You could hear the laughing from the front door. It isn’t everyday that we have the innocent laughter of young kids at play in our dining room. A mother and her two small boys were making their way through the line, picking up treats and hot cocoa on this Warm Welcome Friday.
They were social. Engaging. The two-year old, with crumbs on his cheeks and sweet little smile told me he wanted water. “Well, let’s get you some.” He offers me his hand and I lead him to the kitchen, retrieve a cup from one of our volunteers, and take him to the water cooler. Eagerly he tries to pour water into his cup.
“Use both hands Little Man.” I instruct while pushing the button for a few splashes of cool water. His eyes light up and he drinks fully, spilling water down his blue coat.
“More please.” He demands and pushes his cup toward me.
We get him a bit more water and I take him back to his mother and brother at their table. Plopping himself next to his mom he explains his adventure to her, and I say ‘hello’ to his older brother.
“How old are you?” I ask.
In a sing-song manner he says he is five, showing me both of his hands. I give him high fives and he grabs my fingers and starts to swing around. We dance for a few moments and I tease him about not really being five, but a very tall four years old.
His name is Caleb, and his sweet disposition is disarming and gentle. I ask if he wants another treat, after checking with his mother for an okay. With that, he grabs my hand and we make our way to the line. He picks out a chocolate chip-chocolate muffin, about the size of his head.
Caleb and I sit down and he goes to work on his muffin. “I bet you can’’t eat that whole entire muffin. You are just four years old.” I tease.
Caleb laughs and tells me not to stare while he is eating. So I look away and then we begin an impromptu rendition of hide-n-seek-peek-a-boo.
I sit with this family and have small talk about the kids with their mother. She wonders about me, I ask about her. I almost forget about the two little ones, as I listen to her talk. It isn’t until Caleb looks at me and says something that I am brought back to the table. I ask him to repeat himself.
“I want a gun for Christmas.” He tells me, as he takes another bite of chocolate muffin.
“What? Why would you want a gun for Christmas?” I ask.
“Because I need to shoot the bad people.” Is the simple, ‘innocent’ response I receive.
“Well, do you think that there are other ways to deal with ‘bad people’?” I ask.
“Slap them around?” he looks to see if that is the right answer.
“Um… that is a better option. Do you think maybe we can talk to the bad people?”
“No.” He takes another bite. “I’ll just get a gun for Christmas.”
At this his mother says it is time to leave. I pack some more muffins up for the kids, and hand the mother some pocket warmers for the chill outside. The two-year old and I play tag for a few moments while his mother gets her things together. Both kids give me a hug as they head out in the cold.
Changing this little boy’s dreams isn’t as difficult as it may seem. It starts with him coming in contact with kind people, who show him respect, regardless of the dirty coat. He is just one child. There are many in the same environment. I know his mother loves him. I can see it in the way she treats him and his brother. She respects the world around her, speaks highly of her sons. She knows that she can take them to safe places like The Franciscan Center. His sweetness shows the love he receives. But he lives in a reality that many of us don’t understand. The tough neighborhoods and people of this city, and others like it.
What we know is that 4 year olds shouldn’t have to be afraid of bad people, or know about guns enough to need to kill them. If you are not giving back, you must. It isn’t about asking for help, we demand it. We can’t do this alone. Help us get these little warriors off the streets.
Ways to Get Involved
We must arm these children with different weapons. Food, shelter, education, and safety.