorized and rigid than my work before.  With Julie, I could help put out fires as they came up -- serving whatever current crisis the families needed. 

I'm torn about my work with refugees, because my life dynamics have completely changed.  My "value" to the Sudanese community was that I was surrounded by incredibly generous persons -- and a lot of them.  Starting over, I know almost nobody.  My ability to fill needs for brand-new refugees just evaporated.

Pretty much nightly, I ask questions to my husband like: "So what am I supposed to do with the rest of my life? What things in my life make me most 'me'?"  And to his credit, he actually listens and answers when I ask completely vague, open-ended questions like that.

Steve suggested grant-writing for refugees, as a way to gather resources that didn't require a social network, and I like that idea.  I need to learn a bit (um... like, everything) about grant-writing. But I think I'm going to explore that one.

I've been really struggling with the political side of refugee work in the last few months.  I've been so anti-politics and bureaucracy for so long, it's a bit unsettling to realize the work I really *want* to do on a soul-level for these families requires political involvement.  A whole 'nother post, that one.

BUT... I also really loved how intertwined my children were with my work back in Hampton Roads.  It meant a lot to them.  It was something WE did, not just my thing.  I needed to find a way to keep them involved, keep fostering their awareness of global needs and other people. Grant-writing and political work doesn't really do that.

So today, I opened up another account on, just for the kids. On the site, you can give microloans (as little as $25) towards a need -- primarily, entrepreneurs in other countries.   I made sure it has all three of their names as the profile, and a picture uploaded of them.  It's going to be their thing, I'll just do the typing.

I asked the kids whom they'd most like to help.  Andrew and Jack didn't miss a beat before saying, "The Sudanese."  Simone said: "I want to help children." 

So we went on Kiva, chose "South Sudan" and got 9 profiles back.  I explained to Simone that they don't really give loans to children, but we could make sure the person *had* children, so we were helping them too.  

I read through all of them out loud to the kids, and figured it was just drone noise for them.  I wasn't sure how they'd choose.  When I finished though, Jack immediately said "Alice."  I was surprised he remembered the name, after all that reading, and asked him why.  "Because she had 6 kids, and that was the most.  It takes a lot of money to raise that many kids, so she could really use it."

Be still my heart. 

She needs $300, but we gave $25.  I told them they could do jobs around the house, if they wanted to give her more.  I would pay however much they earned for her.   The boys loved that idea, and Andrew immediately started naming off all the things he could do to help Alice start her business.

That was a really nice moment, and one I needed to see in my "sabbatical."  That there are still ways to matter to the world, even in tiny ways, and to show the children there's something bigger out there.  

As sweet and significant as all of that was for me, though, I should add: When I told them about doing jobs around the house if they wanted, Simone shook her head and said, "Nah, I think I'll just keep the money and buy some toys."  Ha!  

Parenting.  It's a process.