We long to trust and be trusted

November 30, 2011

I let 6 kids from one of the slums in town borrow some of our dress ups for the weekend. ‘

They each picked out the one they wanted and I put them each in a plastic bag. They promised to take good care of them and bring them back on Tuesday.

Am I crazy for trusting these children who have shown me that they wouldn’t hesitate to steal? Who I know have not earned the right to be trusted?

“We yearn to trust and be trusted – one researcher has found that people get a spike of the pleasant neurotransmitter oxytocin when they are entrusted with another’s goods.”

Well, I took the risk and the children were so pleased about it. And sure enough, Tuesday afternoon they came marching in with their plastic bags full of costumes in great condition.

I’m hoping they enjoyed that little spike of oxytocin! πŸ™‚



November 16, 2011

Saturday always starts out with a morning at the beach. We load up the boys surfboards, some snacks and water. Then we drive around town picking up other kids that want to surf and play, too. We spend a good 3-4 hours playing in the surf, digging holes, collecting snails, making tunnels and more. By about noon we drop all the kids off and head home.

We unpack, eat some lunch and get ready for the next group of kids. A group of about 6 kids from Copey, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Jaco wait outside the entrance to their slum, watching for our green van. We pick them up every Saturday at 2 to spend a few hours at our home. They talk about this event all week long, looking forward to Saturday.

Jefferson walks in the door and announced, “Leslie is our mom.” Of course I am touched, that is very sweet, but my heart sinks when he says it. Why is he saying that? Normal children do not walk in and declare that I am their mom. What kind of family life must he have that would cause him to say that?

They love to feel the warm water coming out of the shower. They crowd around as I turn the shower on and squeal as they feel the warm water. They’ve even gotten in fully clothed to try the shampoo and conditioner, enjoying the smells and the warmth and being wrapped in a warm, dry towel.

We have fruit for a snack and they devour anything we put in front of them. Most of the afternoon is spent swimming in the pool and jumping on the trampoline. Last week Jefferson locked himself in our playroom. I asked him to unlock the door and he did. I explained to him that in our house we leave the doors unlocked. Then I looked at him. “You wanted to play alone, didn’t you?” He nodded. “Is it sometimes hard to find a place to be alone?” He nodded again.

This week an interesting scenario developed. In addition to the “Copey” kids, a group of three boys from “Invu” another poor neighborhood showed up. They walked in and eye-balled each other. There was definitely some rivalry going on between the two groups of kids. One of the copey kids whispered in my ear that one of the Invu boys had said they all have lice.

Well, I thought, this should be interesting. I was hoping in my heart that it would be a chance for them to make friends with each other. Some of the boys found a pile of foam tubing that we had been using to make marble runs. They realized these made very nice weapons – and they did, infact, they are so light that you can hit another person without it hurting. They began to run hooping and hollering aorund the yards smacking each other with tubing. It erupted into three Invu boys all against one Copey boy. I could see the Copey boy starting to get really angry and it was about to turn into a full-blown fight. I quickly grabbed all the tubing and stopped it before it went any further.

I’m sure the boys assumed they would not be permitted to play that any longer. But I had a different idea in mind. I’ve come to realize that for boys particularly, playfighting is a great game. Not only is it fun, it helps children to learn and develop some very important social skills. First of all they often have to work in teams and figure out how to work together. Secondly to keep the game going they have to be able to control their movements so as not to cause any real pain, just enough to keep it “all in fun.” They have to be aware of the emotions of other people, so as not to push too far. They also have to understand the intentions of others when they get nailed – that it’s not a direct attack on them, it’s all part of the game. So it involves using self control, understanding others’ emotions, having respect for other people, working in a team and more. All of this is happening in a simple game of “war,” “wrestling” or other type of play fight.

So, holding the foam tubing I gathered the boys around me. Here are the rules I said. First, you have to work in teams that are fair. It cannot be all the boys against one boy. This was going to force the Copey boys to work together with Invu boys – they looked at each other a little awkwardly and called out who would be on whose team. Secondly, I said, this game is all in fun. You have to be watching each other’s faces. If someone is looking angry or upset you have to back off and leave him alone. If someone doesn’t want to play, respect him. Only play with the ones that want to play. I’m going to be watching your faces too. If I see that you are getting upset or angry, I’ll help you take a break to calm down. Remember, this is all in fun. They looked at each other and at me with eyes wide and kind of laughed awkwardly. I could tell they had never heard anyone tell them these things before and they looked amazed that I was actually going to let them fight each other with foam tubing! I figured it was worth the risk.

And off they went into a fabulous game of play fighting with foam tubing. Scott of course was in the center of it all. Even Jude and Ezra got into it. At a few points in time, they would start to gang up on a “weaker” kid and I would step in and remind them of the rules. Another time they started going after a kid who clearly did not want to play. I asked them what the rules are and they repeated them to me proudly and left the boy alone. The play finally ended when everyone was exhausted. They all headed to the trampoline – Copey and Invu kids together to play a big game of crack the egg with Scott.

These two groups of rivaling boys had come together, played all afternoon and now they were leaving as friends. Maybe not close friends, but definitely not enemies. They had a shared experience in common now and maybe they wouldn’t be so quick to judge and put down others from different neighborhoods. Maybe they would realize they’re all the same underneath. At least they’re heading in a new direction.

How to Enjoy this Day

November 15, 2011

Just Ordinary Moments?

I was looking at my boys this afternoon on the trampoline. Ezra flying through the air, hair flashing in the sunlight, laughing. What a special moment that will never come again, I thought – that I completely take for granted.

All-of-a-sudden my mind flashed forward and I could see them fully grown, leaving our home. My days right now are so full and intense. Sometimes they’re so hard it feels unbearable. But a vision like that causes my breath to catch and my throat to choke up. I even feel a small flash of panic. This will all be over before I know it and the memories I will cherish most will be days like these – full of ordinary moments that in hindsight become extraordinary.

But you know what? I don’t want to wait until my kids are grown and gone to realize how extraodinary these days are. I want to see that now, to be present with my children, letting my heart fill and swell with love and emotion, wonder and awe at the beauty of who they are. Seeing God’s intricate, amazing handiwork in each one. Because the truth is every moment I am privileged to share with them is precious.

How can we cause ourselves to live fully and deeply, discovering all the gifts in this present moment?

“OBSERVE!!! There are few things as important, as religious, as that” – Frederick Buechner

Sometimes if I’m in a moment with my children and I begin to feel bored, listless, “checked out” so to speak, I try to remember this quote. I look around and try to wake up my senses to the present moment.

Begin by just noticing colors around you – the deep green of trees, the color of your child’s eyes and hair, the grass, the sunshine, the sky, whatever is around you. Begin to see the beauty and let it awake you from your emotional slumber inside yourself. Hear the words your child is speaking, observe their motions and play, be amazed at the way their bodies and minds function, see it all as a gift, as a miracle.

As you observe your heart and emotions will follow. You will feel your heart filling with wonder, amazement, beauty and then joy will come, laughter will flow out. Before you know it, instead of waiting for the hours to pass until bedtime, you are enjoying your day with a deep sense of purpose that you have not felt in a long time. This look, this face, this day will never come again. Treasure it. Each moment, each minute, is a gift.

The video I’m posting below is a true treasure. If you have a few minutes to watch it, I know it will bless you as it did me. And I dare you not to cry! πŸ˜‰


November 9, 2011

β€Ž”The truly great advances of this generation will be made by those who can make outrageous connections, and only a mind which knows how to play can do that.” ~ Nagle

One of the biggest aspects of our job at the after-school kids program for children at risk is helping kids play.

Most of the children enter the property so disregulated inside they have chaotic, disorganized behavior. They lack focus to complete a picture or game. They’re constantly on guard against perceived threats, ready to fight at any moment. Being so distrustful makes it hard to have friends. Instead they prey on the weak – bullying others to make themselves feel stronger and more powerful. And if they’re not the bully they are the victim. Often a child’s anti-social behavior causes him to be victimized.

As staff our motto for behavior management is prevention. We understand this behavior and we know it is unhealthy for children. They are acting out of the pain and hurt they feel inside. All this behavior does is become a road block to healthy development, keeping them from focusing on the developmental tasks they have ahead of them. And so they become stuck emotionally and developmentally.

Our goal is to engage these kids and help them relax enough to be able to focus and play. We have engaging toys and activities, and caring staff ready to shower love and attention. The most challenging children need one-on-one attention from a staff member at all times. We work to anticipte and prevent behaviors. Prevention, prevention, prevention is the key! We want these children to have a safe, loving environment, and so we strive to create and maintain that for them. It’s not just a nice idea – it’s critical for their development!

Is it challenging? Yes, of course! But it is so worth it when you see one of these children feeling safe enough to play, create, explore and just be a child. Far from being just something children do to pass the time, play is an essential developmental task. In other words, children need to play in order to develop into healthy adults. And so that becomes one of our main goals for the program… to play!

β€œPlay is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold.” ~ Joseph Chilton Pearce