I remember when my first son was born. A wise friend said to me “You are so lucky to have a baby boy – boys always love their moms!” While I can’t recall who offered this wisdom, I carry their words with me, and feel immense gratitude to have two amazing sons who are my everything.
When I woke up this morning, I thought of this comment, while preparing supplies for a day on the Downtown Eastside. I knew it was going to be an amazing day – the sun was shining, and two of my all time favourite students from years passed, Mya and Sophia, had agreed to join me on Vancouver’s streets. We had three full bags of candy, and a collection of beautiful handmade Mother’s Day cards, created by Mr. Villa’s grade 4/5 at Laity View Elementary.
Hastings Street offered a renewed sense of hope, with recent bylaw changes that prohibit tents along the sidewalk. With clear sight-lines and cleaner streets, the mood along Hastings was lighter and reminded me of how the neighbourhood once was when we started our card campaign over a decade ago.
Within minutes of parking the car, we saw four men gathered together in the corner of the parking lot. With drug paraphernalia in hand, it was clear their huddle focussed on more than friendship. As we crossed through the lot towards the sidewalk, I asked if any of them would like bags of candy. With childlike enthusiasm, they eagerly accepted. I then explained we also had handmade Mother’s Day cards, created by students, in case they wanted to write to their moms to say Happy Mother’s Day. Magic happened. In a split second, four men surviving Vancouver’s toughest neighbourhood, pushed their drugs aside, and became boys again. They took time to select their cards, and thoughtfully used our clipboards to write to their moms. They asked about our project, and inquired if I had lost a child to addiction. I explained I had not, but that I seek to understand the stories from the streets, and shift the perception of the people living in the Downtown Eastside.
Two of the men, Ron and Ronnie, were bursting with pride and held their cards up for a photo so the their moms could have a picture for the fridge to go along with the Mother’s Day card. They were so moved by the work of students that they led the way up Hastings encouraging others to chat with us.
Person after person, especially the men, trusted us with their stories and wrote messages of love for Mother’s Day. One man explained he had sustained a workplace injury followed by a coma and months of therapy. While dealing with the grief and the pain, he became addicted to prescription drugs. Another shared that he loved the idea of saying Happy Mother’s Day but would not be willing to send a card to his dad on Father’s Day, as his dad had abused him for years. Like all of our previous trips, it was clear that every unhoused citizen along Hastings Street is attempting to escape pain and trauma from their past. One by one, they shared their stories, accepted our offer, and wrote to their moms. Some, struggling with dexterity, asked us to write for them as they narrated the script. Every card offered love.
Tomorrow morning, I will begin my favourite Mother’s Day tradition, by phoning moms across our country to let them know their son or daughter is alive and has written them a Mother’s Day card.
This year, all but three of our cards were written by men – grown men, struggling with addiction and feared by society, who on the inside, are still boys who love their moms.
Happy Mother’s Day!
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God bless you all for doing this amazing work!