The Dancing Girl and Life’s Lottery

I was very frustrated with my cat, Simba, this morning. Despite a shut door, a squirt bottle, and a German Shepherd for a guard, Simba snuck into my office and attacked a copy of Maddi’s Fridge.

IMG_0265

That is his third copy this week. I now have a three picture books that I can’t sell or give away because of teeth and claw punctures in Vin Vogel’s beautifully illustrated dust jacket.

I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, then I drove past the Issaquah Food Bank. A three-year-old girl was dancing in the line forming outside. She doesn’t comprehend the hardship her family is going through to get to this point. She is happy to be with her mother, to be in a line, and to be going in with a bag to get food.

Despite living with a neurotic cat, I have won life’s jackpot. I was born into a large, boisterous, book loving, church going, and socially involved family. We never had a surplus of money, but we never lacked for food either. And even though we have different football teams (they are 49’ers fans) and political opinions, I love them all.

IMG_3034

Others, as we know, don’t win the lottery. They are born into poverty or tough family situations. I have never been able to explain or understand these great inequalities. Yes, personal decisions do make a huge difference, but we also play the hand we are dealt.

My dad had a phrase to sum things up, “There but for the grace of God go I.” He said it when volunteering with prisoners at San Quentin, he said it as he gave his tithe to the church, and he said it while helping those who stopped by his business.

Some of where we land in life is beyond our control.

So today I’m taking a break from work to remind myself how very fortunate I am. I have a great family, a supportive writing community, and am not worried about food for myself or my children.

And I am being led to this thankfulness by a three-year-old girl dancing outside of a food bank.

What are her prospects? Some families dip into poverty. Some face disaster after disaster and can’t climb their way out.

When she starts school will she arrive with a full belly, ready to learn?

Will her parents have read to her?

Are there books in her house?

When she begins to realize how little her family has, will she give up or will she study harder?

Will she still be dancing?

That, in part, will depend on those of us who won the lottery.

Issaquah Food Bank

Feeding America

Laughter, Misty Eyes, and Maddi’s Fridge

A few weeks ago I was responsible for tears shed in Washington State, Connecticut, California, and cyberspace.

Don’t be alarmed; kids do not cry when they read Maddi’s Fridge. I was very careful to ensure that the story gently entertains children. Elementary school children respond to the friendship between Maddi and Sofia.

Always

They laugh at eggs in backpacks and Vin Vogel’s great illustrations.

eggs and backpacks

And have you seen that dog looking at the fireplug?

took all of the colors with it

It is true, though, that Maddi’s Fridge leaves some adults misty-eyed.

The same week that a librarian in Connecticut and a reviewer on Goodreads had tears in the corners of their eyes, a woman in Washington State couldn’t even finish Maddi’s Fridge because of personal experiences with hunger.

Years ago this woman was a single mom with two young girls. They ate nothing but pancakes for 6 months as she worked, paid rent, and struggled every day to provide food to her little girls. She called her now-adult daughter to talk about Maddi’s Fridge and had to hang up. She was crying too hard.

She, like so many other American parents, had been thrust into a situation – a single parent supporting two young children – that she had never imagined. She’s fine now. Her daughters are fine. But the weight of her story stays with her, along with the knowledge that not everyone makes it out.

It is this weight that some adults feel when they read Maddi’s Fridge.

Why don’t kids cry when they read Maddi’s Fridge? Kids get that there are problems, but each child’s heart contains unlimited hope. They respond to Maddi’s Fridge messages of friendship and community.Stories of hope are the focus of my school visits. We talk about friendship. We talk about promises. We talk about helping our friends who might have empty refrigerators.

All smiles at school visit

We also explore the importance of sharing stories. Kids write, draw, and tell their own experiences of when they helped someone or were helped.

helping stories

The fourth person who cried was a 2nd grade teacher in California. Tears in her eyes, she told me that two of the boys who read their ‘helping stories’ with me were special needs kids and had never before volunteered to share in class. Maddi’s Fridge had touched their hearts.

Our community is strongest when we explore the stories that move us. Laughter and tears are the sweet and sour of life. They are the parts we remember. They are the heart of our lives.

To those adults who get misty-eyed reading Maddi’s Fridge: Thank you for caring and being touched by this story.

To those who have experienced hunger: You are not alone. You are part of our community and we are listening.

Over fifteen million stories of childhood hunger are happening in the United States at this moment. We can honor these stories by taking action.