A Child’s Joy for Skates, Pizza, & Cookies: Part 3 to What is Service? What is Generosity?

image“Roller skate! Wheeee!” Words I hear often. Day 6, I decided to implement an initial phase for several projects because many require planning and coordinating with other organizations and people. Zo cleaned out her clothes and toys, making donation piles. We went to the mall and picked out an angel from the tree. Zo chose a girl her age who wanted roller skates.

We began shopping for the roller skater’s clothes, and Zo needed pants since she had outgrown all of them. (Already, I noticed the timing was working out in magical ways.) In the first store, a woman asked if Zo liked a pair of pants and explained that she, too, was shopping for her angel and the girl wore the same size. Zo shriveled her nose at the pants the woman had chosen. “Good thing I asked you,” she laughed. I wasn’t satisfied with the store and suggested another to Zo. We continued to shop and bumped into the woman again along the way, and Zo helped her choose a couple of shirts for her angel. We said goodbye again, and decided to finish some Christmas shopping. After a round of receipts with survey offers, we circled back to finish at the same store and met the same woman as she tried on a jacket–“finished shopping for my angel and decided to give myself a little gift, too,” she said. We laughed. “Merry Christmas,” I told her, waving goodbye in disbelief that I had enjoyed the shopping experience (usually, one of my least favorite things, & I didn’t have anxiety, or feel like I needed to run out of there–it was a holiday miracle!). Imagining the roller skater in her new kicks was the perfect motivation.
“Let’s go already!” Day 7, Zo woke up and asked if we were still going to serve food that evening. She asked all day. She made us crazy until we threatened not to go. (Wait, we realized that punishment wouldn’t work if we wanted to encourage generosity.) On the way to serve food to the homeless at a local church, the trees were heavy with ice and sparkled in just the right light. The sky was becoming grayer and it absorbed the outline of the ice. Photos were difficult to take. Zo tried to take them in the car–blurry trees, pavement in motion, reflections of her frustrated face on the window.

I was concerned about the forecasts for an ice storm, another round, that evening and early morning. I coached myself to find joy. Find inner joy and, without being shrill, emit that with soft, helpful energy.
Making up beds at the church, Zo and I took one room of small, wooden-framed, twin beds, low to the ground. A group of teens made up beds in an adjoining room. As we spread on clean, white sheets, pillowcases, and comforters, I thought about blessing the future sleepers with good dreams, safety, and warmth. On a cold night such as that, (or, any night) I wouldn’t want to consider sleeping on the street, under a bridge, on a bench, slumped against a tree, in an abandoned home or car. Zo placed care packages of body care products on each of the beds. Though it didn’t turn out to be much of an ice storm, it was cold enough to keep the trees frozen in a slick bubble layer, & that’s too cold to lie down outside to rest.

In the kitchen, preparing meals, talking to Boy Scouts, packing lunches, frying okra, moving out of the way, saying thank you, laughing, bowing my head, eating with everyone–all of it contained a lighthearted ease. The people serving food emitted it–kindness–all of them, and that will make anyone joyful. Their bowls overflowed with homemade foods they had prepared to share.
My Dad and I stood by the ovens and heated slices of carry-out pizza. We didn’t think much about the pizza since there was so much local food prepared in family kitchens and delivered while still hot. We placed the pizza in the boxes and covered them with foil, then a woman wheeled them to the end of the line. The pizza was an afterthought, and my Dad even wondered aloud, why the pizza? The homeless men arrived from Nashville. The Boy Scouts, Zo, and other people served all the homemade foods and filled the plates, but the men saved space for or placed the pizza on top. They commented on the pizza more than anything else. Several asked if they could return for seconds. It caused me to realize the value of carry-out pizza to someone living on the street. When these men are served in shelters and church kitchens, I’m sure it’s often homestyle foods. The pizza is different– the buttery garlic bread-tomato-pepperoni-onion-sausage-oregano scent drifting along every corner, down almost every city block, and you need $5 or $10 to get one.
I love pizza–barbecue chicken is my favorite.

Days 8 & 9, when plans aren’t what you’d expect, the point is that you tried. This was the lesson Zo was getting on Sunday, when the “ice storm” changed our original plans. We decided to deliver our wrapped gifts to the mall for the roller skater angel. When the office doors were locked, Zo said, “Great,” sarcastically, “change of plans again. I guess she won’t get her presents.”
I encouraged her to visit other stores with me, and we found a security guard who let us in the office to drop off the gift.
“Kind of surprised that worked out after a day like today,” she said.
“That’s a little negative, considering…” I looked at her.
“I know, I get it. I have more than that girl,” she said.
“Wow. I was going to say, considering we got our Christmas tree today.”
“Oh yeah, that, too,” she said smiling.

Another childhood joy–cookies! Day 9, she tried. She baked chocolate chip cookies for our neighbor who is elderly and recently had surgery. Zo bundled up in her coat and ran to deliver them. I watched and shivered in the cold. When our neighbor never opened the door, Zo shouted, “Can I leave them on the porch?”
“Too cold. They’ll freeze. Maybe she’ll be there tomorrow.” I waved her back over to our house.
“At least I tried,” she declared when she came inside.

Writing on the Wall–Mom’s Creative Freedom

Today is the last day that Zoe will be six years old.
Three years ago, we started a drawing on her wall. My first inclination was to control the drawing. She wanted a fairy, and I would oblige with a “good” drawing. She could sit back and watch me draw the fairy and I would let her color the wings….that was the plan. As I started to draw, I noticed her restraint and control–she tried to suppress her desire to draw something on her own, separate from me. I knew she was struggling with whether or not it was okay for her to draw on the walls. I had a choice—be controlling or offer creative freedom.
After all, I reasoned, these are my walls in a home that we own. No, I corrected myself, these are Zoe’s walls in a home that we own. I walked out of the room and into my office, which is also in our house, and retrieved a permanent marker for her. I explained that she couldn’t write on any other walls of the house, but she could do whatever she wanted in her own room. Some parents will cringe at the freedom I have given to Zoe. Freedom to paint, color, draw, or stick whatever she wants on her walls. Yes, whatever she wants!
And, this is what she (along with me, her Dad, her baby sister, and her more courageous friends) have created in the past 3 years. Surprisingly, most of Zoe’s friends would NOT write on the walls, even when I assured them that they could. Almost as if Santa or some invisible, parental force watched them, the girls look around nervously, like this creative freedom is a trick.
Creative freedom and simplicity mean so much more to me than anything formal, organized, and coordinated. It has been therapeutic for all of us. The baby scribbles. I retreat and draw roses, daffodils, and a flower garden when I feel anxiety or sadness. At bedtime, we sit on the bed and draw, draw, draw.
My heart wilted when Zoe recently said that she wants to paint her room in the next few months. She’s growing up, and wants “plain colors.” I was terrified that she’d want taupe or sand or some other faded, muted, dulled color like I, and most people, have shrouding the living room. But, she said, “I want to paint the top half red and the bottom half, purple.” I’ll still miss drawing on her walls when the time comes for me to grow up with my daughter.