When The World Isn’t Pretty: How I Learned From My Teen

I didn’t want to see it. We were on our summer family vacation in California, and I wanted to slap on my rose-colored glasses and frolic in ignorant bliss. But my 14-year-old son could see nothing else.

We were staying on the Santa Monica Pier in California, bustling with tourists, but also the resting place for many homeless citizens. In fact, right outside our window was a man who had set up on a sidewalk bench. His belongings were covered with burlap, and he spent his time pacing and writing in notebooks.

Our first night there, my son asked me if he could give something to the man. My response was, “Honey, I don’t want to engage.”  This was pretty hypocritical of me, considering my daughter and I participate in a charity league. But those experiences are in controlled environments, and this particular instance, I must confess, played into my fears and stereotypes.

However, my son was persistent to the point of distress. So, as we walked home from dinner, we stopped for him to offer the man his leftovers and a dollar. Once we got to our room, my son watched him for awhile from the window. He was quiet and solemn afterward. I snuggled in next to him and asked what was wrong. With tears in his eyes, he said, “There are so many. How can we help them all?”

It was a tough question for me to answer. One, because my heart initially hadn’t been in the right place; and two, because I knew it was an impossible task. Nevertheless, I told him that while we can’t help everyone, we can try to make a difference in the lives of those in front of us. “He got dinner tonight because of you,” I said, “And that’s a start.”

As our trip went on, my son continued to reach out to the homeless. He gave the man on the bench the water bottles from our room, and as we walked the streets of our next stop, San Francisco, he stopped and offered money to those in need along the way. Not only that, but he engaged them in conversation, learning more about their stories.

He was completely trusting, which made me nervous. But after that first encounter, I decided to keep my mouth shut, support his efforts, and learn a valuable lesson.

Never stand in the way of “a call”.

My son clearly has a heart for the homeless, and I made the mistake of discouraging him. Since that time, the universe has spoken to me, and I have been able to give him ideas on how to act. For instance, at our basketball tournament last weekend, we learned that another player his age creates Blessing Bags, full of toiletries and other basic necessities, which he passes out for free to those in need. So, we used that idea as a jumping off point, and hopefully, we will find our own inspiration soon.

It is amazing and overwhelming what we can learn from our children – if we just pay attention, and stay open to those precious, teachable moments.