So over the last couple of months, Harry and I have been working to find a charity where we can both volunteer time to read to children. Preferably children under the age of five. This seemed like a capital idea. Easy. Fun. So great. Win/Win. However, strangely, we have found this to be a harder task than even makes sense.

Because there are a lot of kids out there.

In our home state there are 1,662,267 children (25% of the children currently living in Texas; National: 22%) who live in families defined as having income below 100% of the federal poverty level. (You can read more about that here.) This really becomes relevant to our reading pursuit when you consider the studies that have found that “by age four, children in middle and upper class families hear 15 million more words than children in working-class families, and 30 million more words than children in families on welfare. This disparity in hearing words from parents and caregivers translates directly into a disparity in learning words. And that puts our children born with the fewest advantages even further behind.  Among those born in 2001, only 48 percent of poor children started school ready to learn, compared to 75 percent of children from middle-income families.” – You can read more here. 

And it goes on.

And it’s tragic.

The thing is, it can be changed. And Harry and I want to do what we can to help close this Word Gap.

I tell you all this, not to depress you (or me). But to start the year with this in mind. As we’re writing resolutions and thinking about fresh starts and what’s ahead…it’s motivating to think about hitting refresh on this problem. Because it has a cure. It can be changed…with a simple change of practices.  Much like understanding and communication have helped changed our collective and societal practices involving all sorts of progress…the importance of wearing seat belts, for instance…this can be fixed. We have the power to actually make a difference here.

As Harry said, “I don’t know enough about science to cure a disease, but I know how to read, so I can help.”

Exactly.

The thing is, we’ve had a really hard time finding the right place to help. After numerous tries, several false starts, for a variety of reasons, and without throwing any well-intended organizations under the disorganized bus, let’s just say we just haven’t found our place yet.

But we thought we had finally found our place.

And last week we were scheduled to do our first reading with kids. But as we were driving to our appointed spot, we got a call that explained that because of unforeseen circumstances, they couldn’t have us in that day.

So once again, we are two people who want to read to kids and can’t find kids to read to.

Harry suggested we go to the Capital and “take it up with the government” to get this fixed.

I love his eight-year-old brain.

I thought it wasn’t a bad idea to visit the Capital Building, if only because we now had an unexpected open day. And because it was five seconds before Christmas, Harry soon found out that there was no one there to take anything up with. For the record, I didn’t expect to take anything up with anyone. I also didn’t expect to end up in the gift shop. But A.) of course the Capital has a gift shop and B.) of course we exited through it.

Harry had $3 in his pocket that he begged (BEGGED!) me to let him spend on this little spongey football.

He then begged (BEGGED!) me to play catch with him, right then, on the lawn of the Capital. But by this time in the day, I was kind of done. Nothing had really gone as planned. And we needed to make our way back to the car, to get on the road, to beat the traffic back home. I explained this to Harry, who looked at me very seriously and said, “Mommy, we came all the way here to help kids and we couldn’t, so I’m going to help you learn how fun it is to stop worrying about traffic and to throw a football with a kid.”

How can a person argue with this logic?

This person can not argue with this logic. Even if this person kind of hates football.

Because, in about five minutes, this moment in time will be gone. And he will no longer be begging me to do anything with him. I know this. And even though it was my agenda to help read to kids today, it is now this kid’s agenda to have a connecting moment with his mom. By throwing a ball. This is his way.

And if it has to be a moment with a football…well, it’s not my thing, but I think that’s the point, isn’t it? It’s really not about me. It’s about connecting with a child exactly where he is.

So we began to throw the football back and forth. We did this for about an hour before we packed up and headed home.

And here’s the thing. He was completely right. Throwing a football with a kid is fun.

I also was reminded how even though things don’t go exactly as planned sometimes…even when things are looking pretty bleak…the important thing is to be in the moment, to look around and to see what you can do with what you have.

I’m now more determined than ever to spend my next year reading to kids. And Harry is right there with me.

This whole experience of working to find a place that we can come in and read to kids…on an ongoing basis…well, it should be an easier process. Of course, I get the reasons why it is not. Kids should be protected at all costs. But I also get why people don’t know how to help. They don’t know what to do to help, and they don’t know where to start.

I’m now really interested in not only in helping, but also in doing what I can to make it easier…to make a clearer path…for individuals who want to help. I don’t really even know what this means yet, but I know there’s a problem. And I like to help fix things. And fixing things takes a first step.

I am glad to now say that one first step might have worked out. As of yesterday, with the help of an Internet friend, we’ve found a new organization that is excited about us coming over to read to some kids next week and next year. We are ready. And we’re really looking forward to whatever the next year brings. We have no idea what’s going to happen next…and I kind of love that.

I’m also about 82% sure it doesn’t involve football, but if it does, I guess I’m ready.

This post was sponsored by Next Generation and the Clinton Foundation as part of the Too Small to Fail campaign. Several bloggers, including myself, have added goals on Go Mighty around spending more time with the kids in our lives and helping to close The Word Gap. You can check them out here and join in by tagging #gomighty4kids on your kid-related goals.