My parents help the homeless and underprivileged. Because of their work, I have seen (and experienced) many things most kids have not: families struggling with finances, food, clothing, and the need for proper medical attention. I have learned not to take these things for granted just because they come without effort for my family. Poverty is a terrible thing to experience hands-on, from which I have learned so much. My love for these people and desire to help grows every time I am with them.
There hasn't been one holiday that I have spent with only family. Every Thanksgiving, Christ-mas, and Easter we go to our city's huge coliseum to serve hundreds of men, women, and children a warm holiday meal. Sometimes I wish that we could have family time around the holidays, but I have never regretted it. It feels good to be unselfish when "me, me, me" seems the motto of the holidays.
I remember one Christmas when I was 12 years old. We were at our traditional spot in the coliseum. I was taking plates to our hungry, excited guests. I looked around at their grateful expressions and my smile widened. They were all beautiful in their own way.
I carried a plate to an old-looking man holding a frail, crying baby. The baby could not have been more than two months old. I sat next to him, curious, wondering what an old man was doing with an infant on a winter day. Not knowing whether it'd be rude, I asked, "Where'd you get that baby?"
The man stared at the baby with a sad look. When he did not answer, I asked, "Well, what's her name?"
The old man, now watching me, whispered, "I do not know." He must have seen my confused look, because he began telling me the baby was not his. He spoke slowly and quietly, explaining that he was walking by an alley a few nights before and had seen a young boy of about six. He was sitting on an upside-down crate, holding the bundled-up baby, as they both cried. There was no mother around so the man decided to take the baby from the boy. The little boy did not say a word. He jumped up from the crate and ran as fast as he could down the street - out of sight, leaving the man with the baby.
My throat twisted and knotted as I listened. I swallowed hard. The baby was still crying so I offered to hold her so he could eat. As I rocked her, I could feel her shaking. She had probably had nothing to eat for days, maybe longer.
The man watched me as he ate. He started shaking his head slowly and suddenly said, "Take her. I have to work. Take her, please."
I was startled. This man was asking me, a little girl, to keep this baby. I didn't say anything. I just got up and ran to my mom.
"Mom, Mom, come here - quick!" I took her hand and pulled her to the table. "Mom, look, we have to take this baby. He works. He needs us to take her, Mom, please!" I stared at my mom and then at the baby.
She said, "Sydney, what are you thinking? We can't help everyone. We do what we can. If we took in every baby that needed us, we'd have a house full."
I screamed at her. I was angry and my heart was broken. I wanted to help so badly. "Mom! Please! We have to take her, Mom! Please! Please, Mom!" I couldn't help it ... tears streamed down my face. I held the baby so hard. I just wanted to help!
Mom said no again and I wanted to hit her. I felt she was being selfish; I just didn't understand.
My mom sat and counseled the man while I held the baby. She was trying to help him find a place for the baby. Finally, they both agreed that a foster home would be the best option.
I cried harder. They can't take this baby from me, I thought, stubbornly, although eventually they did. They practically had to pry her from my arms. I said a prayer for her that night and had a dream that she was with a cute couple in a small, comfortable house, as happy as can be. The thought comforted me. I tried not to think whether it was true. Maybe I will never know. All I can do is pray.
Now I understand why I couldn't take that motherless child in. I wasn't thinking what would help her in the long run. I was angry at my mother's decision then, but I wasn't being realistic. I admire my parents for doing what they do. All day long they attend to the gripes and needs of the homeless and still come home to griping, needy kids and undone chores. I'm thankful for their patience. My parents have taught me love and kindness. And that is a lesson that I will use throughout my life. fl
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.