No Merit Badge For This

davannis“After Penn Fest, Ryan wants me to come over and hang out and then we’ll go to the Mall of  America”, Juan said.

Juan would be finishing up his shift at Davanni’s. His second job. He was a line judge for soccer over the summer. A fellow cross-country runner told him that Davanni’s hired 14-year-old’s. His cross-country coach introduced him to the hiring manager.

I gave him a sideways look. “Who else are you going with? Who are you going to meet up with? I’ll need more information.”

“Just us,” he said.

I gave Juan the usual response. “I’ll have to check with his parents.”

We were driving home from Boy Scouts. Juan had hoped to have his final three merit badges checked off. (I was, too. If he’s in scouts, I’m in scouts.) He’s aiming to get his Eagle Scout by the end of this year.

Turning on Penn Avenue from 50th Street, I asked him. “What would you do if there was a fight in the food court?”

Eagle Project, Antiqua Guatemala

Eagle Project, Antiqua Guatemala

He dodged, displaying a typical defensive teenage move. “Ryan and I won’t be in the food court.”

I persisted. “Still, what if you were and a fight broke out?”

Juan described some superhero ninja moves he’d make leaping over railings, running faster than the speed of light. Then he paused, “Ryan isn’t as fast as me, though.”

I didn’t tell him that Ryan was white and didn’t need to be as fast as him.

Instead, I said, “You’re Hispanic. If you’re running from a fight, police could think you were a part of it. If the police ever stop you, you stop. You don’t argue, you lay down, and when you can, you call your moms.”

I went on to tell him that there were at least 10 teens arrested at the Mall of America the day before. All were juveniles, ranging in age from 12 to 15.

Juan is 14.

He doesn’t have any fear of the police. He shouldn’t. I’m a volunteer Police Reserve Officer, Jody is currently going through orientation to be a Police Reserve, and he’s never been in trouble.

He’s known to the Richfield police because he’s helped me with police patrol, vehicle maintenance on police cars, and wrapping gifts with the police at holiday time for Heroes and Helpers.

After his eight grade school year, he’s planning on becoming a police explorer.

Juan has no thought of being concerned. He’s an A/B student and active in three sports. All of his interactions with police have been positive.

Still, when there’s a melee involving 200 juveniles, he’s just another Hispanic. I thought of him getting thrown to the ground, kneed in the back, his arm twisted behind him.

I repeated, “If you’re ever told to stop, you stop, you don’t argue, you lay down, and when you can, you call your moms.”

I left him with these words, “What the police see is a Hispanic running away.”

 

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Two Moms, A Sister, and a Boy Scout

Taking the dental supplies to the clinic through the streets of Anitqua, Guatemala

Taking the dental supplies to the clinic through the streets of Antiqua

When Juan Jose was ten, he was dumped in the Brule River not once, but twice when I was at the helm of our canoe. Without help from strangers, we would not have made it to the landing.

He’s almost 14, and he recently completed a comprehensive water-based safety course that involved practicing self-rescue and rescuing other kayakers with his Boy Scout troop in Lake Superior. These are necessary skills for the wilderness cold water kayaking that he’ll be doing in Alaska with the Scouts this August.

Juan didn’t join Scouts to learn how to navigate water. He joined Scouts to learn what his two moms and sister couldn’t teach him.

I became a Cub Scout leader by default. He wouldn’t let me drop him off while I ran errands for an hour.

Dentist Hugo, Juan Jose, Hygenist

Dentist Hugo, Juan Jose, Hygienist

When it was time for him to cross over to Boy Scouts, he decided to stay in scouting. This surprised me. I was preparing myself for a free evening. Instead, I trained to be an assistant Boy Scout leader. He still wasn’t ready for a parent to drop and run.

Juan was pulling away from me though. I no longer went to all of his campouts. When I did go, he was caught up in the flow of scouts running from one event to another.

Today, he completed his Eagle Scout project in Guatemala. He raised funds for children to receive dental care, and he collected over 130 lbs. of toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss and dental supplies .

Juan gave the children sunglasses so they wouldn't be blinded by the light. That's how it is done at his dentist in Richfield.

Juan gave the children sunglasses so they wouldn’t be blinded by the light. That’s how it is done at his dentist in Richfield.

The money he raised enabled 14 dental cleanings, 34 extractions, 31 fillings, and 28 sealants. Care that these children would not have received otherwise.

He gave one suitcase of dental supplies to the dentist and a suitcase of toothbrushes, toothpaste, and floss to De Familia a Familia. This organization is a link between birth and adoptive families. They have over 260 families that they are currently working with.

Juan couldn’t have done this project without help from relatives, friends, neighbors, and strangers.

And, his two moms and sister.

Six teeth extracted and a dental cleaning.

Six teeth extracted and a dental cleaning.

Because of all of us, he’s learned to navigate waters and to pull himself back into his kayak.

Thank you.

The Dead Cat is Out of the Freezer

IMG_0493Seasons change, and so it is time.

We have a small window to perform our ceremony – in between the comings and goings of teenagers.

A line forms and we sing “Amazing Grace” while walking to the burial place in the corner of the yard. Our daughter and her friend dug the hole earlier. To make sure it was big enough they placed Trouble the dog in the hole but he quickly jumped out.

Seasons have changed for the children as well. A Cub Scout is now a Boy Scout who will be doing his Eagle project on Saturday. A small girl, who was always the first to jump into the swimming pool, is still the first to try most things in our house.

Our procession takes us underneath the flowering crabapple. The sweet scent follows. I lay down the paper bag holding our beloved.

There is a discussion about whether to bury Angel in the shirt that he is wrapped in. I kneel, gently cover his black and white face with the fabric so dirt won’t fall into his eyes. My stomach constricts. I straighten. Jody hands the girl the shovel.

There was a day when the children were ten months old that I thought they would be that age forever. I could not see past that day to this one. Parenting was hard work. Parenting was demanding. It still is, but in a different way. Now I need to stay attuned to who they are, what they are doing. I can’t be any less present. Because I need to be there if only to say, I see you. I am watching you. Give me your phone.

After our ceremony, as they are rushing off, I pull down the branches of the apple tree and smell the white flowers that within days will fall off the branches.

I want to shout to the children’s departing backs that I’ll never give up. No matter how hard parenting may become, I’ll never give up.

Angel our cat is gone. He had a good life. I have a good life. And, you are worth it.