Today was the last day I did family shelter for this year and most probably, the last day I see my little buddy, Jahlil. I certainly hope he’s not still at the shelter when I come back with the cold weather, but it was really tough to say farewell. My friend Susan, who does shelter with me, said too bad I didn’t have my camera or she would take a picture for my blog and she could have, too, without any breach of privacy. Jahlil was glommed onto me like a koala bear on a gum tree, no sign of his face in evidence. That snotty facade was snuggled as far into my neck as possible; for a while there it had the thrill of a sloppy hickey and then I realized that he was simultaneously sucking his thumb and my neck. For a child with very little intelligible speech, he makes his wants for comfort known and there’s no way around it, once he starts scaling your leg. He’s a child you don’t really have to hold either, because he’s not going to slip down; you could have both hands free to do other things but why miss such an opportunity for all this humid loving? I held on to him right up until he got back on the van.
Today, as I watched them running about the exhibit at the Florida International Museum, I thought how unique they are, one from the other. In just this short period of time they’ve distinguished themselves for me and I don’t think of them as a passel of homeless youngsters. One young girl is smart as a whip- I mean REALLY smart- and we all wish for her an opportunity to nurture her special gifts. The oldest of the group is sweet tempered, patient and nurturing to the younger kids. Several of them have that hyper unfocused I MUST TOUCH EVERYTHING approach to life but even in that they are distinctly individual. Most weeks there’s a child who has moved on and a new one in the bunch. When Jahlil is on the ground he’s so quick and on the move that I just snag the back of his shirt like the scruff of a kitten’s neck and hold on. He’ll try to wriggle away and sometimes he manages but now, it’s gotten to the point where he sort of expects to move through whatever field trip, caught in my grasp. I can be busy explaining something to another child and like a roadrunner, his feet just keep moving while I hang on. Then after a while he’s all tuckered out and up he climbs.
We went to see the Wolf to Woof exhibit, tracing the evolution of the dog as a domesticated animal. It was wonderfully hands on with buttons and wheels and audio gizmos. You could feel the breath coming out of a giant St. Bernard face, both at rest and panting, you could whirl around in a chair with giant fox ears and listen for termites and you could hold the harness of a German Shepard service dog. There were great life size dioramas with taxidermied wolves in Yellowstone and coyotes in an urban garbage pail. For some reason, this outing inspired them all to mark their territory; I never saw so many trips to the bathroom in such a short time. Kelsey went three times and then I realized it was because she was fascinated with the cloud like soap that came billowing out of the dispenser. Jahlil just clutched his crotch and looked up expectantly.
In the end, I decided the thing I like most about working with these particular children is that they are so appreciative, so grateful and so enthusiastic. There is absolutely no sense of entitlement here and they are not bored or apathetic or restless to be elsewhere. They are eager to be with us and to have the modest amount of time that we offer. When the museum guard hands them all a bag with a few coloring sheets and some pamphlets at the end of the trip they are, to a one, excited. They might say they want Bratz dolls but they settle happily for a little time and energy.
I said goodbye to the other women, too. What an incredibly kind and funny and generous bunch. What a gift for me to be able to work with them this past winter.
So, speaking of dogs, I don’t really like a lot of dogs. The idea of a dog for someone else is fine and I had to grudgingly admit, after the exhibit today, that they certainly offer more in the way of service and companionship to humans than say, cats. I mean, when was the last time you saw a leader cat in a harness helping someone navigate traffic? Heard any news stories lately about cats digging into an avalanche of snow and dragging people back to the light of day? Right. But I’m a cat person and I admit it. Give me a nice aloof, independent, sneaky cat. A big dog, like a lab, might bring smarts and companionship to the table but big dogs, big baggies. I especially don’t like little yappy dogs; they’re just annoying as all get out and smaller than cats but they don’t use a litter box.
So, imagine my surprise when I fell for Newton. Newton is the small dachshund of our back alley neighbors and he has them circling our block at least twice a day. That’s when we all hang out on the sidewalk and catch up on news. Newton sits down and waits patiently. At first he was pretty wary of me; I guess he was adopted after a not-so-hot first family. After a while we made a peace of sorts, between outstretched fingers and wet pointy nose. Now I’m in love with him and his flying silky ears and expectant tail. I don’t even mind that I have to go so far down to say hello. He’s got comical expressions and big bright eyes. He lets his nose do his advance work for him; more than once he’s stuck just that in the front door, curious about McCloud or Sophie. He’s beneath them so they ignore him.
Today, since the Wolf to Woof exhibit is getting ready to leave town, all the dog gift shop items were on sale. How stupid is it that people dress up their dogs in clothes? They had racks of hooded jackets and slinky swimsuit material things, for all different size dogs. They even had these things that looked like fur shawls to snap around a dog. Your dog should come with the appropriate amount of fur to fit the beast, right? Why does he need a raincoat? Here in Florida it’s unthinkable to put clothing on a dog, it’s so darned hot.