Thursday, February 6, 2014

Steeping in Havoc and Mayhem - The Haves and the Homeless: Telling in the schools of America

Sometimes I have so much to say it is impossible to know how to grapple with it.  

Let me begin with two statements. 

1) This is not a political post. 
2) This post is not a condemnation of anyone.

On Tuesday I was performing at Loudon Country DaySchool.  It is a beautiful private facility for kids who are either lucky enough to get scholarships or who have parents who can afford to send their kids there.  The school is gorgeous.  The educational opportunities are excellent.  Their library is unbelievable.

I worked with first and second graders there.  I told Rumplestilskin and Too Much Noise.  When I gave out the information for my website, Facebook page, and blog, the kids were as attentive as their teachers.  They enjoyed the tales, played along with the story, and were willing to engage with me.  We had a great time, and I had high hopes the kids would do some follow up on their own despite being between the ages of six and eight.  As they filed out of their ample school library, they chatted about taking their parents to the website as soon as they got home.

On Thursday I was at the High Point Public Library with kids from a public school.  I told the same stories with these second graders.  We had a very good time.  There was only one obvious difference.  On Thursday, the kids were multihued, and multiethnic. 

Tonight, at 6:30pm, I will be doing a family show for the kids who came to the show this morning.  The library is encouraging the families to come at 6pm to tour the library, possibly get a library card, and encourage them to use the public library.  All families who arrive by 6:20pm will be put into a drawing for a new Kindle.

A few of the kids looked around in confusion.  One of them said, “What’s a Kindle?   The teacher explained.  They didn’t really understand, but they were excited by the prospect of winning it.

Some kids muttered that maybe they could get their grandparents to come, but they knew their mom or dad or parents had to work.  Others thought their older siblings might be able to bring them.  They sat there, all of seven or eight years old, going through the adults in their lives, trying to decide who might be willing or able to bring them.  Most of them, with the optimism of eight year olds, were convinced they could get someone to escort them.

As they filed out, excited about the prospect of winning a Kindle or hearing some more stories, one little girl hung back, looking concerned.

She was a little blond thing with freckles, blue eyes and purple glasses.  She came up to me and said as quietly as she could so that nobody would hear.

“I don’t think we can come.  We have to be at the shelter by 5 and we can’t leave, or we won’t get a bed.”

I realized she was trying to make me feel better.  She wanted me to know that she wanted to come, that she enjoyed the stories, but she couldn’t make it.  Other kids were doing the same, explaining that they knew nobody could bring them.  I, of course, was at a loss for words.  I smiled, and came up with an alternative.

“Does one of your parents have a phone?”  I asked.  “You can watch me online.”

Some of the other kids nodded and looked a bit relieved.  My little blonde just shrugged.  She looked a bit sad.  “We have a phone.”  She said quietly, “But there is no internet at the shelter.”   She waved and left the room.

Annual HUD pie chart from 2013 shows that over half of all homeless children are under the age of 6

I pulled the teacher aside and asked how many kids were at the school from the shelter.  She told me they had two families.

I stood there, my wishes big, my ability to fix that situation, nonexistent.  I told the teacher to find out their ages and I would make sure to have CDs for their families tonight.  The school could get them the stories the next day.  Then, they were gone and I stood alone in the room, wishing I could do something meaningful.

I thought about the fact that I’d just promised them something else to haul around from place to place.  I don’t know if they have any way to play the CDs.  What I do know is that if you have very little, everything is special. 

Watching them board the yellow school bus I had a moment of frustration.  I have nothing to give anyone but stories, and there are so many times when I feel like it is not enough!

Stories can’t feed you, or clothe you, or provide you physical shelter.

The only thing stories can give you is a small respite.  They can transport you, if only for a while, to exotic places with interesting people.  They can take you away from the worries of your life.  They can shape your consciousness, help you develop a sense of comprehension and literacy, help your brain set down patterns that will aid you in learning, but you can't eat or drink them.

Well, I can do more than tell stories, if it comes down to that.  

I can agitate for more policies that break the cycle that funnels all of the money into the top of our society, while leaving so many children and their parents out in the cold.  

Yes, I can vote, and I do.

Still, when I’m out and about sharing stories with people, I can’t help but wish I could intervene, and change the real story.  I wish I could give all children opportunities to succeed.  I wish I could make sure all children in the richest country on earth were well fed and had some place safe to call home.  I wish, I wish, I wish.  Unfortunately, the only genies that ever were, can only be found in the stories I love so well.

Happy Telling.


  1. "I have nothing to give anyone but stories, and there are so many times when I feel like it is not enough!" How many times have I said and felt those exact words. My eyes now are filling with tears of all the kids that I wanted to help and all I had were stories and sometimes, a hug.

    The child that introduced himself as "I am nobody." (and he meant what he was saying.) The students who were going home to an empty house and no food. The coal mining families that came to an evening program with the black still on their hands, the crease on their face saying "This is all I got" in the midst of a world telling them to get out of the business. And all I have is this story.

    Donna, thank you for sharing. I had someone say one time, don't you exhaust yourself giving 100% all the time? Yes, I said, and I love it. Because every person deserves my 100%. My best stories, my best listening to them, my best research, my performances, because that might be all they get that day to soothe their I will make sure they get the best. And you do the same. Okay, I have to stop, because I need to cry....and then go to my adopted school with less than 50 kids in a school and little resources to give my best.

    P.S. You didn't have my reaction on here. It is sadness and joy, disappointment and hope.

    1. Sheila, thank you for sharing that with me. Days like this one are both hard and joyous at the same time. Frustration wars with hope. You feel like the queen of fools. Thank you for giving your 100%. That's all we can do. thank you for being there for those who need you.

  2. A lump in my throat and tears in my eyes...You gave so much to that child Donna, first your stories and then your heart; you listened to her. Blessing to you and may we all continue to try and make a difference.

    1. There is so much joy in what we do, Karen. We all do what we can. I'm glad you stopped by today. Writing this blog has given me a place to speak, listen, learn, and go forward. Thank you for being such a big part of that.