Make Good Ripples

Everybody needs your help

Clearing out some emails tonight, I saw the subject of one reading, “Seniors in Isolation Need Your Help.” My first thought was, gosh, really, when you think about it, everybody needs my help. The kids crying and traumatized in concentration (I mean, detention) camps need my help. Isolated senior citizens need my help. Whales swallowing plastic need my help. The neighbor down the street whose basement was flooded last week needs my help. A friend starting to acknowledge the severity of her ailing mother needs my help. And by golly, these crazy boys living in my house sure do need a LOT more help curbing their misdirected urine, intense energy and spontaneous life-threatening poor decisions.

It’s pretty easy to become scatterbrained clicking on every email and every story and every social media post calling out for your help. It’s pretty easy to start thinking that the world is completely falling apart based on the endless cries for help. And it’s pretty easy to start feeling hopeless that there’s no way this one aging, exhausted mother of three is ever going to meet all those cries for help.

It seems to me, though, that the key to saving the world is by focusing on the little thing right in front of you and letting the love spread. A colleague of mine ends all her emails with the words “Make good ripples.” This has been sitting on my mind. When I talk to undergraduate and graduate students and professionals about what can be done to tackle the enormous and complicated construct of poverty in this country, I ask them to think of small things that can be done every day to make a difference. Give someone a smile. Hold the door open. Make eye contact. Share a hug. The smallest gesture of acknowledging the humanity in one another will make good ripples. It will share a little joy that can spread into bigger and bigger ripples of service and advocacy.

Take that one step further and find a charity that matches your passion, whether it’s with children or animals, homelessness or the elderly, the environment or your house of worship. Become a monthly donor to sustain their work. Sign up for emails or texts to provide you with daily or weekly action points, such as calling or writing to your representative about issues. Read wisely and become informed. Listen to others’ stories and speak for those who cannot.

Another key is having appropriate expectations for oneself. There was a period of time in my life when I worked full-time, parented young kids and spent hours and hours every week opening up a non-profit to care for children and families. That was a time that I could hear the cry for help and meet the need. But I can’t work at that level, survive on reduced sleep at that level, and not be present for my own children at that level every day. My expectation has shifted to match my current situation and now I look for other ways to spread joy and serve.

Some days one can wander along the path of despair in the vastness of the need. Some days it can seem like there is no way to make a difference. Some days, you just have to refocus on meeting the needs of a few people at a time, knowing that tomorrow always brings new opportunities. I know that I can not save the world myself, but I know that I can continue to love others, serve others and make good ripples.

What Single Parents Dream Of

Every year my sister takes her kids on a “Single Parents Weekend Retreat.” This year my kids begged me to go too with stories of zip lines and giant swings and swimming pools. The place on Lake Erie was packed with kids and many many parents, most of us women. The main speaker was to talk on passing on the “legacy of love” but she was neither a single parent, nor was she even a parent. My mind drifted to wondering how these parents all got to this place.

Did they make a conscious choice to parent through private or foster care adoption? Had they been in relationships that ended with tragedy or separation? Were they stressed by their current situation or had they come to grips with single parenting? Was this just a “phase” of their life with them constantly seeking something different or did they plan to remain a “single parent”?

Most days I realize that I don’t identify myself strongly as a “single parent,” I’m just parenting. And I am thankful every day to have the privilege to be a part of these boys’ lives (even on the days that Mr. Ornery suggests that I go find a new family to join!). I love each boy. I love being a parent in so many ways, but every once in a while I dream of:

  • Someone to jump in at the end of a long day and volunteer to put the kids to bed! Oh, that would be heaven on earth. What would I do with the gift of two free hours that usually entail repetitious phrases such as “pee, wash hands, brush teeth,” “pick 3 books (and not that one again!),” “lay down and go to sleep.” Lay down and go to sleep. Huh – I could probably read a book. I mean, an adult book!
  • The presence of another parent who also had the “responsibility” for the kids and I could leave them while going out with friends, or on a run or doing errands without having to beg my mother or pay a babysitter to keep the kids alive.
  • Knowing there’s another adult in the house who could find a baseball bat and creak downstairs when you hear a noise.
  • Someone who would share in cleaning a few rooms in the house, or take out the trash, or help in shoveling the snow from the driveway.
  • Really just someone who would pack up the car for the road trip and then complete the dreaded unpacking at the end of vacation. Slugging around suitcases is really not my favorite thing at all.
  • An extra chauffeur for the soccer Saturdays when one kid is at one field at 10:00 and the “travel team” boy needs to be 45 minutes away for a 10:30 game. Let’s throw in gymnastics, basketball, flag football, inline hockey….it’s only getting worse. Hence, the poor Little Guy won’t be starting sports until he’s 25!
  • The comfort of knowing that in an emergency, there would be an extra hand or someone to stay home with a couple boys while I ran one of them to the doctor for stitches or a cast! There was a close call when Little Guy sprayed Deet in his eyes, but we survived that one.
  • Having a partner in making a whole host of decisions from where to buy a house for the “right” school district to what to make for dinner (because asking the boys has only resulted in “mac and cheese” and “chicken nuggets” as less-than-desirable answers).
  • Riding in the passenger seat of the car so that I’m not breaking up fights or switching DVDs or handing out food to quiet the backseat wolves at the same time as trying not to run off the road or into another moving target.
  • Someone to pamper and take care of me. I spend all day giving of myself to others at work and then at home, constantly making sure the kids are safe and relatively comfortable. I spend more time on their social life than I do my own. I worry more about what they’re doing and how they’re feeling than I think about myself. It sure would be nice to have someone pay attention to me (other than to ask for a glass of cold water!).
  • A nice warm stretch of sand without a single human being under the age of 24 in sight and a cool drink in one hand and a mindless novel in the other. That’s what single parents dream of!beach footprints