Saturday, July 31, 2010

Reality, Race, and the Woman who knew What Mattered


My daycare, which I had worried would never get going, suddenly filled up. I had eight school age children. I couldn't believe I was getting $400 a week to go play in the pool at the park. Every month I filled out a form for the welfare office reporting how many kids were in the daycare and how much I was paid. My financial worker then worked out some kind of formula and either issued a welfare check for the next month or didn't. Usually we still received some kind of check, even if small, and Andrew remained on Medicaid.

Wilson called, "Send me $100 for a bus ticket so I can come home." I wired the money right away. He received the money, but didn't come home.

When Wilson finally came home a month later, he started outpatient alcohol treatment. Once a week I went along to meet with him and his counselor. I talked about how difficult it was to live with Wilson's drinking, and Wilson complained about how I didn't clean or cook well.

Early one morning, someone pounded on our door. It was one of Wilson's friends from jail. A couple of our day care children had already arrived and were playing on the living room floor. Wilson told the guy to wait outside. Needing his shoes, Wilson ran upstairs to the bedroom, where I was dressing Andrew. He was upstairs just a moment when we heard one of the children crying. Rushing downstairs, we found the man in the house. He was stoned on something and had tripped over a baby.

"Go on! Get out! Don't you ever come around here high again!" Wilson hollered.

Later that week, Annie and others showed up on our porch with an empty bottle they wanted to fill using our outside lawn hose. It was a hot day, so I didn't see any problem with that.

"No," Wilson told her, "We're running a day care here. You go somewhere else."

"Why couldn't they fill it?" I asked him.

"They were going to spray Lysol into the water and drink it."


A powwow was being held in the basement of Holy Rosary Church and the kids wanted to go. Wilson stayed home. I think he had an upholstery job to finish. So I took Junior, Joy, and Andrew by myself. This powwow was different than most. It wasn't a contest and there were no cash prizes. It was a powwow to honor the elders and children and they did something I had never seen before. After the grand entry, gifts were given out to the people, courtesy of the tribal government. Our kids stood in front of me watching in excited anticipation as the gift givers came close, then looked on in obvious disappointment as the gift givers passed them by. My guess: they weren't given gifts because the woman standing with them was the wrong color.

I was used to Indians hating white people, so it came as a surprise when I ran into an Indian woman who didn’t. One morning I opened my front door to a tall, beautiful Indian woman. She had a five-year-old son who needed day care. I proudly showed her our play equipment and described the federal food program we were on.

"This is great," she responded, "but I'd like to visit one other house to be sure. Do you know of anyone else that has an opening?"

My neighbor had asked a day earlier if we could send a child her way. I decided to give the mother that number. I was sure we'd still get the child. After all, my neighbor was white. Surely this Indian woman will decide we are the preferable daycare.

To my surprise, she chose our neighbor.

"Your neighbor had only her own two children over there, so I felt my son would get more one on one attention."

But that wasn't the only thing that struck me about this woman. A professional in her career, she was educated and self-assured. At a later date, I had an opportunity to ride with her to a Pow-wow. During the drive, she described what she saw wrong in Indian country.

"A whole generation was sent away to boarding schools. While there, they were beaten if they used their native language. But most important, they lost the opportunity to learn parenting skills from their parents. Instead, they learned their parenting skills from institutions. So we are now raising children without the benefit of parenting skills. It is going to take time to heal. But the healing can only come from within the tribal community. No one can do it for us."

1 comment:

Cattle and Cupcakes said...

And yet, today, our children are being parented by televisions. I wonder if our society will ever heal from that hurt.