We went to San Francisco just after Thanksgiving. I have wanted to take the kids for a while and do a ton of touristy stuff; Alcatraz, Coit Lighthouse, Kids Museum, Golden Gate Park, the list goes on. But we were dropping Caskey off at work and then driving the rest of the way home by ourselves. We had to amend our trip considerably. We planned a single drive around the most interesting parts of the city, a trolley cable car ride, and then a meal at Google for lunch. Included in our drive was a trip over both the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge.
I expected to talk to my kids about urban versus suburban, something Connor is currently learning about in second grade. I expected to talk to Lainy Ann about California Landmarks and the missions since she is studying California history. We talked about ports and shipping. We talked about architecture in the old buildings (scroll work and columns).
But we got a lesson in homelessness too.
We were parked in the not-so-great area of the city while Caskey walked 2 blocks to buy our cable car tickets. Its so strange that the 'bad area' of the city can be just 3 blocks from the 'nice area'. But its true. While we were waiting Lainy Ann asks me, "What is that man in green doing?" I knew right away who she was talking about. He was only one of a dozen people I was watching in case we needed to drive away. He was standing in the middle of the street waving his arms and yelling. But I didn't want to have that hard conversation with her. Our kids are so sheltered. We talk about people who are less-fortunate, we donate to those people, but they never actually see it. So I answered, "He is crossing the street, slowly." She didn't accept that answer. So I told her, "He is crazy, Lainy Ann." I got that multi-syllabic 'mom' that children are so adept as saying "Mo-o-om". I sadly told her, "No, really Lainy Ann, he is crazy. He has a sickness in his brain that makes him crazy. Because of that he can't get a job and work. He doesn't have family to take care of him so he sleeps on the streets." I wanted to cry. Why does she have to know about these hard parts of life?
Caskey had a similar experience with Connor as we were walking the streets.
I spent a bit of time with my suburban kids in downtown San Francisco today.
Probably the most poignant moment for me was when my oldest boy asked "why was that man digging in the trash can?"
I told him that he was probably looking for either food or cans to recycle. I then explained homelessness and that sometimes people don't have enough to live.
The person in question was choosing to dig through garbage in search of cans which can be redeemed (in California) for a nickel. We discussed the fact that some people choose to sit at the intersections asking for a handout while others are busy digging through the garbage.
My son was able to come to his own appropriate conclusion as to which was the better way to be ... begging for coins or getting off your ass and gathering a resource to sell back for money.
I'm proud of him.
After we explained to the kids that some people do actually live and sleep on the streets Connor almost tripped over a man in a sleeping bag on the sidewalk. He didn't even notice the man as he ran down the sidewalk looking at the tall buildings. I'm kind of glad we saw the man sleeping on the ground. Not because I am glad people do actually sleep on the sidewalk, but we tease our kids so much that I was afraid they didn't believe us when we were explaining homelessness.
It always amazes me what kind of lessons present themselves as we travel.