Friday, April 29, 2011
Baby & Me
Friday mornings at Homeboy Industries are usually punctuated by a few excited shrieks and the occasional gurgle. A reality of life in South and East LA-- where most of our trainees and staff grew up-- is that often people start having kids at a really young age. Fifteen years old young.
By the time many make it to Homeboy, they often have two or three kids, and because many of our Homeboys and Homegirls were raised in unconventional arrangements-- if they weren't in foster care or simply without a home for most of their childhood-- they're eager to learn how to do things "right" with their own children. When you ask any homie what they are most proud of, it's a near guarantee that their answer will be "my kids."
That's why Fridays are a great time to peek into classroom A on the upper floor of Homeboy headquarters. The wide room with tall paneled windows is filled with hand-me-down toys and the happy chaos of a handful of children. Theresa, one of our in-house mental health clinicians, runs the class with a cheerful zing, leading the room in kitchen-utensil-aided song and advising one couple on how to gently attain authority during the "terrible twos." She convinces a usually tough homie to smile sheepishly and roll across the floor "like a worm", looking absolutely ridiculous and a little thrilled.
During the last year, Baby & Me has been visited nearly weekly by pediatric interns and residents from USC. It's a win-win situation: our clients have the opportunity to "ask the Doctor" (free of financial, transportation and "waiting" hassles) and these medical students have the opportunity to get to know something (something important, we hope) about our clients.
One Homeboy, who is now designing a course he wants to teach about being a real father, said that Baby & Me has made him realize a lot about parenting:"Most of us, we grew up in a society that's a little bit chauvinistic..gangsters aren't supposed to be fathers that are around, most of the time you're in prison and when you're not you're not expected to just sit around and actually play with your kid."
"In the class, you get to bond with your child and you get to see 'I can be a parent, too, I can spend time with and take care of my baby'"
Baby & Me only lasts for an hour and a half, but it's the kind of thing you want to carry around in your pocket all day.