Reality Check

Reality Check

I ran into my intern this morning on the way into the building. We chit-chatted the normal Wednesday morning small talk. But I didn’t make it to the stairwell before I got stopped. An unknown refugee had dropped her two kids off in the childcare room but she didn’t appear to be in any of the ESL classes downstairs. That left the ladies in my office. Uh-oh.

I knew without looking that it was my new Associate who was supposed to have childcare arranged elsewhere because we are currently full. I sweet-talked them into letting the kids stay there for a few minutes while I figured out what was going on and tracked down her case worker. I couldn’t just talk to the Associate. Her English is still very limited and communication is somewhat of a gamble. No luck reaching the case worker. I still have an hour and a half before the extra volunteers leave and the kids will be forced to go home (taking their mom – my new Associate who is training and desperately needs the money – with them).

In the meantime, my phone rings. It’s the apartment manager for another Associate wanting income verification. But before I can print it out, another intern walks in and tells me that an important appointment for another Associate was never scheduled by the doctor’s office and they can’t tell us when we can reschedule. Enter next Associate asking for advice on her design ideas. Finally, a fun moment full of great creativity! But stop. College student just arrived to interview me about VTC. I love sharing our story. I love bragging on the women and how much they have grown to love and support one another. I take her to my favorite spot in the office – The Victory Wall. And I’m reminded that the crazy’s worth it.

I don’t have much time to get mushy, though. Gotta quality check the serging on shirts for a client. Mid-stack, intern walks up and hands me her phone. It’s the case worker with a translator on the line. After almost 30 minutes of re-explaining the parameters of the childcare setup, the new Associate hands the phone back and I make sure we’re all on the same page. Good thing, because I’ve got 15 minutes before the volunteers leave and I have to have those kids out of the childcare room. I hate it for them.

Truth is, the kids had a rough morning and didn’t want to stay with a sitter, so mom brought them to work, not understanding child to parent ratios and legal agreements and the like (how could she?!). And I hate it more because I know they’re all grieving. Her husband passed away 3 months ago from cancer, leaving this sweet mother and their two children behind. There’s no life insurance in this case. And mom (my Associate) has never had a job. She’s never paid the bills. She doesn’t even have a bank account. How could I expect her to know how to handle this?! So I take a breath and let my compassion kick boss lady out of the way and just let this dear woman be loved.

I walk into the office downstairs to apologize for the surprise and to thank them for their help and I’m interrupted by yet another Associate who tells me she needs to leave at 12:30 (it’s 12:20) for an appointment. I tell her she should have told me this the day before, but since it was close to the end of her day, it was fine. But then she tells me her car didn’t start that morning, so another one of our Associates is going to take her. 2 women down. Ugh.

As that Associate heads into the childcare to pick up her kids, I hear from the Center director that one of our VTC kids broke a brand new piece of furniture that day. Really?!?! (But then I remember the amount of destruction that my own children cause in my home and fight back the frustration). I leave apology to Center Director to inform child’s mom that if she’s destructive again, she won’t be welcome to stay in the childcare room. Awesome. I’m the bad guy again.

By the time I walk back upstairs, I’m winded. But I only have a second to catch my breath, because I have to go pick up lunch and rush back for a meeting with my office manager. We’re not quite done with that meeting, when one of our VTC alums arrives to discuss her new business. She needs help getting it started. I pull all of the staff that’s in the office over to the training area and we help her brainstorm a company name. What sounds good (or bad), what’s unavailable on Instagram, how horribly Americans will butcher that French word that sounds so great. It’s a power meeting that this women would never have access to if she hadn’t gone through our program. And I think she found a name she loves!! (Sorry, not my place to tell…you’ll just have to wait!) I sit down to finish the income verification from way earlier and then it’s time to go relieve my nanny.

I walk downstairs carrying my ethically made leather business tote and outfit I found on consignment. I pull out my keys and unlock the car with the remote as I walk up. I crank it and it starts with no problem. I crank the A/C and text my nanny from my smart phone to let her know I’m on my way. She’s taken my kids in her car to the Aquarium today and I can’t wait to hear all about it. But we’ll have to chat fast. We’re headed out of town this weekend and I still have to pack. We’re driving down tomorrow so we can stay at a nice hotel for the weekend and I can sit by the pool. And read a book. And buy drinks and souvenirs I don’t need. And I can’t wait because I’m exhausted from work.

But I catch myself and take a big ‘ol swallow of humble. I have a car. That’s reliable. I have childcare. In my own home. I have a nice home. In a great school district. I have a husband that I can text to say “can’t wait to see you tomorrow!” I don’t’ have to make a choice between paying a babysitter or buying groceries. And I can read all of the mail that came today because someone taught me to read a long time ago in my own language. I could credit my “hard work” for all of these things I’ve “earned,” but the truth is (as it is for most of those reading this post) that life was handed to me. I was born white and in America. My dad had a good job that bought a nice house in a great school district. My parents paid for college and my first cell phone, computer and car. I was on my own for grad school, but that was possible for me because I had a job (credit: college) and no debt (credit: Daddy). I didn’t do much to set myself up well when I really think about it. Just like my Associates didn’t do much to set themselves in the middle of a terrorist-infested war zone run by a dictator.

After I tuck the kids in, I wash my face and carefully apply my overpriced eye cream to the crow’s feet that keep threatening to make an appearance and settle into my 500-thread count sheets and memory foam contour pillow. I grab my book (one of about 15 I’ve purchased for the year, almost all with my Prime membership) and text the hubs goodnight (yes, we live in the same house…he’s traveling and we’re going to meet him at the nice hotel tomorrow, remember?). But before I can settle off to sleep in my carefully (and smart-technology) climate-controlled home, I have a reality check.

All of the “conveniences” I’ve come to expect in my life are luxuries that most people in this world will never access. All of the anxiety I experience because of a cluttered home and schedule pales in comparison to the anxiety of a refugee not knowing how they will feed their kid tomorrow…and not knowing where to go for help. And it changes me. Sure, I’m thankful for all of my “blessings” (I’ve learned that’s the American term for “stuff”). But thankfulness doesn’t help anyone. People do. So before I drift off to sleep, I redouble my efforts to buy less and do less so I can have more to help people who actually need it. The hurting. The broken. The needy. The orphan. The widow. The alien. The ones that work in my office every day. The ones that remind me that my search for the perfect eye cream pales in comparison to most of what they struggle through day in and day out. So I choose to serve. Sometimes even exhaust myself to fight for those who can’t yet fight for themselves. And my cup is filled to overflowing. I’ve got everything I could ever need. And it’s JOY.