"So are we not going to volunteer today because of that government money thing?"
"Yes. It's Congress' job to pass—agree on—a budget, and they haven't done that. Now, lots of people who work for the federal government can't go to work and earn money to pay for things they need, like food, or where they live. And we can't volunteer if the workers won't be there to tell us what they need us to do. I'm not sure if anyone will be at the garden today."
People talk about the benefits of volunteering. Even the United States Government talks about it on this page. You can't read it today, though, because of the government shutdown. A cached description of the page says, "Perhaps the first and biggest benefit people get from volunteering is the satisfaction of incorporating service into their lives and making a difference in their community and country. The intangible benefits alone—such as pride, satisfaction, and accomplishment—are worthwhile reasons to serve. In addition, when we share ..." I'm dying to know what happens when we share whatever it is. Meanwhile, we can add to the list of benefits, "The opportunity to discuss with your children important issues surrounding a government shutdown."
Fortunately, the shutdown did not impact the national day of service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. And no, that link doesn't work today, either. We spent last Monday working in a different corner of the Presidio than usual. It was a truly wonderful day. The team at the Presidio knows better than anyone how to welcome, inspire, and educate volunteers. Their opening and closing circles included a short discussion of the history of the day, the importance of service, and how we were part of a larger, nationwide volunteer effort. The educational tables near the volunteer check-in included games where you match bird calls and eggs with the birds that make them, and a bulletin board to add your suggestions about how to improve your community.
Wyatt, a few friends, and I were in the family-friendly working group of about 25 people of varying ages and abilities. We were the Banana Slugs, and the kids made sure we earned our team name by finding as many banana slugs as they could. We directed our questions about what to weed, prune, and gather for compost to the gardeners who work in the Presidio every day. The kids peppered delighted educators with countless questions about critters and plants. And we all worked together to fill the dump truck with debris more than twice.
The organizers provided bagels, coffee and juice for breakfast, as well as lunch. I remarked to one of the gardeners how thoughtful it was of them to provide lunch at the end of the program. He explained they had decided that if people spent the whole morning working for free, and the program ended at lunch time, it was only right to provide lunch. After all, there aren't a lot of lunch options up in the Presidio, and a lot of people can't afford them anyway. Organizers brought in vegetarian and meaty pupusas and tamales along with plenty of curtido from Liquor Express & Deli on Geary Boulevard, a family-owned Salvadoran eatery. Our family is destined become regulars at that restaurant because the food was so good. I also like the idea of saying we got dinner from a place with the unlikely name, Liquor Express.
Regardless of what the (unavailable) government website suggests, "pride and satisfaction" are not the reasons we've continued volunteering this past year. We keep coming back to see the people and spaces we care about and to tackle new challenges. The work we do helps me show Wyatt how to live an open, creative and resilient life. And I had no idea this is what I was doing until I finished reading the new book, The Yes Brain, by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. The Yes Brain is nominally a parenting book, and it focuses on teaching parents and caregivers how to help children develop a Yes Brain. A Yes Brain has four key characteristics: balance, resilience, insight, and empathy. The book also teaches readers how to cultivate those four characteristics in themselves (it's not just for parents and caregivers). It's a quick, well-organized and engaging read. Because it's written by skilled authors with parents in mind, it's streamlined. They don't waste words, and they're gentle but direct. I ended up using a lot of the time I thought I'd be reading to reflect on what I was learning.
Read the book. It's totally worth your time. If nothing else, it may help to provide some context for why certain activities might be even more worthwhile than you had initially thought. For example, our volunteer work contributes to all four brain characteristics:
- Balance: Feeling like things are going right and you can handle yourself well. Volunteering gets us outside, and it helps us feel calm and useful.
- Resilience: Appreciating that situations in life can be difficult, challenge is okay, and the difficulties can make us stronger. While we're working, sometimes we mess up (or see others mess up), but we learn from the mistakes and we witness how group leaders meet the mistakes with kindness and gentle corrections. All of this goes a long way to helping everyone build resilience by feeling safe, seen, soothed, and secure.
- Insight: Recognizing your own emotional state before it overtakes you. Sometimes things get frustrating when you're working, and the low-pressure of volunteering allows the space to notice when you're feeling like a red volcano that's ready to blow.
- Empathy: Looking at someone with your heart, and noticing how that person is feeling. Fellow volunteers have different abilities and preferences, and you can observe a lot if you look with your heart. For example we can see and appreciate how someone with physical challenges prefers to weed in one spot while Wyatt would rather move around more, shoveling and moving rocks.
So good, right?
And for the days when any or all of these characteristics are lacking, but I stubbornly refuse to totally give up, I figure we can just eat more vegetables. Vegetables in the form of this Bok Choy Salad with Apple and Persimmon, for example. We've eaten this salad so many times already this winter, but somehow, I have no photos of it. I'll try to add a photo to this post later this week. If fuyu persimmons are elusive, we've used pomegranate seeds. I'm pretty sure it would also be good just with extra apple, too. (Edited on 1/25 to add the photo below!)
And in case you were wondering, we made it to the San Francisco Women's March on Saturday.