This story is about winter. It’s also about how our children’s questions can nudge us in positive directions.
We live in the cold far south of Australia, but our family is lucky to be able to get cozy by the fire. We can put on our winter coats and brave the icy winds that make their way across the Southern Ocean from Antarctica and seem to blow right through you, and we can curl up in our warm beds and sleep soundly through these dark, chilly nights.
As a child, when the weather got cold I would think about the animals. I worried about all the horses and cows in paddocks without shelter, birds huddled together to keep warm, and I felt real concern for for them. As an adult, I can’t help but wonder about the people who don’t have shelter, those very vulnerable members of our communities who sleep rough. I can’t imagine their discomfort.
Back in April I cleared out the chldren’s wardrobes, making a pile of outgrown things to give away or donate to charity. I packed away summer dresses and shorts, brought back last year’s woolies and coats, and assessed what winter things the kids needed – pyjamas, socks, gloves, etc… I found an old coat of Stephen’s which he hadn’t worn for about five years. A long, formal, double breasted woollen overcoat, it had been around for perhaps 15 years (it predates me in his life). We discussed whether he had any further use for it, and whether it should go in the charity pile. We agreed that it might keep someone warm this winter and that this would be better than it hanging, unworn in the wardrobe for another year. So off it went, with the children’s old things, and I didn’t give it another thought.
Oesch and I were headed for the library one cold morning, having dropped Doots off at kinder. The library doesn’t open until 9.30 so we warmed up with a coffee and babycino at a cafe up the street. As we left the cafe, wrapped in our winter coats and giggling as we watched our breath form little clouds in front of our faces, a man walked past, wearing Stephen’s coat. I’d have recognised those lapels anywhere. We followed him down the street and into the library. Tailored navy overcoat aside, he looked all worn out, he looked homeless. It occurred to me that the library would be a haven for people without a home. It’s warm, you don’t have to buy anything, you can read the paper, a book, use a computer or find a quiet corner and sit with your thoughts.
That night over dinner I told Stephen about how we’d spotted the coat. It didn’t occur to me that Doots was listening – but of course she was. A couple of days later she asked…
Mum, why doesn’t everyone have a home?
Over a couple of days we talked, I answered her questions, and she told me how it made her feel sad to think about people sleeping outside on cold nights. She drew a picture – ‘it’s a big house for homeless people to all live in together – there’s a sign with a sad person on it and everyone inside is happy’.
Stephen is a committee member of a not-for-profit homeless men’s shelter, and we give money every year to charities but I realised that we needed to be making a practical contribution that would make sense to an almost-five-year-old, something that she could participate in. I found a small organisation which distributes hot food and drinks, blankets, sleeping bags, toiletries and warm clothing to those in need on Hobart’s streets every weekend. They receive no government funding and rely on donations. The coordinator said they would be thrilled to accept home made soup, and baked goods like cakes, slices, biscuits, sausage rolls, etc. She didn’t need to say any more.
The children and I shopped together for ingredients for soup. Doots nominated Alphabet Soup, which I cunningly transformed into a hearty and nourishing minestrone, made with homemade stock, left-over roast pork, chick peas and lots of fresh vegetables…. finished with some tiny pasta alphabet shapes and stirred with a whole lotta love.
Next week we’ll make cake, and we have some friends who are keen to join in on a regular basis. I think it’s been a great way for Doots to understand that she can be an active agent in the world – that if something is not right, she can follow her instincts and find a way to help, regardless of how small it might seem. Minestrone is not going to solve the complex problem of homelessness, but last Friday night a few hungry bellies were filled with steaming mugfuls of goodness, thanks to my little girl’s big concerns.
Has your child asked any ‘big’ questions recently?