After having Luna I knew I wanted to begin volunteering. There are lots of reasons why volunteering topped my to-do list. One, is an obvious, to be a good example to Luna and to introduce her to a helpful and positive environment. I also always wanted to volunteer when I had a full-time job, but rarely had the time, or flexibility in my schedule. Mostly, though, I want to volunteer because I want to give back. I want to help people. I want to do what I can, even if it’s small, to make this world a little brighter.
When I was in the hospital with Luna, I was so depressed and scared, but so many people continued to show up. Friends, family and strangers did not give up on me. They showed up, they brought me food, they made me laugh, they messaged me, believed in me and eventually made me believe in myself again. When I was finally able to come home with Luna I knew I wanted to “show up” for others. I wanted to help someone feel a little stronger, happier and braver. I spent hours trying to find the right volunteering fit for me. There’s actually a website (volunteermatch.org) that uses your likes and skills to match you up with a volunteering job in your location. In fact, I found something that seems to be a good fit, but it’s been a VERY long process. Every single volunteering gig seems to require a background check, a medical release, a personal record, a fingerprint, a signature in blood and your firstborn child. I’ve been patiently waiting for all my appointments, paperwork and documentation to go through and get filed so I can get started, but geez it’s a bit ridiculous.
Then, right when I was feeling disheartened, I was asked by a friend of a friend to visit a little girl in the children’s hospital. No paperwork required, just me. The little girl they spoke of, spends a lot of time alone in the hospital and the thought maybe I’d be interested in spending time with her. I was absolutely interested and immediately began making plans. I broke out my box of teacher Christmas activities, grabbed my favorite children’s books, packed some art supplies and headed to the hospital full of nerves and excitement. I was finally going to make a difference! BUT, it require me being in a hospital…my biggest fear.
The Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville is basically Disneyland. It’s gorgeous. It’s so full of colors, animated animals, activities, treats, toys and events. I was beyond impressed, but quickly depressed. It’s so wonderful that these children and families have a safe and beautiful place to take their children, but it’s also hard to know that it’s there because there are so many kids who need it. As I roamed the halls, passed the food court and watched some local performers single Christmas carols my heart felt like it was breaking with each step I took. Before I even made it to the little girl’s room I began questioning whether or not I was capable of taking on this particular volunteering opportunity. Maybe, this isn’t the right fit for me.
My first day began with the children’s musician who goes from room to room singing and playing instruments with the kids. Before she left the room, she had me, the Dad, a friend, a volunteer, a nurse and Luna playing instruments and singing Feliz Navidad. It was a beautiful moment. Thirty minutes later it was just me and my new friend (Oh, and Luna!). The sweet little girl is painfully shy. I was told she wouldn’t talk, but would communicate with me by pointing and nodding. I decided to just talk and talk in hopes of breaking the ice. I danced around, showed her how to make ornaments, read How the Grinch Stole Christmas (which she had never heard), wrote a letter to Santa and asked her every question I could think of that would require more than a nod. Ten minutes in I got her to whisper, and by the end of our time together I couldn’t get her to stop talking! We had a blast! I was a big ball of anxiety half of the time, but when she hugged me as I packed my stuff to leave, I knew it was worth it.
She called me a couple of days later to invite me back, and I’ll be back a third time on Thursday. She hugs me, laughs at me and seems to enjoy just talking to me, but I think she likes Luna most of all! I don’t think Luna has ever had someone play with her and love on her as much as this sweet girl. I get hugs when I show up and when I leave, but Luna gets hugs and kisses. I got to know one of the nurses who was giving a breathing treatment during my last visit. She found out that I used to teach and she went on and on about how much respect she has for teachers and how she could never do such a hard job. I think my jaw was on the floor. “You can’t be serious?? Yes, teaching is hard, but ummmm, you’re a nurse. I have no idea how you do your job everyday.” Nurses are very very special people and are probably some for of superhero.
I have loved the little bit of time I’ve gotten to spend with my new young friend, and look forward to more, but it doesn’t make that walk through the hospital any easier. I cry the second I get in my car, thank God for my healthy baby. I think “I just can’t…I just can’t understand any of this. How is life so hard and so unfair for these kids?” I am in such awe of every family I pass. I have so much respect for everyone working and volunteering at the hospital each and every day. While I think “I just can’t”, they just have to. They have no choice. I do though, I can choose to show up, and while it may be hard, it’s not near as hard as if that little girl was sitting in that hospital room with no visitors. Seeing that little girl’s smile and her whole face light up when I walk in the room is worth any bit of uncomfortableness I may feel. Yeah, visiting a children’s hospital isn’t exactly sunshine and rainbows, but you may be their only sunshine.
If you’re fortunate enough to have some time to volunteer this year, please consider it. I know it’s not easy to sign up with an organization. It takes time and often a big commitment, but there are many simple ways to help out. Visit an elderly neighbor, bring food to a local shelter, walk your sick neighbor’s dog, babysit someone’s kids who needs a break, wash your Grandparent’s car or call someone you know is lonely this Holiday season. Sometimes, we think we aren’t strong enough to help or make a difference, but we are. We are enough. So show up as you are and I promise you won’t regret it.