Our Eyes Were Opened


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What’s the Definition of Affordable?

Affordable is a nondescript word. However, it gets used a lot, especially now in Greenville while the City works with their consultant and other groups planning to build more “affordable housing.”

When people with resources apply the word affordable to housing, their definition of affordable may be more perception than reality. They may picture high rise buildings that are dilapidated, crime-ridden, dirty, and trashy … where “those people” live. The idea of “affordable housing” being built in or near their homes becomes threatening, indeed. NIMBY (not in my backyard) becomes virulent. That’s one understanding of affordable.

To people on the other end of the economic spectrum, affordable means having a home that their meager income allows without the landlord or mortgage company pounding on their door every week.  Homes that are safe, well-maintained, lovely…and affordable… would certainly be nice but are not readily available in many cases.  Affordable in this scenario allows for not only rent to be paid but also food, medical care, clothing for work, and childcare.

When people who are housing advocates or housing developers talk about affordable housing, even then the definition is murky. Is the definition of affordable based on the area medium income (AMI) which is about $66,000 in our area? If so, affordable housing defined as a percentage of the AMI can require household incomes of $52,800 (80% AMI) to $99,000 (150% AMI).

Basing the formula for affordability on the poverty guidelines is a different story. In 2017, the federal poverty guideline for a family of four is $24,600. So affordable based on 50% of the poverty guideline for a family of four is income of no more than $12,300 while 200% of the poverty guideline allows an income up to  $49,200.

There is quite a discrepancy between $12,300 (50% poverty guideline) and $99,000 (150% AMI).  Both the AMI and the federal poverty guideline are used in different situations as THE definition of affordable.

Another definition for affordable is rent costing $500 or less a month. That becomes extremely hard for the grandmother who is living on her Supplemental Security Income of $770 a month.

Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) guideline is that no more than 30% of a household’s income should be used on housing (including utilities). Since studio apartments in some of the new housing complexes in and around downtown Greenville have rents ranging from $800 to $1400, the HUD recommendation is income of $32,000-$56,000. Can a four-person moderate income household afford this studio unit?  One-bedroom units are renting from $1000-$1800 a month with utilities not included (annual income of $40,000 -$72,000.)

Low and moderate income people may not define these units as affordable.

Our burgeoning tourist and convention economy means that visitors spent $1.145 billion in Greenville County in 2015 and the accommodations revenue increased by 65% in the City of Greenville in 2015. This is significant and important when we think about housing for low and moderate income people. Do employees in the hospitality industry who clean the hotels, bus the tables, wash the dishes, and clerk in the retail shops earn enough to afford the new units being built in the urban area?  Are they able to live near their work place?  If they choose to live in housing that low and moderate income people can pay a reasonable price for, are they close to their work in the hotels and restaurants?  Where do the people live who clean up after the wonderful street festivals? Where can they find a home that they can pay for?  And then can they get to work?

‘Work force housing” is another term used occasionally to mean affordable. These homes may cost less than the open market can bear so work force housing indeed addresses the needs of some low and moderate income people.  People who are often eligible for work force housing include teachers, fire fighters, police officers, and health care workers.  Some communities have built neighborhoods or apartment units specifically for these vital workers so that the town can have quality teachers, fire fighters, police officers, and health care workers. The downside of this definition for affordable is that it rightly expects the people who live in these homes to have a steady income, few credit issues, no criminal record, non-evident mental illness, and/or a steady income.

The good news is that our community is primed to address the issue of affordable housing. Let’s just make sure that everyone is using the same definition of affordable.


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Poverty in the Classroom

Why is that child so rude?

What is wrong with that mother that she allows her daughter to come to school dressed like that?

Why doesn’t he ever do his homework?

That child is so lazy that he sleeps in class every day!

For more than thirty years, I have worked with issues of poverty—both with people who live in poverty as well as with those who want to help.  Even though I began my career as a secondary math teacher, most of my life has been spent working with poverty, first as an executive director of a large nonprofit and then as the founder and CEO of Our Eyes Were Opened, Inc., a program that helps people who want to reach out to those who live in poverty to do so with wisdom and compassion.

I have heard comments such as those at the beginning of this article spoken by teachers when I’ve been asked to provide training for them about how to successfully work with children who live in poverty. I’ve heard variations of these comments as well as many other rather disparaging statements from all kinds of people—civic leaders, church people, business people, agency staff, and board members— when talking about those who may be different from them.

Comments such as these may indicate a gap in our fund of knowledge—those things we think we know because they are common sense to us.  The concept of “fund of knowledge” is powerful in helping us to understand people’s differences. We each have a distinct fund of knowledge, based on things we learned from the family in which we grew up and our education, socioeconomic status, race or ethnicity, age, gender, geography, religious affiliation as well as a host of life experiences.  For example, men will have a different fund of knowledge than women.  People who have lived in a community their entire lives will have a different fund of knowledge than newcomers. Someone can say, “Turn at the intersection where the hospital used to be” and a long-time resident will know exactly where to turn but a newcomer will not. Because we absorb our fund of knowledge without even conscious effort, we assume that everyone thinks like we do, or believes what we believe, or approaches life and its problems like we do. We assume that the solution that will work for me will, of course, work for you.

This is faulty thinking. When we are raised in middle class homes, our fund of knowledge will be different from the fund of knowledge that people who live in poverty have. This gap, this misunderstood difference, will cause problems in the classroom because our assumptions, based on our own fund of knowledge, will be inadequate for understanding the students, especially those who live in poverty.

Let’s go back to the statements at the beginning of this article.

Why is that child so rude?

Tawanda has a hard time listening when the teacher is presenting information. She keeps interrupting. No matter how many times the teacher asks her to wait until the end of the lesson, Tawanda just blurts out questions or comments. She does not raise her hand. She just keeps interrupting….loudly. The teacher tries ignoring the outbursts but that just seems to make the interruptions even more frequent and loud. The teacher’s frustrations make it hard to interact with Tawanda.

Is Tawanda really rude? She may live in an overcrowded household. She may have learned that to survive in chaos, she has to speak loudly and interrupt. When she manifests this behavior in school, she is simply doing what works for her at home. She is not being rude. Nor is she a discipline problem. She does not necessarily have a learning disability. Tawanda’s fund of knowledge says that when you have something to say in a group of people, you say it as loudly as you can, even if someone else is speaking.

Two different funds of knowledge. One says that you wait your turn to speak. Polite people do not yell. The other says that to survive with all those people who live in your house, you’d better speak up. The teacher is challenged to help the student learn other ways of interacting in the classroom without putting down behavior that allows the child to thrive at home.

What is wrong with that mother that she allows her daughter to come to school dressed like that?

Jenny wore the same tee shirt and jeans to school every day for a week. On occasion she had the same outfit on the next week. Her favorite attire was a purple tee shirt with Minnie Mouse on it with jeans that were an inch or two too short. Her shoes slapped when she walked because the sole of one shoe was loose. Her hair was rarely brushed.  Her socks…when she wore socks…were mismatched.

Is Jenny’s mother really uncaring? Yes, Jenny’s clothes may be dirty or in poor repair. However, can you remember a time when you had to use a laundromat to wash your clothes?  If so, you know how challenging that can be. You had to collect all your dirty clothes, carry them to the laundromat. Hopefully you had a car. You had to have the correct change and your detergent. You had to stay there while your clothes were in the washer and dryer so they were not stolen. And then you had to get your clothes together and back home again. You have just connected with the fund of knowledge that a mother who lives in poverty has. All the time and effort needed for clean clothes may have a very low priority when a woman is struggling daily to keep a roof over her family’s heads and food on the table. She may not have the time it takes to wash clothes. Her children wear what is available.

Two different funds of knowledge. One says you wear clean clothes that are in good repair when you come to school. The other says there are more important things in life than clean clothes…things such as a home and food. Neither fund of knowledge is better than the other. They are just different.  At least, Jenny is at school!

Why doesn’t he ever do his homework?

Henry never has his homework but always has an excuse about why he doesn’t. Sometimes he left it at home. Other times, a kid tore it up on the bus on the way to school. Occasionally Henry develops an attitude about homework and tells the teacher that doing homework is stupid or a waste of time.

Henry may really want to do his assignment. However, doing homework requires actually having a home. Additionally, someone needs to be at home with Henry who understands that doing homework is important.  A parent who works multiple jobs or who swings shifts may not always be available to encourage and help.  Sometimes homework is not as important for a student as making sure that younger siblings get something to eat, or working a part-time job so the family has enough rent money, or caring for an ailing grandfather. The home may be so chaotic and noisy that there’s no place to think about school work.

Two different funds of knowledge. One says that doing homework is important for school success. The other says that there are things in life that are more important than homework, things such as taking care of the people in your life.  Both funds of knowledge have value.

That child is so lazy that he sleeps in class every day!

Raymond falls asleep every day in class. He does not even try to be sly about it. He throws his head back with his mouth open so that sometimes he even snores. No matter how hard the teacher tries to engage Raymond, he falls asleep. When prodded to wake up, Raymond just glares and sits with his arms crossed over his chest.  Another teacher has the same problem with Raymond. She has talked with him and he promises to stay awake because he really connects with the teacher and especially enjoys the science lab days.  But his eyes slide to half way closed, he starts, wakes up, and before long, he’s asleep.

Is Raymond really lazy or is he sleepy? Raymond’s dad may get off work at midnight. Raymond wants to spend time with his father, so he is awake late into the night. Or his home or neighborhood may be very noisy so he can’t get a good night’s rest.  He may have responsibilities for family or friends that mean getting seven hours of sleep rarely happens.

Two different funds of knowledge. One says that children need a good night sleep on school nights. The other says that you spend time together as parent and child when you can. Or you live where you can afford, even when the conditions are unhealthy.  Or you take care of people in your life.

Realizing the differences in funds of knowledge is a powerful insight toward deciding how to ford the separation that socioeconomics can place in the middle of successful interaction between teacher and student.  For example, helping a child learn not to interrupt or speak loudly is an important process for the child’s ongoing success in school. One teacher handles this by asking students to put comments on note paper and stick them to the board. Then she responds to the notes before the end of class. Another always speaks in a soft voice. The louder the student speaks, the softer his voice becomes. When the student begins to wait for a turn to talk, the teacher rewards the new behavior in appropriate ways for the class. One teacher uses small groups to help students learn good classroom behavior. After going over with the students suitable ways to interact, she then lets the students practice their skills in their group work. Always she commends proper classroom decorum without putting down behavior that allows the child to survive at home.

A teacher helped a children “fit in” with clothes that did not cause classmates to tease or taunt by keeping a lost and found box that any child could take clothes from. The teacher “found” some of the clothes at a local thrift store, but all the children had an opportunity to pull from the box what they liked. Another told a student that his child had outgrown this outfit and he thought it would look great on this pupil. Students may not even know that their clothing is a problem because they do what is expected from home. Teachers can use compassion and empathy as they help children improve their appearance and hygiene in order to enhance learning.

A school handled the homework issue by providing early and late bus students homework assistance during that waiting time.  One teacher intentionally arrived early or stayed late to help students with homework when necessary. Other schools experiment with providing students technology that taps into the natural curiosity of children so the child discovers ways to learn that are different from the usual homework routine. Some schools build homework time into the school schedule. The worst thing to do is to allow a student who lives in poverty to not complete the tasks expected of all the students in the class. A teacher needs to be creative to help the pupil find ways that work for him or her, based on the child’s environment and fund of knowledge.

Sleepy children cannot be good learners. One school arranged for certain children to have first period as sleep time. Other teachers work with students by allowing them to stand up when they need to stay awake. Occasionally when a teacher discovered that the student could not sleep at night because of a noisy environment, she offered the child earplugs and that made the difference in the student’s motivation and classroom success.  Another educator realized that having nutritional snacks available helped a student stay awake. Some teachers that are energetic and active themselves direct the entire class stand up and do some stretching or brain activating exercises.

There are a number of things that children in poverty experience because of their living situations: lack of hygiene materials or other basic needs, fear, frequent moving, lack of being able to think sequentially, substandard houses and neighborhoods, in addition to those things already mentioned. Bringing teachers together and putting them into small groups to brainstorm how these things will affect their students and then sharing what has worked for a teacher is extremely empowering for a faculty.

A poverty simulation created by Community Action in Missouri is a tool that can help teachers enlarge their fund of knowledge in order to better connect with their students and parents. The simulation puts participants into families that range in size from one to five people. The family receives information about their demographics, income, and expenses. Their task is to keep their family housed, fed, and safe for four fifteen-minute weeks.  In order to meet this goal, they interact with various vendors such as an employer, school, grocer, pawn shop, check cashing place, mortgage company, and others. To get from home to a vendor requires a transportation ticket.  Getting from place to place quickly becomes an issue. After week two, families pick “Luck of the Draw” cards that can either improve their situations or make already difficult situations even harder.

When I am privileged to facilitate the simulation with a faculty, I watch teachers struggle with keeping their families fed, safe and alive for a month.  Each participant assumes a role within their “family”. Some are children and “go to school” for three of the four weeks.  They report that while at school, they really do not think about the worksheets that the “teacher” gives them nor do they feel compelled to complete the second week’s assignment. They are more worried about what is going on at home. Is mom or grandma able to pay the bills that week? Will they be evicted that week?  The real life teachers begin to understand why some of their students do not focus on the classroom material.

Other participants have “jobs” and report in the debriefing that they found it difficult not only to get to work but also to find time to visit all the vendors to pay their bills. They are astounded that the entire simulation ends without their interacting once with their “children.”  They report that they understand now the challenges of the parents of some of their students.

One teacher said in a debriefing session, “You know how we always tell children they cannot take food from the cafeteria? Well, I’m never going to do that again after not having food in our “family” for each of the four ‘weeks.’  We simply did not have enough time in the week to get to the grocery store. We went hungry for most of the month.”

Other participants report that they were overwhelmed financially with the need for five dollars for a school event. Some of the “children” did not even mention the request to their family because they knew there was no money. One said she chose to stay home rather than go to school when her classmates were planning a field trip. Occasionally in the simulation, a child assumes the role of primary caregiver for a disabled relative or even tries to pay bills while mom or dad are at work. Many report that they really had no conversation with their “parent”.

Within a couple of hours, teachers experience the feelings and challenges of living in poverty. They expand their funds of knowledge because for a brief time, they lived what some of their students’ families live 24/7.

The concept of fund of knowledge can open worlds of understanding when we are willing to acknowledge that my fund of knowledge is only mine. Another person has a different fund of knowledge. Our challenge and delight is finding ways to connect and form relationships so that all can learn and benefit from each other.

This article by me appeared originally in Educational Leadership, May 2013


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Poverty Quiz 2017

How well will you do?

1.The 2017 poverty level for a family of four is:

a. $15,930 or below

b. 24,300 or below

c. $32,570 or below                                                                   Source: liheap.acf.hhs.gov

2. In 2015, the number and percentage of South Carolina residents who lived at or below the poverty level was: 

a. 471,306 or 9.5%

b. 684,634 or 13.8%

c. 897,962 or 18.1%                                                                 Source: wwwcensus.gov./quickfacts

3. Homelessness increased by what percentage in SC since 2010? 

a. 3

b. 20

c. 43                                                                                   Source: greenvillejournal.com/2015/11/27

4. The percentage and number of people ages 25+ in South Carolina with a high school diploma or higher are:

a. 76.6% or 3,800,217

b. 81.4% or 4,038,350

c. 86.7% or 4,301,290                                                                                                          Source:www.census.gov/quickfacts

5. What percentage of Greenville County residents travel in ways other than their own cars?

a. 12.4%

b. 17.8%

c. 21.1%                          Source: Piedmont Health Foundation Report, Dec. 2015

6. What percentage of people age 5+ in South Carolina speak a language other than English at home?

a. 6.9%

b.15.8%

c. 21.4%                           Source: http://www.census.gov/quickfacts

7. Where did South Carolina rank in 2016 in the economic well-being of children? (1 is good, 50 is bad.)

a.22

b. 31

c.37                                  Source: datacenter.kidscount.org

8. Based on Housing and Urban Development (HUD) guidelines that no more than 30% of a household’s income should go toward rent/mortgage, a South Carolina worker earning minimum wage ($7.25 an hour) can afford rent of:

a.$377 a month

b.$402 a month

c.$539 a month

Source: National Low Income HousingCoalition/Out of Reach 2016

NOTE:  The fair market rate (FMR) for a two-bedroom apartment in South Carolina (2016) was $772

9. Using the HUD standard that no more than 30% of a household’s income should go toward rent, what is the hourly wage needed to afford a two-bedroom apartment in South Carolina at the FMR?

a.$11.42

b.$14.34

c.$17.01                        Source: National Low Income Housing Coalition/Out of Reach 2016

10. For every 100 deeply low income households in South Carolina, how many housing units are affordable and available?

a.68

b.37

c. 19                               Source: nlihc.org/Housing Spotlight

NOTE: Deeply low income (DLI) is defined as households with income at or below 15% of the Average Median Income  AMI. In SC the AMI is $45,483.)

11.Which of the following items may be purchased with food stamps? (You may choose more than one answer.)

a. Diapers

b. Comet cleanser

c. Toothpaste

d. Cigarettes

3. Fried chicken from the deli           Source: http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/eligible-food-items

12. What is the average monthly payment which a typical Supplemental Security Income (SSI) individual receives in South Carolina?

a.$733

b.$814

c. $942                                                           Source: http://www.ssa.gov

13. What percentage of South Carolinians experience food insecurity?

a.9.7%

b. 16.4%

c. 27.3%                                                          Source: map.feedingamerica.org

NOTE: Food insecurity means: “Consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.”

14. The hourly self-sufficiency wage for a household of one adult and one preschooler in Greenville, SC, in 2016 was:

a. $11.83

b. $13.49

c. $15.67

Source: The Self Sufficiency Standard for South Carolina2016 report

15. What was the percentage of children in South Carolina under 18 who were living in extreme poverty in 2015?

a. 11%

b. 14%

c. 17.9%                                                        Source: datacenter.kidscount.org

NOTE: Extreme poverty is defined as 50% or less of the poverty line.

16. The consequences of child poverty (15-22% depending on the study) in the US is a cost of $X a year in lower earnings, lost tax revenue, and other negative long term effects.

a. $1 billion

b. $250 billion

c. $500 billion                                                       Source: Foundation Center, websearch 7.29.13

17. How many states spent more per pupil than SC did in 2014?

a. 29

b. 32

c. 43                                                                                Source: http://www.governing.com/gov

18. In 2015, what percentage of babies were born to single mothers in South Carolina?

a.7.7%

b.23.8%

c. 46.4%                                                                         Source: datacenter.kidscount.org

19.How is poverty measured?

a.Determine the amount of money needed to buy the lowest-cost nutritionally adequate diet identified by the United States Department of Agriculture and multiply by 3 and then account for the number of people in the household.

b.Estimate the amount of money needed to provide basic housing, clothing, food, and utilities adjusted by the consumer price index, and account for the number in the family. Source: USDA

20. As recent as 2000, Greenville had excess of low-cost rentals ($500 in today’s dollars). Today the city is short by:

a. 500

b. 1500

c. 2500

Source: City of Greenville Balancing Prosperity and Housing Affordability in Greenville report fall 2016

NOTE: SC population in 2016= 4,961,119

Answers: 1b, 2b, 3b, 4c, 5c, 6a, 7c, 8a, 9a, 10c, 11none, 12a, 13b, 14c, 15a, 16c, 17b, 18c, 19a, 20c

All rights reserved, Beth Lindsay Templeton, 2017


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Powerful Learning Experience

Back in 2007, I discovered the Missouri Action Community Poverty Simulation, an experience that opens people’s eyes to the human cost of poverty. The power of this unique learning resource is that it creates, like nothing else, insight into the state of chronic crisis that consumes so many working poor families. Participants experience one month of poverty comprised of four fifteen-minute weeks. Afterwards, in the debriefing, they share insights of extraordinary vividness and intensity.  I have now facilitated the simulation for more than 4000 people.

Participants are placed into families made up of one to five members. They receive an envelope that describes their demographics, their income/resources, and their bills. They interact with “vendors” (trained volunteers) who sit at tables around the perimeter of the room. During the course of the simulation, they may deal with a mortgage/rental company, school, pawnbroker, banker, employer, and others.  To get from “home” to one of the vendors requires a transportation ticket. This is just the first of many challenges the participants experience within the two-hour time period.

I recently led the teachers of New Prospect STEM Academy in Anderson, SC, through the simulation. Here are some of their responses to the question: “Will the poverty simulation be helpful in your job or your life? If yes, in what way?”

“I will be more understanding of the stresses parents have to deal with in their lives.”

“I will have a better understanding of what my students may be going through.”

“Before this experience, I was too judgmental.”

“I now understand that making an A on a spelling test does not feed the child.”

“I have more insight into the home lives of many of my students.”

“This will definitely help me be more polite at school and out in the community when I interact with folks in poverty. This helps me to know better how to talk with kids and parents who struggle in so many ways.”

“I will be more empathetic.”

“I have students living in poverty and now I can understand why homework isn’t getting done.”

“This experience will help me to think more critically in terms of cutting back in certain things that I really don’t need. Most importantly though, this simulation has taught me to not take for granted the financial blessings that my family and I have in our lives.”

“I now understand why children who come to school are tired, hungry and distant.”

 

Powerful!

 

 

 

 


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Point–Counterpoint Part One

Someone shared with me comments about poverty that he found on a social media site. The writer’s opinions (referred to as XYZ) are strong and probably held by others. Because we all look at the world through our own lenses, experiences, socioeconomic class, gender, age and other filters, we will examine the writer’s views with an alternative perspective.

 Point: XYZ wants to be in charge of food stamps. She would give people only 50-pound bags of rice and beans, blocks of cheese, and powdered milk. She says that if people want steak and frozen pizza, then get a job.

 Counterpoint: To live on rice, beans, cheese, and powdered milk requires time for food preparation that may not be available when someone is working two-three part-time jobs. Additionally storing 50-pound bags so the food remains edible may be challenging. Purchasing frozen pizza or a good cut of meat is certainly much cheaper than going out to eat. Children need variety in their diets to get all the nutrients they need for brain development.

 Point: XYZ wants to be in charge of Medicaid. She would require all women to use birth control or sterilization. She would test for drugs, alcohol, nicotine, and document all tattoos and piercings.

 Counterpoint: Do we really want to be like other countries and limit births by government edict? Would employees who receive employer assisted medical insurance (not Medicaid) have to abide by the same testing for drugs, alcohol, nicotine, and document tattoos and piercings?

 Point: XYZ wants to be in charge of government housing and would place people in military barracks with all the rules and regulations attached to such housing. She would not allow entertainment devices.

 Counterpoint: Are military style barracks an environment that nurtures the well-being of children? Is it realistic to believe that children could thrive in such a situation?  Those of us who are buying our homes receive government housing assistance when we write off our mortgage interest from our taxes. Do we want our possessions inventoried as they would be in barracks? 

            Entertainment devices can provide a form of escape for people who struggle daily with “Do I have a roof over my head tonight?” or “Can I feed my kids today?” We all need a way to release the pressures of life and often we choose television as our way to zone out.

 


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Guest appearance for Angelika’s Journal

Tonight, June 24,  I’m on Niteline on WGGS-TV to talk about Angelika’s Journal.Image The book deals with many issues that children who live in poverty face: housing instability and constant moving, lack of access to basic services, substandard housing, hunger, fear, and overcrowded living situations. Families live in multi-generational situations where grandparents are expected to raise their grandchildren and even their great-grandchildren. Children also learn amazing life lessons that can help navigate the journey of growing up as evidenced by Angelika’s commitment to live, love, share, and being good to others.
Angelika’s Journal is a great resource for those who want to understand the impact of poverty on children in order to address the challenges of persistent poverty and change the world for the good of everyone. With understanding comes insight. With insight comes passion. With passion comes motivation. With motivation comes listening. With listening comes solutions. With solutions comes access to amazing human resources, with amazing human resources comes a world where people can live, love, share, and be good to others.


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Rag Doll

Years ago I worked with a woman who was diagnosed with a mental illness. I lost contact with her when she moved to another state. However, she left this poem:

Father, why do I try so hard to be more than I am?

Am I so unhappy having limitations…

Knowing I am weak…

Being Human?

I try to impress…say, “I’m fine”…

busy myself with activity…give advice…

or pretend to answer any questions.

I am like a china doll, tottering on the shelf of life.

Father, let me be a rag doll…

Worn with love, knowing it can’t stand alone,

An easy listener, comfortable to be with, whose

Bent is simply toward being a rag doll.

Rag dolls

                Don’t break

                                When they fall,

Yet they can’t stand up

                Unless

                                They are held.

Please Father, please just hold me.