abuse and neglect, children, family, foster care, hope, Inspiration, philanthropy, Uncategorized

The Working Title Is… Sole Searching

For me, most of my earliest Back to School memories start in the same place… Rochester Shoe Store on the east end of Kmart Plaza in Mattydale, New York.

I loved school, and new school shoe shopping meant that I would soon be sitting at a desk again. Oh, joy of joys! I would skip into the store excited to step on that Brannock device (made in Syracuse, btw) to see how much my foot had grown since the year before.

For the period of time that spanned purchasing the shoes and the actual start of school, those beauties would remain tucked inside the shoebox, and at least once a day, I would open it up and shove my whole face in there, deeply breathing in the delicious smell of new leather.

There was one year, however, that came with more than a twinge of anxiety. About to enter Fourth Grade, I was feeling pretty grown up. My classroom would be at the end of the hallway, meaning we’d walk past all those babies in K-3 to take our place as the leaders of our wing.

The talk at the pool that summer was all about Earth shoes, so as we headed to Rochester Shoe Store, I told my mom that’s what I wanted.

We walked out with the most fabulous pair of navy Earth shoes. They had a huge rounded toe and a crazy-cool wavy rubber sole. I’d never seen anything like it.

They also had shoelaces.

Oh boy.

You see, the entire time I was one of those K-3 babies, I wore Mary Janes. I honestly can’t remember how I handled sneakers, as Velcro wasn’t even a thing yet, but I do know that I was not adept at tying shoelaces. Truth be told, more than 40 years later, I’m still not great at it. The double knot is my savior and best friend.

So yes, my mom would tie my shoes every morning. You want to make something of it? And one day, tragedy struck and my shoelace untied midday. I acted like I didn’t notice and just kept walking. The shoe got looser and looser until it was almost falling off. We were coming in from recess, and Miss Crader told me to tie my shoe. I can remember being bent over in the hallway going through the motions, feeling the redness creep up my neck, my throat tighten and tears start to well up, all the while thinking, “You can do this, Katie.”

A boy looked my way and said, “Do you NOT know how to tie your shoes, Katie?” And with tears still pooling at the edge of my lower lid, an angel named Lisa Demperio said, “Of course she does, Philip, now get out of here,” and with just the two of us remaining in the hall, Lisa tied my shoe.

I went home and practiced and practiced and practiced tying until I could at least fake it well enough to keep Philip Cooper off my back.

That memory came back to me this week as I went through photos of a very different kind of Back to School new shoe shopping.

A group of remarkable staff and volunteers took the boys who call Christ Child House their home to the Nike Store in Detroit to pick out new sneakers. Because of the generosity of a number of donors, these boys will be able to walk confidently into a new school year. Some had never picked out their own shoes before. Some had only ever had shoes handed down to them and were never able to bask in the glory of that new shoe smell.

The boys’ pictures would melt the heart of even the crustiest of curmudgeons, and their stories could bring you to your knees.

To protect their identities, the boys’ faces are never fully photographed.

I was reluctant to rejoin the Board of Christ Child after a multi-year hiatus because I was worried my own heart, broken by loss and further weakened by my empty nest, couldn’t bear to hear the atrocities committed against these boys.

I’m still not sure I can. And if self-preservation moves you to live with your head in the sand like I did, you’ll probably want to skip the next two paragraphs.

There is a boy who lives in the Christ Child House who is the same age I was when my greatest struggle was shoelaces, although his struggle involves being a witness to his mother’s murder as she lay sleeping next to him in bed. Shot dead by his father. Waiting and wondering if he would be next.

There is a boy who lives in the Christ Child House who was the same age as those K-3 babies who watched me walk down the hall in my super cool, big kid Earth shoes. Although this boy watched as a policeman walked up to a car parked on the side of the highway as he sat strapped in his car seat with both parents slumped in the front seat, overdosed on heroin.

To face the reality of the horrors of our society can be daunting. To shield ourselves from them is tempting. But to do something…even the smallest of somethings…is imperative to bring change to our world. If one of our actions can create even the smallest ripple of positive change, we must act.

And, so, it all circles back to those laces. For decades, I have been inspired by the many women of Christ Child Society who embody the answer to Beyoncé’s question, “Who runs the world?”   And, this year, they have assembled multiple teams of women who will not only figuratively, but literally run the world (or at least two countries of it) as part of the Detroit Free Press/TCF Bank Marathon, of which Christ Child House is a recipient charity.

I’ve been assigned my team’s first leg of the marathon. I will run 6.3 miles that include a run across the Ambassador Bridge into Canada. I have yet to disclose to anyone that I am afraid to drive over that bridge much less run over it, but the voice in my head is saying, “You can do this, Katie.”

If the shoe fits as part of your ability to give, Christ Child House would welcome your financial support by clicking here as we continue to move forward, one step at a time, to bring truth to the motto, “It’s never too late for a happy childhood.”

kmp

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Uncategorized

The Working Title Is…Hamilton and My Kitchen Table

Talk less. Smile more.

Those just might be my four favorite words from the entire Hamilton soundtrack. And, almost two weeks into the New Year, I find myself repeating them; sometimes as a mantra with the centered calm of one skilled in meditation, and other times through clenched teeth while holding a fistful of booze and scrolling through Facebook.

The First Amendment ensures the privilege to speak one’s mind without fear of censorship, retaliation or societal sanction. I believe it is among the greatest rights afforded us by the Constitution. But like any right, it comes with great responsibility.

When people first began standing on their soapbox, their opinions reached only as far as their voices would travel.   Now, with the power of the internet and social media fueled by a 24-hour news cycle, it’s nearly impossible to escape a diatribe of personal opinion.

Reasoned thought is often buried under blather spewed from the virtual soapbox. You can’t escape it without unplugging or scrolling at carpal tunnel inducing pace, which is what I’ve been doing lately. I am longing for the bygone days of people posting photos of what they had for lunch and mad at myself for ever calling the sanity of such a post into question.

The soapbox has crumbled under the weight of close-minded name-calling, sophomoric humor and downright nastiness.

During the election season, I tried very hard to be open-minded. I read everything from real news sources, fake news sources and the opinions of friends…the real kind and the Facebook kind. As soon as someone invoked some insulting nickname for a candidate, that person’s opinion was no longer of merit to me.

When someone I respected dealt a particularly low blow, or when an argument of issues turned into a personal attack, I called the person out. Never in the comments section for the whole world to see, but in a private email or even (gasp) a hand written note.

But that grew tiresome. I realized I am not the respect police.

Talk less. Smile more.

I’m sure many might think me ignorant, but the two things that shaped my view of politics were my kitchen table and my television set.

At my kitchen table, my parents would inspire thoughtful conversation and debate. Politically speaking, they were not party people. “We vote for the person, not the party,” they would say, and that resonates within me still today. Our conversations were about the issues and what we could do to make a difference…not what Albany or Washington could or should be doing.

Poverty in our community? Clothing drives and food drives were an ever-present part of our lives. A struggling educational system? My mom volunteered countless hours at a literacy center, and each school year we would clean our bookshelves and donate gently used books to that school’s library. We participated in walk-a-thons, read-a-thons, and we visited shut-ins. We’d take elderly members of our church to doctor’s appointments and, for many years, one man joined us for Thanksgiving and Sunday dinners. This lonely man was a hoarder with soiled clothes and an awful odor. Around our dinner table, we were taught to respect everyone. Everyone. No matter their color, creed or station in life.

After I left the kitchen table and turned on the television, it was what I saw and heard there that really impacted my impression of the leader of the free world. I learned it was possible to respect an office, but not necessarily admire the person.

My earliest recollections are of President Nixon. I remember the Watergate hearings taking the place of what should have been MY television shows and being told that the President did something very bad.

The seed had been sown.

President Ford was portrayed as a bumbling idiot who would trip over his own feet. He was followed by a peanut farmer from Georgia with a beer drinking brother and the potential to embarrass a nation. Then came the jelly bean eating divorced actor from California who co-starred with a monkey. Followed by a man who was a war veteran and former director of the CIA yet somehow always characterized as weak. Next up the philanderer; then the frat boy who was just riding his father’s coattails and finally, the community organizer turned Senator who was not ready for the world stage.

As long as I’ve been alive, there has been disdain for the Executive Branch. But when the soapbox stretched to cyberspace, the chorus of critics swelled to a deafening decibel.

People quickly share a post, but have they done their own research behind the claims? Supporters from both sides of the aisle mock and joke and create disparaging nicknames for people who are giving their lives to public service.

Truth is, each of these presidents accomplished great things when in office, despite the naysayers. But when I look at my personal history, the Executive Branch has had infinitely less impact on my life story than any branch of my own family tree.

In my professional career, when I was entrusted with the great responsibility of hiring people into a company, I paid no mind to race, color, creed or sexual orientation; not because the government told me so, but because that was the lesson taught at my kitchen table and repeated at the kitchen table my own children have grown up around.

Yesterday, I scrolled past posts and reposts from angry Republicans, Democrats and Independents until I finally came upon one from our church showing the multitude of donations delivered to a Warming Center our parish is staffing for the homeless this week.

And I smiled.

So to those of you endlessly complaining and name calling like a petulant child, I challenge you to step away from your keyboard and, instead, share those things you are actively doing to bring positive change in the world. And I pray our President-Elect will do the same.

Talk less. Smile more.

Let your kindness show what you’re against and what you’re for.

kmp

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