“I love my children.”
It is Saturday afternoon, and I am on a mission. After several attempts to connect with the owners of area laundromats through email, I am not making the progress I hoped. I want to see how a collaboration between the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (SCGLR) and local laundromats can support local families. It becomes clear that I will have to go to them. The list I have pulled off the internet is of very little help as it is long and non-specific. However, I do know where four Title 1 schools in Sarasota County are located, so I decide to start there. I pull up Google maps and drive to the school nearest me. From there I ask Siri to please find the nearest laundromat. Within five minutes, I am pulling up to a rundown strip mall. I am instantly aware that I probably need to pay attention to my surroundings. I grab a small stack of Vroom and Mind in the Making supplies, five promotional pencils, my phone, pen, and notepad. My keys and business cards are in my pocket. The office is closed until Tuesday, and there is a handwritten note to call Lamar if you need to report a problem with the machines. I quickly jot down his number and hours of operation.
I walk around the side of the building and quickly enter. It is small and confining. As I enter, a young man of 30 or so turns and looks at me. I smile, and he smiles back. I move through the small maze of machines and metal-wheeled laundry baskets looking for a manager on duty. A young man wearing headphones looks at me and lifts up one side of his headset but doesn’t say anything, so I ask him if there is someone who works there. He says, “No, Miss, they are closed. His number is on the door, but you can just use the machines.” He is kind, and I am grateful. As I thank him, I turn around in the narrow space to head out the way I came in. It is the only path open.
I notice now that the young man who first smiled at me has two young children with him, both boys, and it crosses my mind that he shielded them from me with his laundry cart when I first walked in. They are sitting in their chairs eating pizza at a cramped laundry-folding table wedged between a double-stacked washer and a vending machine.
I approach the man, introduce myself, and he tells me his name is José. I ask if I can share some information with him about the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and our goals of making sure all children can read by the end of 3rd grade. Instantly, he smiles and his eyes light up as he says, “Yes!” He puts his hand on his son’s back and shares proudly, “My older son loves to read!” then continues, his tone changing to concern, “My younger son, not so much…” Both boys look up as they hear themselves acknowledged, and we all smile. José says, “I bought them a dictionary, and they have to bring me five new words a day; EVERY DAY. We all talk about them and what they mean, and now my son is bringing me all kinds of crazy words I have never even heard of, and he keeps laughing at me!” He is smiling as he continues, “It is hard because seven days a week I work at The Dutch Valley Restaurant, but no matter what, I make sure to spend time with them every day, because it’s important.” I am looking at this father in awe, and I tell him so. I ask if his boys can have one of the promotional pencils, and he agrees, as I explain about Vroom and Mind in the Making. I show him the instructions for downloading the free Vroom app in Spanish, and I ask him if he knows anyone with young children who can use this? “Yes. Yes, I do,” he replies. “May I have a few more please?” I look directly at him and say, “Thank you. You are a really good father. Your children are very fortunate to have you as their Dad.”
“I love my children very much,” is his sole response.
“Do you mind if I speak to your son’s directly for a moment?” I ask.
“Yes, of course.”
Kneeling down to their eye level, I introduce myself to the boys. “Thank you for sharing your time with your dad with me today, guys.” I briefly explain about SCGLR and why we care that they learn to read. “Do you boys know how smart your dad is? He is very smart. He told me you are reading the dictionary and learning five new words every day! That is so awesome.” I gently inquire of the younger son and he admits that he doesn’t like to read that much, however, it is obvious that both boys are paying close attention to everything being said. They are also watching their father as I speak to them about him. You can see their pride in him growing. “…the program I work with is trying to get parents everywhere to do what your father is already doing with you! How did he know to teach you this? Because he is very smart, that’s why! Just remember, even if you don’t like it much right now, that will probably change as you learn what more and more words mean, so please keep trying and never, ever give up! Listen to your dad.”
What a gift it was to meet this father. Not only is he a kind, hardworking man, but he is also a very intelligent man with the spirit of a leader. You can feel it in the way he communicates.
We decided to celebrate our paths crossing with a photograph.
I call it, “I Love My Children.”
“IF YOU CANNOT DO GREAT THINGS, DO SMALL THINGS THAT ARE GREAT.”