Friday, June 13, 2014

Hammocks, WIC offices, and traveling libraries

I lay in the gently swinging hammock, Sing for Me resting in my lap, peering through the trees to the wide blue sky above, white clouds like spun cotton candy stretch through the openings between leaves. The wind tousles my hair, and the sound of rustling breezes through branches remains unbroken except occasionally by boats or jet skis and laughter. We spend the weekend kid-free at the lake, celebrating a dear friend’s thirtieth birthday. But as I lay in the hammock, each time I emerge from my book, the sole thought occupying my brain is this one: if money cannot buy happiness, then it can at least purchase freedom. It looks like wide blue skies spread over an afternoon nap in the hammock. Room to breath, to think, to relax. Food when I want it, how I want it. Cheese dip and diet coke in abundance.
Last week, Zack’s mom hands me her appointment slip for the WIC office, marked for 11:30, and we arrive promptly at 11:25. We wait in line to check in at the front desk, before settling ourselves into blue molded chairs on the immunization side of the room. This half of the space boasts mostly empty seats in unbroken rows of faded blue, with a half-wall separating us from the rest of the families waiting for WIC aid, though we can still see the blinking red letters and numbers marking who’s being served. Time ticks by, marked mostly by the blaring of the television through Dinosaur Train to Franklin to Peep to Sid the Science Kid.

Chairs fill and empty again around us, filled by people with stories as varied as the shades of their skin and the number of children in tow. Babies with feeding tubes in abundance remind me of early days with Caden. We take turns bouncing and carrying Zariah, her tiny fingers curl around mine, and she giggles and scrunches her nose. I see her gaze lock on my earrings; I take them out, slipping them in my pocket before she can grab them with her small fists.
One hour passes, and then another. I sigh loudly and try to get myself comfortable in the chair. Taking Zariah from Zack, I walk and bounce with her until she sleeps nestled in the crook of my elbow. A few families arrived at the same time we did, and I watch as their children form easy friendships, running breathless loud laps around the rows of chairs. I try to imagine my own children sitting beside me, certain they join the raucous group. When the clock hands sneak towards 2:30, I ask Zack’s mom if perhaps she should check and see if they’ve forgotten her. She did, after all, have an 11:30 appointment. I try to hide the frustration and indignation in my voice, acting for her sake like I have nothing better to do than to sit at the WIC office all day long. She smiles at me and pats my arm: that’s just how it is for us Becca, she tells me. My brow furrows with indignation and I pull out my Kindle. I try to block out the sounds of crying babies and yelling children and laughter and my own growling stomach, hoping to escape into the realm of my book. Zack’s cousin moves to sit next to me, drawn of course by the strange force that entices kids to any electronic screens in the vicinity. Disappointed by my “vintage” Kindle, she watches my eyes instead. I feel her eyes follow mine as I read line after line, burrowing myself into the world of Parnassus on Wheels.

How do you read like that? She asks breathless, and I snake my arm around her shoulders. I read a lot I tell her. The more you read, the faster you’ll get. I wink and she smiles, settling her head on my shoulder while I continue delving into my story: “When you sell a man a book, you don’t sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue — you sell him a whole new life.”

I close my eyes and imagine turning the front lobby of our office (which, remember, is just the church building a few doors down from our house) into a library for the neighbors and kiddos. I could stock it with my books, doorways to other worlds. An escape without alcohol or drugs. A tumble down the rabbit hole into places where everything brims with possibility.
I am snapped from my reverie by two girls who run past in clanky high heels. Arrayed in Sunday best, they push a boy bigger than Zariah and smaller than Caden in a stroller. He laughs hysterically while they run, his face lighting up in a grin. His grin dissolves in wails when they stop; and so they pick-up-the-pace again, his hands clenched in fists he waves in the air as they whiz past.

As the clock rounds three in the afternoon, I wonder how much it would cost to pay for Zariah’s formula and baby food myself. My stomach growls and I offer to take Zack and his cousin to get some food. Surely they’ll call you the minute we leave, I laughingly remark, we push open doors and lift faces to the warm sun. Snacking on French fries and sipping diet coke, we get back to find Zack’s mom and Zariah unmoved, their number still un-called.
Finally she talks to someone and they take her back to a small cinder-block room, measuring Zariah’s weight before returning her to the still-warm curved-back chair she just left moments earlier. And again we wait, until finally when Dinosaur Train plays for the second time today and minutes tick ever-closer to four thirty, she gets angry and demands her vouchers right-this-very-minute. I breathe a sigh of relief when we get them and can leave the stale air of the window-less space behind. The dressed-up girls still run laps, and the baby with his feeding tube still shrieks in his stroller. So too does the chocolate-skinned mom who has packed her children coloring books and carrot sticks. And the dad with dread-locks down his back, alongside the parents with twins and matching tattoos on their skinny freckled arms. We arrived at around the same time as them, and I wonder what happens to those who don’t demand what they need around here. I half-smile at them in sympathy before strapping Zariah gratefully in her car seat, hopeful I might make it home in time for dinner.

I think about time and how society assigns value. Whose time we consider important, and how much I am willing to pay for the freedom of stolen minutes and extra hours. And I am grateful for settling into the upside-down Kingdom, in which the last will be the first. The Kingdom where the ones who find themselves left waiting will not be disappointed. Where grace abounds and mercy rains on the ones who lay on hammocks beside a lake, and the ones who sit in WIC offices alike. For the kiddos who run under brilliant sunsets at camp, and the ones who spend their summer repeating the third grade. Where our value cannot be determined by salary or net worth, but by an identity as the beloved children of a King.

5 comments:

  1. It breaks my heart. Sometimes, I wonder if change can occur. Will it ever occur? Is there something I can do to make it happen? I just don't know. I feel at a loss. Thank you for going with the baby and the Mama to the uncomfortable place.

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  2. Loved reading your blog post. I felt like I was reading a novel. Your writing is very descriptive and allows me to picture what you see and are feeling in my mind. I have been at the WIC office too and I hate that it can be an all day event.

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  3. Loved reading your blog post. I felt like I was reading a novel. Your writing is very descriptive and allows me to picture what you see and are feeling in my mind. I have been at the WIC office too and I hate that it can be an all day event.

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  4. I got a lump in my throat because I've waited in offices like this. It's not fair or right at all. Sometimes it makes me angry to hear people talk about the easy life of people who "get everything handed to them." It's not all free. And respect, for one, is worth more than you know until it's taken away.

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  5. The upside-down Kingdom. Yes and amen!

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