I walked to school every day from second grade through high school. For a solid decade, my walks took me through creeks, backyards, and across Rd.’s, Ct.’s, Ave.’s, and Terr.’s in Maplewood, NJ. My daughter started kindergarten this year, and now that we’re finally able to walk to in-person school, we do so every morning. They complain their hands are cold or that the hill is steep, and I walk backwards like an experienced museum docent simultaneously encouraging and embarrassing them with the depth of my own walk-to-school experiences.
Today, we walked the 1.9 miles to school very slowly. My entrepreneurial son Hunter discovered our neighborhood’s Reuse Day for the first time. At the bottom of each driveway along our route sat discarded household items, waiting to be picked up by a fleet of trucks that would divide the goods between the dump and the recycling center. In just one short walk, I counted dozens of car seats, at least ten couches, a piece of artwork that I actually ran across the street to get a closer look at, and endless rows of brown shopping bags filled to the brim with neatly folded clothes and gently used books. Hunter announced he was looking for sports cards, sporting equipment, and office chairs.
I vividly remember driving around with my family to find neighborhoods that practiced Reuse Day in Maplewood. I know I’m not the first immigrant child who doesn’t remember if they went to garage sales because their parents wanted to or because their parents had to. It’s the fuzziness of those memories that make me appreciate my mother and the sacrifices that she made to make us feel like we always had more than we needed, even if we don’t remember where it came from and how it got there. I imagined my own mom many years ago and the women I saw along the street this morning, hopping out of cars at the sight of a stroller, pack and play, or even a full play kitchen for their own children.
The pandemic has made this show of excess and need more difficult to watch, so I tried to talk to my kids about the things we have to give away, and the things we all need. I can’t tell a 6 and 8-year-old that the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey reports an estimated 42% of children live in households that have trouble covering usual expenses or almost 13% of adults with children reported their children sometimes or often didn’t eat enough in the last seven days because they couldn’t afford it. I can tell them that we all have things and we all need things. I came home from our walk to school and put together my own list of things to give away for Reuse Day; a green play car, a bookshelf, and a handful of other miscellaneous, perfectly usable items.
We each have an abundance of kindness we can give away. The offer to be there for others. To offer cards or cookies we can share with someone to boost their mood. A joke we can tell to bring a smile. A donation to support a local organization. If my husband were contributing to this, he could teach you to dunk a basketball or balance a checkbook. He could talk to you about the pain of losing a parent to suicide, sharing that the good days still hurt because you miss them but you will find a way forward. If my friend Monica were writing this, she’d tell you she can help you plant a garden or teach you how to use Google suite tools. She could also tell you about how hard it is to move and start over, adjust to a new school, and find new friends. If my friend Tonya were offering kindness, she’d bring you lemons from her yard and offer her legal wisdom. She’d also remind you to appreciate every moment you have with loved ones, as her family has endured painful loss this year, too.
On Reuse Day and always, I’d be happy to sit on my curb and offer the kindness that I can to the world. I’m sure we all would, if we knew that it would help people feel less alone, if it would remind people of the kindness that surrounds them and the fact that it is only together that we will get through this. It’s what I try to do at Born This Way Foundation, to remind people that they have something to offer the world and that the world needs whatever it is that they have to give.