Tuesday, March 20, 2007

the boy in the box

She gave birth to him without insurance, without prenatal care, without knowing much about anything. She labored alone, birthed alone, and held her baby alone.

The next day she was asked to leave. The birth was normal, they told her. It's time to go. You do have somewhere to go, right? (the answer to this question needs to be yes) and so she left. Alone, she left the hospital and waited at the bus station. Her clothes and the blankets from the hospital wrapped around the baby.

The bus came and she got on. There is a bus that rides all night long, it's infamous; a mobile shelter of sorts. She rode, and as she rode she got to know her son. She gave him a very big name, four different names with many syllables, so many perhaps, to cloak himself with. His name is very exotic, it's fit for a king. Her son and his very big name.

After two days of riding the bus she got off. Hungry and tired, unsure. A mother. Somehow she was directed to us, somehow she wandered in. Head down, voice low, she mumbled. A mumbler, I thought. Mumbling isn't good.

At her feet was a box, a box one might think is full of clothes, of a few belongings. As she waited at the counter the box made a noise. A noise making box, I thought. This also isn't good.

She reached down and lifted up the boy with many names. A baby is in that box, I thought. This is really, really not so good.

I am so tired of riding the bus, she said. I can't do it anymore. And nor should you. You must be hungry, let's get you something to eat.

She pushes up her sleeve when she sits down, medical bracelet still on her wrist. I notice then there is one on her son, it's still there too. May I hold your baby so you can eat? Only if I sit right there, and sitting right there is fine with me.

He is beautiful. A head full of hair, snuggled in sleep. He sighs and jerks. You must be exhausted, I say. She's yet to look me in the eye.

As luck would have it, we have room for them. After dinner she settles in, other moms swarm around her, advice brimming, useful and not. She sits quietly, head lowered. I imagine her wishing she could disappear. She holds her son to her chest.

In the morning she takes her baby to the makeshift clinic onsite. The nurse says he's fine, and makes sure she knows how to feed him. It's not often she gets to show someone how to do that, and she's kind with the woman, so kind. She finds a can of formula, just in case you need a break or he's still hungry after you feed him, she says. She also arranges to see them again tomorrow, and somehow that made things feel a bit better, at least for me. Please, I say. I know, the nurse says. I'll do all I can to help.

I met her three years ago this month, this woman and the boy in the box with four very big names. After six months we lost track of them, but I hope those six months mattered. She lived in the shelter, and she learned how to be a mom, perhaps not in that order, but together all the same. This boy and his mom, in a different sort of box, a kind not so easily disposed of. I remember this night like it was yesterday.

I can't help but think about how M was born six months after he was, and how they are so close in age and yet so far apart. I wonder how we can make that gap smaller, and not just for this boy in a box with four very big names.

56 comments:

Tabba said...

Oh my goodness, Jen. I don't even know what to say. You wrote this so beautifully. I felt every word.

And that not knowing....sheesh. I hope that they made it somewhere better than that bus.

Thailand Gal said...

As Tabba said, I wa right there with you. If this doesn't convince you that you *are* a writer ~ with a *message* ~ well, I guess nothing will.


peace,

~Ch

Oh, The Joys said...

Beautiful writing indeed.

and I think all of us that are parents feel it right in the gut.

The Atavist said...

What a sad story. I wonder, where were the parents who should have been helping and loving their daughter and their grandchild. But of course that is probably a silly question.

alejna said...

Jen, you are amazing. You write so beautifully, so movingly. You do so much in your work, and so much by sharing your stories, your insights.

You ask about narrowing the gap. I really think it's people like you who will make it possible for that gap to be narrowed. Because you not only care, you make others see the gap, feel the gap, feel appalled by the gap. You plant the seeds of change in the minds of many.

slouching mom said...

Oh, Jen, this is beautiful and sad, both.

Thanks for writing this.

ECR said...

I got sucked in by every single word in that story. Four Very Big Names sounds like it could be a book to help children understand homelessness. As Alejna said, your words make others see and feel the gap--why not tell the story to kids, too?

Penny said...

My Dear Lord, I can't imagine spending the hours after having Ophelia riding an all-night bus, without anything but a box and a baby.

How is it possible, that this is how things become... More importantly, how is it possible to help.

You are working wonders, Jen.

God Bless you.

BTW: ECR has an excellent idea in your Four Big Names titling a children's story on homelessness. I wholeheartedly agree that you could do it and what a gift that would be as your words and compassion enter the sweetest minds as they grow to understand and help.

You have a powerful gift, Jen.

Mrs. Chicken said...

Jen. How does a soul recover from the work you do? How can you go forward with these stories in your heart?

I am in awe of you and your giant soul.

I have to do something to help. You are forcing me off my ass for the first time in a long time.

Thank you.

jen said...

ECR, sister, god knows you can help me write that book.

Ms. Chicken, thank you. truly.

Everyone, thank you. really. you are the first people I've really ever shared any of this with, and I had no idea how it would be received. I am overwhelmed by your grace and kindess.

Sober Briquette said...

I just read this aloud to Fiona.

Before I saw the comments, I was thinking, this needs to be published.

I'm all caught up and I'll email you this week about the supportive housing plan they're trying to hatch here.

Kyla said...

Wow. This is powerful stuff. Beautifully written.

theflyingmum said...

I believe that nothing happens purely by chance - that there is a reason they made it to you. Maybe this post is that reason? I know that after reading it, I want to do more.

karrie said...

Thank you for writing this Jen.

The sad thing is how common her story is. People need to know that mothers with young children are unfortunately victims of homelessness at shocking and increasing rates.

I hope somehow that life gave this woman and her son a break.

QT said...

Jen - I don't know how you do it. It is hard for me to imagine being in a situation where I didn't even have ONE person I could call.

I guess that in and of itself makes me fortunate.

metro mama said...

The gaps are so heartbreakingly wide, aren't they.

Joker The Lurcher said...

i don't know what to say about this one. thank you for doing what you do. mothers all over the world have more in common than we have differences

kristen said...

This is so beautifully written Jen, so powerful. It's amazing how deep that box can be and how very lucky we really are.

Blog Antagonist said...

Oh my God... What an awful and wonderful story. Awful that any mother should have to bring a child into this world alone, wonderful that she found you. Thanks for sharing that.

Andrea said...

What a gorgeous and heartbreaking story.

Thank you for writing it.

Undercover Angel said...

What a beautiful story! You had me on the edge of my seat. I really hope she and the baby are still doing well. It really makes you wonder why her parents weren't helping her, but she was so lucky that you were there to help her...

Tabba said...

There is a present for you over my way.

Cristi said...

Now that is thinking and writing outside the box.

"So close... yet so far apart."
Wow.

Denguy said...

Very poetic.
I donate money and clothes to under privileged children. I couldn't help them in person, I'm not strong enough for that.
You are so powerful.

NotSoSage said...

jen, you're amazing. What a beautiful story, beautifully told. Now I will think of all of you -- you, M, her, the boy in the box with four very big names -- and do what I can, when I can, to bridge that gap.

Mad Hatter said...

You keep giving. Every day. To so many and then to us as well.

Jen, you are a gift.

Bob said...

Millard Fuller, who was kicked out of Habitat for Humanity, has formed a new organization with a similar goal - to build affordable housing for all who need it here in his home town. The new organization was formed in January and they are currently working on six houses. Some of them were abandoned houses that were taken over by the city and donated to the organization. These houses were razed and new houses built on the site.

I don't know if this could apply in other places, but it is amazing the response it has gotten here. People have come from all over the US to donate their labor. Companies are holding fundraisers where they match (sometimes double) what their employees donate; materials are donated, etc.

I know that someone homeless, without a job cannot afford even subsidized mortgages that come with these houses, but it is a start. People who spend their money renting can get an opportunity to own a house, build equity and a chance to prosper.

As these people move up, maybe the subsidized housing they are vacating can then open up for these people you help. Once they have a stable place to stay, they can have an address from which they can job hunt, someplace for their kids to stay, a roof that isn't changing every night.

maybe.

it has to start somewhere.

urban-urchin said...

Jen the heart and capacity for love and caring you have are amazing. You inspire me daily.

I cried reading this, I can not fathom being discharged with a new baby and having nowhere to go. Thank God she could come to you. I pray the Boy with Four Names is well.

KC said...

Yes. Children's book. I love it.

Please write it.

flutter said...

Jenn that was the most beautiful thing I have ever read.
Your compassion gives me something to aspire to, and I know tonight I will go to sleep thinking of her, and her son with four very big names

Rachel Briggs said...

I am sure most of us cried when we read this. Beautifully written and made my heart ache.

Thank you

Beck said...

That broke my heart.

Ruth Dynamite said...

Jen, you stun me with your words, and it warms my heart that you give even the mumblers a clear, loud voice.

deb said...

I always tell my kids that family is the most important thing, family is the place you go when no one else will help you. But what happens to people with no family?
It's so sad, everyone deserves a family, needs a family. We can't do it alone, we all need help.
I hope she found a family, or made one for herself.
And I'm glad she found your shelter.

Karly said...

Wow. You write beautifully.

I don't think I've ever been here before, but I just added you to my google reader.

kgirl said...

your writing is so compassionate, so poignant. i don't know how you do the things you do - i'm not sure i could handle the heartbreak that must accompany the hope.

Susanne said...

Thank you very much for that story. And the sad thing is that there are many babies like that out there and a lot have it even worse.

Thank you for reminding us.

(And I love the new quote in your header.)

Tracey said...

Oh my...such a powerful moment in time. Thank you for opening up this window into the world.

Deezee said...

the things you see...and you remain optimistic. That is an incredible gift/skill/talent. these stories deserve a larger audience. truly.

Laurie said...

Oh Jen, this post made me cry like a baby. You are an amazing person with a gift for writing. You are making a difference in the world, one person at a time.

Lillithmother said...

Jen, this story gave me chills all over my body...chills of fear that they didn't make it. *sob*

Gawd Jen, I don't know how you do it...

I try to give my baby clothes and toys etc to a local teenage mother shelter...after reading this, it doesn't feel like it's enough though...I want to offer my roof and food and every ounce of love and compassion I can squeeze out of my own exhausted mother's body.

Jen, what MORE can we do...us women that are bonded through the mere fact that we're mothers with an instinct to wrap our children in the bare necessities regardless of our situation.

Lil

mamatulip said...

Jen,

Yours is a blog that I read religiously. I hate to miss a post. Everything that you write touches me, teaches me, inspires me, makes me more aware. More thankful. More grateful...and sometimes, I must admit, a little ashamed. Ashamed of all that I have when there are people every day living with so much less. People that you see every single day.

The way you write about your job, about the souls you see and the situations they face, the social justice -- and injustice -- captivates me. You deserve more than a blog...your words can, and should, reach millions.

You should write a book.

I'm 100% serious.

Anjali said...

I'm so moved, I'm not even sure what to say.

Except that I will go back and read it again right now.

dionna said...

Beautifully written. It reminds me of the days I worked with at risk youth. If only there was something more I could have done.

Mrs. Chicky said...

I'm heartbroken just thinking of a days old baby being shuttled around in a box, and about a mother forced to put her child in a cardboard bed.

Beautifully written, Jen. I don't know how you do it. The writing and the work.

crazymumma said...

I am not usually speechless Jen. But that. That was incredible. Tonight when I lie down I will say a little prayer, in my own non believing way, a little prayer for the two of them.

Cristi said...

Jen is definitely inspiring to say the least. She's like "the girl with the weight of the world in her hands" but doesn't think it is heavy.

I wrote two posts this week on the topic of homelessness. I can't say I've done anything to help, but I'm more aware and that is the first step. Thanks.

Emily said...

This was beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. The story and your telling of it, the calling of this child four very big names...I have to agree with thailand gal...you are really a writer with a message and you have a beautiful way with words.

kim said...

How do you keep your heart from breaking? You do amazing work and when you write about it you give a voice and a face to the homeless.

Adwina - Mom of 1 cute boy said...

A beautiful story...a touching writing...

You deserve this award, Jen...

You are awarded BLOG OF THE WEEK. Hope you enjoy it.

BTW, you can get the logo. Simply send me an e-mail at adwina at insparenting dot com.

Have a great weekend...

carrie said...

Oh my . . . speechless.

Carrie

christina said...

I loved this post and admire you so much for opening your home to someone who needed you.

Velma said...

This is a beautiful piece of writing. Thank you for sharing it. Each time someone writes a moving but simple tale like this and then someone else reads it, the ripples spread, and that is a wonderful thing.

Sandra said...

I have tears. For your beautiful writing. For the boy with the four long names. For the gap.

You touch me everytime you hit publish you know that?

liv said...

You are a miracle. Honestly, namaste. The light within you is so great.

ewe are here said...

Oh good lord. I came over to 'catch up' a bit...saw the nomination...and now I'm crying.

Maybe it's just because I have a sleeping baby in my lap at the moment...and he's so new and precious...and I can't even imagine not having a home and support and a couch to be sitting on quietly with him.

I don't understand the world sometimes. These things just shouldn't happen.

I hope they're alright.