Kids

For non-YAV reasons, it’s been a difficult few months.

I’ve lost two gradparents in three months, and this is the first time I’ve dealt with such a loss while significantly apart from my family.

That said, my housemates have been fantastic and supportive. I’m not much of a talker and more of a “let’s go do something fun so I don’t have to think about this” person (Enneagram 7 if that means anything to you). They’ll not only go along with that, but will also check in to make sure I know they’re there when I do need to talk. They’re the best.

Anyway, unless people keep dying, I plan to update my blog more frequently from here on. Let’s talk about kids.

Kids

I fit a lot of the stereotypes of someone who is a “kid-person.” I’m a generally friendly, young woman who is active in the church. I even have several years of experience working in nurseries and I babysat frequently to earn my spending money in high school.

I’m not a kid-person.

I’m not a monster. I think babies are cute. I can interact with young people without freaking out about it. I even can find them fun at times. That said, I can be perfectly happy going days or even weeks without interacting with children. I can see a baby and appreciate that it is cute and have no desire to hold it or long for one of my own. It’s not my calling.

So, when I was asked to manage Children’s Sunday School at Northminster this fall, I figured “Okay I’m working at a church. That’s a church thing to do. Sure.” What I didn’t realize was that babysitting and teaching are completely different fields. When you’re working with infants or babysitting toddlers, you basically do whatever keeps them safe and happy. With teaching, you’re somehow supposed to do that while also getting them to learn something. I do this 1 hour a week. I can’t even imagine doing it for 8 hours 5 days a week.

One of my housemates, Tacoma, has a real gift for this. She teaches a big class every Sunday and her kids love her and they learn all the stories and she has a real relationship with each kid. Admittedly, I started my program several months after she did, so I’ve had less time to build these relationships, but even then I doubt it will be as strong.

On our very first Sunday with the new curriculum, the story that we were supposed to discuss was Ruth. I adore Ruth. I wrote several papers on the gender politics of Ruth whe in college. So, with little prep, I walked in confident of my abilities to have a good discussion with the kids on the subject.

It did not go so well. I think by the end of the lesson they might all have known the names Ruth and Naomi and maybe something about moving houses. Shockingly, third-graders didn’t want to discuss how ancient political systems treated widows and unmarried women and no one wanted to sit and listen to this  gorgeous recording of a choral setting of Ruth’s Song. They would much rather color on the whiteboard with markers that were NOT dry-erase.

Some readers might be laughing at me now, and that’s fair. I’m a little better at this now, I promise. This challenge is not one I expected when entering the year. I think I’m still learning more each week than I’m teaching, but they at least know the story by the time the lesson is over. I’m also learning more about the kids. In a nursery, kids have some personality but it’s not fully formed yet. You can treat them all pretty much the same and you’ll keep them busy and entertained for an hour. When you’re teaching, that is anything but the case. Some of them are super happy to show off their reading while some get really anxious if asked to speak. Some will completely tune out if they’re sitting still but light up and engage a lot if you can give them an activity where they move around. I’m learning so much about these kids each week and coming to the conclusion that, while a little nerve-wracking at times, they’re pretty cool folks. I’m actually looking forward to seeing them again each week.

Fundraising Update:

I’ve still got a ways to go on fundraising. Please consider writing a check to:

National Capital Presbytery,
11300 Rockville Pike Suite 1009,
Rockville MD 20802.
Attn: Debbie Golden.

Include my name and the number 02-710200-70 in the memo line.

If you would prefer to give online, here is a link to donate to the DC YAV site. A small portion of the money donated online goes to the national Presbyterian Church, but the remainder of the money goes directly to the YAV site to support me and the other DC YAVs in our work in Washington. For checks, 100% of the money donated goes directly to the site.

Photos:

I’ve been told to start posting pictures in my blog so it’ll show up when someone shares the link instead of a generic logo.I’ll start including 1-3 pics per blog post and they may or may not be relevant to the topic (in this case, they will not be since I won’t post pictures of kids without their parents consent). If you want to see more, please follow my instagram @Rookey_of_the_Year. If you’re not on instagram (looking at you Mom), you can view it on desktop. I post there more than in my blog.

Here, you’ll find me at a protest for the Green New Deal, in an NPR recording booth, and at the Northminster Holiday Party! We’ve been very busy!

Poetry:

Here’s a poem about a kid that makes me chuckle:

Dead Butterfly

By Ellen Bass

For months my daughter carried
a dead monarch in a quart mason jar.
To and from school in her backpack,
to her only friend’s house.   At the dinner table
it sat like a guest alongside the pot roast.
She took it to bed, propped by her pillow.
.
Was it the year her brother was born?
Was this her own too-fragile baby
that had lived—so briefly—in its glassed world?
Or the year she refused to go to her father’s house?
Was this the holding-her-breath girl she became there?
.
This plump child in her rolled-down socks
I sometimes wanted to haul back inside me
and carry safe again.   What was her fierce
commitment?   I never understood.
We just lived with the dead winged thing
as part of her, as part of us,
weightless in its heavy jar.

 

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We Believe

We’ve been in DC for about a month so far, and a lot of people still don’t know exactly what I’m doing here. That’s because I never actually said what I’m doing here, so I’ll fix that now.

I have two part-time placements. On Sunday mornings, and two other days during the week, you can find me at Northminster Presbyterian Church, where I’m working on a number of projects (if you want more info on the church, check out their website. I just finished rebuilding it). My primary job is to start a service program at the church, which means that my work here involves a lot of creativity and energy to reach out and build partnerships with local organizations. I also have been immersed in a really loving church community. I’m sure I’ll have many posts about the community here in the future.

The rest of the week, you’ll find me at the Presbyterian Office of Public Witness. OPW is the Presbyterian office on Capitol Hill. I get to build a policy profile and do advocacy work on the issues that interest me, reaching out to our various partners on the hill (different faith coalitions, etc) as well as directly to lawmakers. You would not think my job at Northminster has much in common with my second placement, but I find the collaborative energy to be shockingly similar, even if the environments vary greatly.

I want to alternate stories from my two placements in these posts going forward, as well as adding in stories from our house. I’m going to start with OPW.

I’ve spent many hours in the last week sitting in the front room of various Senate offices. (Ask me to compare the vibes I got from different offices; they really do reflect the Senator’s personality.) Last Thursday, I was walking between offices in the Hart Building when I heard something loud coming from downstairs. I walked towards that side of the building and realized it was chanting.

WE BELIEVE!
ANITA HILL!
WE BELIEVE!
CHRISTINE FORD!

I leaned over the railing and stared down on a group of around 30 protesters sitting down on the floor, blocking the security checkpoint I’d gone through a few hours earlier. More who were not chanting surrounded the group, holding one arm in the air. I noted several things about the group. It was mostly white and female, although not entirely so. The group had more diversity in age, with people as young as myself sitting next to women with gray-white hair.

More than the protesters, I noticed the police. There were more police present than chanting protesters. I realized that was because they paired up one officer to each protester, creating a two-person across, neat line out the door. One by one, an officer told the sitting chanters to stand up so that he could put large, white, zip-tie handcuffs around their wrists, and he passed the person off to the next officer to escort the protestor to the police van.

The whole event felt almost congenial. The protesters who only held an arm up were not arrested, presumably because they were not chanting, and those who were chanting did not seem upset at all at getting arrested. I saw an exchange between one protestor and the officer handcuffing her where she gestured at her shoulder and held her hands in front rather than in back, asking to be handcuffed in front so that some kind of shoulder issue wouldn’t hurt her. The officer complied.

On the balcony above, I straightened my blazer and quietly walked to the next senate office. I was to deliver postcards and speak politely with “any available staffer” about how gun violence is anti-peace efforts. Since that event, I’ve been thinking about the nature of working “within” and “outside” the system, and if protesting has become so mainstream, does it even count as an outside effort anymore? Does it lose effectiveness by not being as shocking, or gain power by general acceptance and established procedure? What were the police officers thinking as they went through their clearly-practiced motions?

Fundraising Update:

I’ve still got a ways to go on fundraising. Please consider writing a check to:

National Capital Presbytery,
11300 Rockville Pike Suite 1009,
Rockville MD 20802.
Attn: Debbie Golden.

Include my name and the number 02-710200-70 in the memo line.

If you would prefer to give online, here is a link to donate to the DC YAV site. A small portion of the money donated online goes to the national Presbyterian Church, but the remainder of the money goes directly to the YAV site to support me and the other DC YAVs in our work in Washington. For checks, 100% of the money donated goes directly to the site.

Poetry:

In the YAV house we’ve talked a lot about family and traditions recently, so I’ve played with this poem a bit. It touches on several relevant concepts, including the nature of travel and crossing boundaries.

Christmas, 1970

Sandra M. Castillo

We assemble the silver tree,
our translated lives,
its luminous branches,
numbered to fit into its body.
place its metallic roots
to decorate our first Christmas.
Mother finds herself
opening, closing the Red Cross box
she will carry into 1976
like an unwanted door prize,
a timepiece, a stubborn fact,
an emblem of exile measuring our days,
marked by the moment of our departure,
our lives no longer arranged.

Somewhere,
there is a photograph,
a Polaroid Mother cannot remember was ever taken:
I am sitting under Tia Tere’s Christmas tree,
her first apartment in this, our new world:
my sisters by my side,
I wear a white dress, black boots,
an eight-year-old’s resignation;
Mae and Mitzy, age four,
wear red and white snowflake sweaters and identical smiles,
on this, our first Christmas,
away from ourselves.

The future unreal, unmade,
Mother will cry into the new year
with Lidia and Emerito,
our elderly downstairs neighbors,
who realize what we are too young to understand:
Even a map cannot show you
the way back to a place
that no longer exists.

 

Sendings and Beginnings

I’m writing this post on the train to DC. We haven’t moved into the house yet and I haven’t even met my site coordinator in-person. Naturally, I’m anxious to see what happens, but I already have a story to share.

We spent the last week in orientation, or, as they corrected us on the first day, disorientation. We discussed difficult issues such as power dynamics that will come up during our year of service, how to build intentional communities, the real purpose of volunteer work (and not being a voluntourist), and racial and social boundaries that we should be cognizant of during our year. The week was helpful, intellectually stimulating, and relevant. It was also occasionally depressing but that’s how reality is sometimes.

If you want to read more about the topics we covered, I’m sure 10 other YAVs are writing blog posts about it. For now, I want to talk about the last day.

On the last day of (dis)orientation, each YAV visited a nearby church for a commissioning service. A church member (I’m not using names because I forgot to ask for permission) picked up me and two other YAVs, took us to the service and then out to a nice lunch, and dropped us off back at Stony Point. The church that I attended was small. I come from a very large church back in Little Rock, so the small church vibe is a little unusual to me. However, I couldn’t have felt more at home. What surprised me most was not just the eager welcome from the congregation, or even the pianist’s incredible display of talent in improvising a rendition of Bridge Over Troubled Water that brought tears to my eyes. I was most surprised when I spoke with several members of the congregation after the service, and I realized that we weren’t just YAVs visiting a church anymore. At some point we became their YAVs.

I found such comfort in that knowledge. For the next year, I’ll be living in the biggest city I’ve ever lived in while being the furthest from home I’ve ever been for an extended period of time. I know I have the support of my home community and I’m very grateful for that, but I think it’s really cool to have a little church in Cold Spring New York on my side as well. So here’s to you, First Presbyterian Church of Philipstown. I’ll definitely find my way back to you some day.

Fundraising Update:

Y’all I’m pretty behind on fundraising from the start, but I hope that you can support me. Please consider writing a check to:
National Capital Presbytery,
11300 Rockville Pike Suite 1009,
Rockville MD 20802.
Attn: Debbie Golden.
Include my name and the number 02-710200-70 in the memo line.

If you would prefer to give online, here is a link to donate to the DC YAV site. A small portion of the money donated online goes to the national Presbyterian Church, but the remainder of the money goes directly to the YAV site to support me and the other DC YAVs in our work in Washington. For checks, 100% of the money donated goes directly to the site.

Social Media:

I’ll post a few pictures throughout the year on this blog and on Facebook, but if you want to see the most of my year, I’d recommend following me on Instagram @Rookey_of_the_Year. I don’t have much up there yet, but I will definitely be posting more once I get to my site. You can also see pictures of what YAVs are doing all over the world by following @yavprogram.

Poems:

I love poetry. I’m no poet myself, but I love to read it. I think I’m going to try adding poems that feel relevant to the end of my blog posts, at least for a while. For my first post, I wanted to add a poem about jumping off a cliff, beginning a journey, something like that. However, I realized that all the famous poems that came to my mind about taking action in that way were written by white men. I may add some poems by white men later but I want to heavily feature poems by women and people of color. So instead I leave you with one that reads as strikingly current despite being written 25 or so years ago.

What Kind of Times Are These
By Adrienne Rich

There’s a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I’ve walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don’t be fooled
this isn’t a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won’t tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won’t tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it’s necessary
to talk about trees.