Today was my second to last group ever with the Thursday 1 kids. This was the first group I joined when I first started volunteering for Tu Nidito, and it’s definitely the one closest to my heart. It is also Tu Nidito’s high trauma night, so a lot of the families have lost someone to suicide, homicide, or overdose. That made this week’s theme of intergenerational night tricky – in theory, the adults and kids do the activity as a family rather than splitting by age group, allowing facilitators a peek into their interpersonal dynamics and families a chance to bond within the grieving process. However, a lot of these kids are in foster care, have been adopted by someone outside their immediate family, or even live alone. How do you have an intergenerational night when a family is composed of only one generation, or even just one individual?
In an attempt to make intergenerational night a success even if it’s not strictly speaking intergenerational, I got to hang with two siblings tonight. The older child is in middles, so I’ve known him for quite a while now, and he has grown immensely in that time. When he first came to Tu Nidito, he didn’t know how he had lost his mom. Talking about it is still incredibly laborious and emotional for him, but he knows now that his father is in prison for killing his mother. He talks a lot about how beautiful she was, and how he always felt safe when he was near her. He also talks lovingly about his father, and how much he misses him.
In his time at Tu Nidito, this kid has also grown in other ways. When he first came, he was incredibly small and scrawny, but each group he’s looked visibly healthier as he’s begun to gain weight. He loves Tu Nidito’s “volcano room,” with its punching bags and padded walls and pool noodles to hit things with, and he’s begun to do boxing lessons at a local gym to get some of that same energy out. He’s been officially adopted by extended family members, and moved on from talking only about dinosaurs to talking only about cats. This kid is truly amazing, and today I got to hang with him and his little sister and make sure that they didn’t even realize that the activity was meant to involve an adult.
We had a great time. We made a necklace in memory of their mom, where each bead represents a special memory, emotion, or development in their grief journey. I got to connect with his sister, who is in littles and who I’d never spoken to before, and realize that her grief is far less frenetic compared to her brother’s. We also played limbo (the sister won), and they showed me different ways to knock over a punching bag, each one inspired by a type of animal.
In post-group, the facilitators talked about how volunteering at Tu Nidito has changed other aspects of our lives. One theme that came up was gratitude: working with kids who have had their whole lives upended really teaches you to be aware of how lucky you are. As I continue to explore the balance between being strict and relaxed with these grieving kids, tonight was an important reminder that the adult world has dictated so much of how these kids live. Maybe relaxing the rules is just a necessary way to even out the scales.