where do the children play (part 2)

I was haunted by the little girl I mentioned yesterday so I went back to see what we could do. I walk in and see them immediately, mom sitting watchful over the sleeping toddler on a mat on the floor. I quietly inquire and learn that one of the staff found them on a street panhandling and hungry, and they can't speak english. I round up an old timer who's able to translate and go and sit on the floor next to the mom. After some back and forth I learn that the husband had work for a while but it's gone with the weather, they are unable to get any sort of governmental assistance as no one has papers and they have literally no money at all.

The little girl wakes up while we are talking, she is radiantly beautiful with thick black hair and chocolate eyes. I smile at her as she clings to her mama, a shy smile peeking through. After obtaining her permission to see if we can find room at a family shelter we make some calls and come up empty but weekends are tough like that and I wasn't surprised. I then ask if they need anything and the mother says they have no diapers or warm clothes beyond what is on their backs. That's easier to manage so we quickly call a co-worker and arrange delivery for all of it (thankfully with holiday generosity our supply closets are full). I can't help but notice the little girl's fingernails, they need trimming and they are black with dirt. I can't imagine how she keeps her kids clean the way they are living and even though I've seen it a thousand times I am getting soft in my old age, or better said my mothering age and I feel lost sitting there because it's still going to take a few days to find something else and this is no place for kids.

The mom stands up and as she does I realize she's not only pregnant but hugely so. She already looks young, terrified as can be, and now this. The old timer translating didn't know either, he looked at me as she stood and his eyes widened. Shit, he said in english. Embarazada, in Spanish. She nods quickly and looks at the floor and my mind is reeling. I ask her how far along and she says seven months so I ask if she's seen a doctor and she shakes her head no. I am gripped by this, this young woman terrified and homeless, about to give birth without any prenatal care sitting in the pouring rain with her child and a hundred street folks. I gently ask if she'd like to see a doctor and she nods her head yes.

Her daughter is two but acts much older. She doesn't leave her mama's lap, she doesn't fidget or complain. She sits that way for over two hours, something M could never do in a million years. She's so well behaved it breaks your heart, as if she's learned to expect so much less in such a short time. Her mom is so good with her, tender in the best sort of way, a way I fear I might not be able to muster if I were in her shoes. I am curious to know how they ended up here, how or if they crossed the border as a family, how they've survived till now but it's a dangerous topic and besides, we've only just met. I tell her in broken spanish that I have a little girl too, perhaps her daughter would like someone to play with and she nods her head yes, a smile on her face. She tells her daughter and she smiles broadly at that so I promise to return with M tomorrow and let the girls play.

I leave shortly after, on the way home I remember I need to stop at the store. I am standing in the produce section mindlessly choosing organic fruit over the other when all of a sudden I start to cry. I am looking at bananas in tears because it's fucking audacious and incomprehensible that I drive away while she sits with her daughter on her lap in a cold room on the floor and I get to choose fruit without thinking of the price. I almost want to do something crazy like throw myself on the floor and wail amidst the tomatoes, the vine ripened and the romas, the fancier ones that were probably imported from a million miles away but instead I finish, head down and purchase things we could most likely do without while a woman just like me has absolutely nothing, and I mean nothing in this world to call her own but the family around her.

Occasionally some of you ask me how I do it and today I don't know. Today I am haunted by this woman, this girl. Today I hate poverty and I hate the unfairness of money and chance and luck and lineage. I hate borders and hunger and the priorities of our nation. Today I am shamed that our house only has three people in it and we have money in the bank and food in the fridge. Today I will bring my child to a play date at a shelter because I don't know what else to do.