When Theo was three going on four, we went all over Golden Gate Park exploring one of the finest parks America has to offer.
Such as De Young,
Academy of Science,
with outdoor music to raise the soul’s aspiring heights,
these four of many institutes gave Theo ideas of how society is structured. The park is 52 blocks long and nine blocks wide, giving a lot of space for people to gather their thoughts and find new solutions to problems that rack a person’s life.
Of course, in any such large space, with homelessness increasing each year, (some years greater than others such as 2008) there are people not just contemplating how to solve a problem,
but try and make a problem of shelter into a viable solution of survival.
He being just three, the complexity of homelessness was hard for him to grasp. Therefore, rather than have him deal with abstract ideas of what it is, I made sure we sat down and interchanged with groups of them. In San Francisco, there are several thousand trying to survive. Several hundred of them, make the Golden Gate Park their permanent residence, therefore many days were spent listening and interacting with the shelter challenged individuals.
One day while we were interacting with them, it dawns on him and he blurts out to me, “Where do they sleep Ama?”
For some particular reason he always called me Ama rather than momma, until he reached age of public schooling. Then his classmates taught him momma was more the common term of referring to ones mother. From those days on, I was momma, mom, or mother rather than Ama.
“Well son they sleep many places, under bushes, under trees, many different places.” I responded.
He was silent for a moment, then he asked, “Can I see where they sleep?”
“It would mean you have to get up early to see for yourself.” I replied. “I mean very early, much earlier than you have ever risen.”
Again the silence indicating deep in thought, “That’s okay, I want to know!”
Referring back to The Landing, I have a stubborn streak wider than the Mississippi River on my back, and somehow those genes were carried forth to my son, only his back is a tad bit smaller than mine.
At the time, we were living at the Civic Center residence
and several hundred people shared the building as their shelter. A hotel was converted from a single night occupancy into the room being a month occupancy. First, there was the waiting list, then acceptance, and finally if you passed the hurdles, a year lease was signed with month by month occupancy thereafter. We lived there for a year and a half on the sixth floor before moving into a house in Palo Alto.
Therefore everyone living there became ‘family’. It is extremely difficult not to know everybody’s business and mainly the best was expected of each other. Every person’s best was different from all the rest, each person operates at different levels of functionality.
By the time he asked the question, “Where do they sleep, Ama?”, most of our neighbors/family were quite accustomed to the fact I chose to raise Theo in a slightly different manner than most people’s parental pattern.
Still, did I really want to take Theo out past midnight in the park?
So I kept Theo up until 11 pm, trying to make him exhausted. He crawled into bed to take a ‘nap’, only to have his eyes pop open promptly at 1 am.
” Let’s go Ama!” He excitedly said. But I dragged my feet thinking maybe if I am slow this will get him tired and he’s going to go back to sleep. Didn’t work. He was bound to KNOW where they slept each night. Remember that this is a three year old, he was working on his fourth year but he hadn’t quite made it yet.
All the different hurdles set before him, he gently reminded me I HAD promised to show him where they slept. Going past the desk clerk and security guard was the easy part of judgement from folks who know a child is suppose to be in bed at 3am in the morning! They only frowned slightly at me,
unlike the folks on the 5 Fulton bus which was a 24 hr service line, those caring people gave me downright the ‘evil eye’!
By the time we got to Golden Gate Park, the ‘evil eye’ turned into complete confusion (about a twenty minute bus ride), because they overheard our conversation about where they might be sleeping. Through logical reasoning, they began grasping a brief view of the iceberg I was trying to steer in the vast ocean of life.
Raising Theo has got be one of my greatest gifts and challenges at the same intwined time!
Once we get off the bus and get about a football field’s length into the park,
he realizes it is very very dark and scarey out at this hour. Street lights aren’t part of every block and light is a rare commodity, therefore he grabs my leg a squeezes like I have NEVER felt before or ever again during my raising of Theo.
“It’s okay love!” I say in my quiet calm tone. “It’s just the dark, give your eyes time to adjust… It’ll be okay.” Several minutes later his eyes adjust, he unlocks my leg from his grasp and he starts to seek the answer to his question.
Earlier I had given the heads-up letting our friends know Theo was on a mission to KNOW what exactly they did every night.
Therefore, everybody knew a visitor was going to be in their camp that night.
not a single person awakened,
Theo was so careful at being quiet, never once did we disturb anyone’s sleep cycle. Also between 2am and 5am most people’s sleep is their deepest,
(Later in another piece I’ll address violations occurring at that hour by profiteering personnel) therefore, it didn’t surprise me, that much, of them sleeping through our ‘visit’.
After we had visited most of the people he knew, and it wasn’t quite sunrise, he took us to the playground and there under the boat we slept. (The boat no longer is there.) An hour after sunrise he arose.
“It’s cold and hard sleeping that way!” He said ever so quiet with an awesome respect intwined within his tone. “Is that why they die so early Ama?”
“Yes, my son, living on the streets can kill you earlier than need be!” I quietly answered.