Yeah, she’s really nice
The seed of this sweet moment had been planted a few months earlier by two articles in the summer Tumbleweeds. Actually, I think it was sown a year ago, when we were wrapping up our Winter 2016-17 issue.
That was last November, just a few days after the election. A couple of my coworkers and I were discussing the implications for New Mexico families, particularly about the president-elect’s proposals on immigration and health care repeal. Someone on “Team Tumbleweeds” suggested that we spearhead some action, or join onto an existing initiative, to support families in our community, perhaps volunteering or lobbying or organizing a charitable drive. We were in the final stages before going to press, too late for another article, so I put a short note in my editor’s column asking readers to propose civic actions we might undertake “under the umbrella of Tumbleweeds.”
I can’t say I’m surprised that we didn’t get responses to this request, given how general it was, and how little free time parents have. The suggestion filtered into editorial choices in the year since, however, as we’ve considered how Tumbleweeds can help parents respond to the rising challenges of our time. I wrote in our spring issue about the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at the Roundhouse and reflected on ways Santa Fe might realize Dr. King’s vision of a “Beloved Community.” We ran articles on the “soda tax” effort to expand funding for pre-kindergarten, and the Council on International Relations’ programs to increase global awareness in local elementary and secondary schools. In our fall issue we printed suggestions for creating an “emergency preparedness plan” in the event of a natural disaster, terrorist attack or deportation, which we expanded and translated into Spanish in this issue (“Alístese para lo inesperado,” page 24). We might have run these articles otherwise, but they seemed to have a special push now as nonpartisan ways for readers to step up to challenging times.
So I suppose the ground in my brain was primed for the two articles in our summer issue about Santa Fe’s Big Brothers Big Sisters program: “Enjoying the Ride,” by David Berkeley and “Friend, Mentor, Superhero,” by Brianna Neumann (our former intern). I admired Berkeley and Neumann’s dedication to spending several hours a month with their “Littles,” but I doubted I could find time for that commitment. I might, on the other hand, have time for BBBS’s school-based program, which I hadn’t known much about until then. This entails meeting with a child once a week throughout the school year, for about an hour during their lunch and recess.
I dialed the BBBS office here in Santa Fe. (Tip: It’s 983-8369.) No harm in calling, I thought. An inquiry isn’t a commitment. I left my name and number, and got a call back from the volunteer coordinator the next day. We set up a preliminary interview. The ball was rolling. I submitted an application, gave names of references, and got a finger print test.
Shortly after the school year started I was assigned a match: a sixth-grade boy from Aspen Community Magnet School. (Our local BBBS chapter will match a Big Sister with a Little Brother to meet demand.)
In the meantime I wondered: What would my “Little” be like? What if we didn’t hit it off? What if the challenges that led the child to be referred to the program were more than I could handle? I figured I wasn’t the first person to have such questions, and trusted that answers could be found.
I needn’t have worried. We’ve met several times so far. Sometimes we play board games. He reads stories aloud and I help him with words. (He likes fish. He has a fish tank and is saving for a bigger one. I helped him sound out “anemone.”) We do art projects. He shows me around his school. This isn’t therapy — though I’ll listen to anything he wants to talk about. It’s not tutoring — though I’ll help him with math problems if he wants. It’s friendship. I have a new person I look forward to seeing, and it seems he does, too.
“Who’s this?” one of his sixth-grade classmates asked him, nodding to the unfamiliar woman walking round the school with him.
“She’s my Big Sister,” he said.
“Is she good?”
“Yeah, she’s really nice.” My heart puffed out.
The stories about BBBS inspired me to take part in their program, and my life and my Little’s are richer for it. Looking back on the year, I believe this is how Tumbleweeds can best step up to help families: through stories that you, or I, can turn into actions.
Take, for instance, Sarah Harrison’s suggestion in this issue to buy a few extra cans of food when we’re grocery shopping with our children and donate the cans to a food bank. (See “A Habit of Helping,” page 14). So doable, so valuable.
If you think the outdoors is only for summer, try Katie Macaulay’s wonderful suggestions for winter hikes (“Winter Hikes Near Santa Fe,” page 20), with information about some of the awesome geological formations you see out there.
Dr. Christy Wall and Melissa H. Moore will entice you into a field trip to the New Mexico Wildlife Center, outside Española, to see how some of our local species — rattlesnake, magpie, kestrel, bobcat and many others — cope with the changes of winter. (“Animal Ambassadors Bear Witness to Winter,” page 18.)
Helping others requires taking kind and gentle care of ourselves — as I’m reminded by Adrienne Harvitz’s beautiful reflections about her postpartum emotional turmoil (“Doing It,” page 10). Susan Aguayo, of Rio Rancho, responded to the most horrific of tragedies, the death of her daughter Kassy, by creating a nonprofit organization to support women and men suffering from pregnancy-related depression. (“Kassy’s Kause is Everyone’s Cause,” page 8). Their articles are accompanied by a list (in English y en español) of local and national services for perinatal — prenatal through postpartum — mood disorders.
The practice of mindfulness is making its way into the classroom, and Santa Fe is fortunate to have some excellent resources for teachers, which Erin Doerwald and John Braman share in “The Magic of Mindfulness,” page 16.
Two longtime Santa Feans returned from international travels recently with ideas for our Santa Fe schools and families. Rev. Talitha Arnold, minister of United Church of Santa Fe, visited refugee camps in northern Iraq this summer and shares ways we can help refugees from Syria and other countries — starting with learning their names and stories, and extending as far beyond that as we wish (see her “Jesus Was A Refugee,” page 22). Kathryn Mark, longtime director of Movement Arts for Every Body, came back from three years in Poland with new perspectives gleaned from teaching in a system with a different population and priorities (“Reflections from an Ex-Pat,” page 26).
Fred Nathan, Think New Mexico’s executive director, talks with us about their next legislative push, to improve schools by reallocating dollars from administration to the classroom. (See “New Math for School Budgets,” page 32.)
Like me, you may find inspiration in the experiences of these adults, and the unguarded honesty of children.
And if you want to share with us some of the ways these stories inspire you, please do. We know a seed can sit for a while before it takes root. If it does, we’d love to hear from you.