My Desert Urchins

The kids in my rough-and-tumble neighborhood range from horrid little beasts to precious souls who just need a chance. Some of them remind me of myself and so many of us from our generation when we were young. They experience life head-on instead of through smart phones or computers. They know every shortcut, dirt road, and chained dog in the neighborhood. There’s not an ounce of fat on them. There are a couple of tough little girls I’ve befriended as they make their daily rounds looking for work. Now they love to come over and play with my dogs and cats as well as performing easy odd jobs, such as sweeping the carport or raking up storm debris. They show their gratitude with hugs and affection and hundreds of thank yous.

These kids are wise and aware and full of curiosity about their world. These are not the kids who take sticks and bash swallow nests full of babies, these are kids who know every dog in the neighborhood and how its being treated—and care deeply when they see abuse. The downside of this is they report these facts to me as if I can fix it all, and that’s just not possible, so I often end up distressed from an overload of depressing information.

What I love most about my girls is their complete lack of the expected sense of entitlement that Americans have become notorious for. They don’t even consider using the small amount of cash I pay them to buy things for themselves, they give the money to their caregivers. They ask for rides to the Dollar Store to buy toilet paper and laundry detergent and other necessary household items, not personal gifts for themselves. I see the stress in the older girl as she worries about shut-off notices and unemployment and things kids shouldn’t have to agonize over. I know of spoiled young adults who’ve wanted for nothing financially whose bad behavior is excused because their parents are divorced—are you kidding? Get over it.

Lately my girls have been on foot patrol and I learned their bikes are in such disrepair they’ve given up trying to ride them. I got excited about providing them with safe transportation that will give them the freedom to roam without stressing over broken seats and shot inner tubes. I asked around town but couldn’t find anyone who had used bikes to donate, so I went on Craigslist and found two nice girls’ bikes for $10 each…but had to drive to Tucson to get them. The bikes were well cared for by a bike-loving family whose girls had outgrown them. The urchins love them but I think I love seeing them flying around the ’hood even more, and always with a tailwhip stop at my house. They’re so damn cute.

But, like other kids living a lifestyle of lack, they have a streak of con artist in them. The other day I came home from work to find they had cleaned the little shed that serves as my laundry room, and they were waiting for me in my driveway. I thanked them but told them they shouldn’t have done that without a mutual agreement first. When they asked to be paid I had to say no. They did this through a combination of innocence and desperation, and I felt bad, but they need to learn they can’t play their customers for suckers.

In the past few weeks the urchins have multiplied. What started off as two became three, and now four.

The girls love to pose and clown for the camera. I debated whether to post some pictures and finally decided why not.

Not enough bikes!

They love to play with my dogs

Sparkle at the wheel

They love the camera

Don’t mess with Arizona girls! I love guns and archery—it’s all about marksmanship, not killing.


22 responses to “My Desert Urchins

  1. I sometimes have kids offering to mow the lawn or rake and I am unsure what to pay them. Nice pictures, what poundage bow do you pull? if society does become broken, I will make sure I stay out of your field of vision…

    • Hi McCloud, I never know what to pay them either. I think I overpay them, they only ask for a couple bucks but they work hard so I want to be fair. More than what the folks at Burger King make, that’s for sure.

      I can only pull about 40 lbs. but try to raise it every now and then. I’ll never be able to pull what a strong man could pull, 60 or 70, (my bow doesn’t go that high). The new compound bows are more high-tech, the “let-off” point where the pulleys take over is shorter so you don’t need to pull so hard. Kind of cheating, I think, but if people are going to hunt with these, better to kill than to wound.

  2. D,

    Those urchins look gorgeous and pure, and so does your soul, my dear. Thank you for buying them those bikes. I agree that entitlement is a horrible concept, but sometimes I feel real anger toward such parents who bring them into the world without a second thought – nobody is asking for entitlement, but a child’s rights: a kid should have a bike, nutritious food, good books, decent clothing, a roof over the head, and a happy childhood – let us not encourage a child in prematurely realizing life’s harshness – for it always becomes an excuse for robbing them of their innocence and a pretext for child labor.

    It has been long, D.

    • Hi Red, good to hear from you. I feel the same anger toward dumping out kids without a clue how to pay or care for them. There’s a balance here somewhere between neglect and overindulgence. I know I could never figure it out, that’s why I don’t have any.

      I’m convinced that many people don’t even know how they got pregnant. I know child labor is a big issue in your country and all over the world and getting worse. Unbearable to even think about, but if well-off kids only knew how good they had it…

  3. Liked your Desert Urchin post Debra. Good for you in reaching out a hand of friendship & trust to these kids & especially in an area where friendship & trust leave so much to be desired. The true innocence of animals & children are so intertwined. Our pets always remain in their childlike states whereas children are forced at some point to become adults. I do believe there is a strong connection of similarities between the minds of children & the minds of animals. Many childlike qualities can be found in animals & vice versa. Keep up the good work Debra….you are making a difference.

    • Hi Al, thanks. I think I like these kids so much because they’re like smart little adults. I don’t have to talk down to them or baby them. They actually want to know how I’m doing. Amazing because I’ve never been comfortable around kids before. What scares me the most about all the video/phone/computer addicted kids is that they’ll be deciding our future when we are old. My urchins, however, I think I can trust to make sound decisions. Bless their dear little hearts.

  4. Great story!

  5. It is a good thing you are doing here for the kids. They really need it and someone like you just to be there for them. Keep it up.

  6. Very nice. Your soft heart is showing through again!

  7. Oh you mentor, you!

    There resides among adults and parents the notion kids should have or don’t want adult friends. But they do. They see their neighbourhood the way it should be seen – a social place, to which to explore and interact with those within -best analogy that I can think of is that kids are like puppies. They long to see how the world functions outside the walls of their home an there hell bent on exploring it -if allowed to.

    I have had similar experiences. Embrace it, they grow up and the curiosity takes them elsewhere (we’re both young enough to remember that–well I am). Fighting hard not to break into an long rambling flashback to my neighbouring mentors of my childhood. Your street urchins are a modern day version that plays out more than we know. Times have changed or I should I say perceptions have changed. Parents presume the neighbourhood as having dangers within. The boogie man lurks behind every tree. Kids are kept close, locked in, an supplied with shtufff to amuse.

    Now at fifty three (that can’t be right, hmmm, 2012 subtract 1959 equals ‘oh crap’, technically I have a couple months) I need to be more curious of the things. To take pleasure and delight in exploring interests that have been locked away. I mention this, as am a little jealous of you and the street urchins. There is much to take notice of; such a relationship has its rewards for both sides as you have shown.

    Cool bikes, insightful pictures Cowgirl or should I call you Artemis or will just Goddess suffice.

    • Hudson, it’s not easy to keep our curiosities up, we have too many other trials to worry about. That’s why we need to walk the ‘twitching trail’ every day, even if it’s just slamming on the brakes on our way to work to get a photo of some amazing scene.

      You won’t believe this but I heard that now in CT, my native state, there are no more school bus stops. The bus must drop each child off at their house and there must be an adult to greet them! When I was in school the few kids who got picked up by their mothers were made fun of. Is life really that much more dangerous now or are kids just more sheltered from the real world? I don’t know but can’t imagine growing up without lots of freedom to explore. We were what they now call “latchkey kids” (wait, is that even still legal?) but back then it was just “whaddya wanna do after school?” Anything was possible but we never hurt even a bug and learned how to deal with creepy people really fast. I am around the same age as you, give or take a few years but I won’t tell you in which direction!

      • True, the trials, the worries are many. Let’s hope the sky opens, and a micro burst picks us up and puts us down in a new place, a better, kinder, gentler place. But am afraid there are no miracles. There has to be a point, where one just must say, ‘to hell with it’, so, ‘burn baby burn’. But it is hard to turn one’s back and walk when one has a conscience. If only one could just retain just a little child curiosity and zest; hiding it in a back pocket or in one’s shoe, where, with a little rubbing it will come to life once again. There just might be a twitching trial out there that leads somewhere other then where were stuck at the moment -that guides us through the bull shtufffs. But that in itself is grandiose or is it.

        Perhaps that is why so many ‘common people’ turn to altruism. A last stand, a declaration that a outreached open hand is far better than a clenched fist or middle index finger. That a hand is for more than holding a misread book, throwing stones or lining pockets. These are the mavericks of a not so pretty era. They’re in abortion clinics, in shelters for the two and the four legged, they walk ditches picking up litter. They are the ones who do what they do because they have no other choice but to do so. They live on the outskirts but they’re not marginal. They buy bikes for neighbouring girls because they feel they have no other choice. Shame on me for not being more like them.

  8. It gives me such immense pleasure to find stories of children and youth able to move through the world with some of the same freedom I had, lo, these many years ago. That freedom, of course, includes the freedom to discover life contains limits as well as desires and wishes, and is willing to impose those limits willy-nilly.

    Still, we survived and even thrived. We learned to share, to work and to be responsible. When the street lights came on, we went home. When we went to the gas station to buy our penny candy and the owner wasn’t there, we took what we wanted and left our money on the counter instead of stealing. We whined and whined for this or that, and pouted when we didn’t get it – but only for a time. We didn’t expect things to change, we just felt it was part of our job description to whine and pout now and then.

    Nostalgic? A little. But even more determined to keep living in that same world of freedom and responsibility, no matter what I have to do to achieve it. You gave a little freedom with those bikes, and taught a little responsibility when you refused to be bamboozled into paying for non-agreed-upon chores. I wish I lived in your neighborhood. 😉

    • Hi Linda, though I’m unhappy with Arizona I never want to live in a world where conformity is expected. Though the freedom here can also work against you with awful neighbors and speeding cars, I so prefer it to trimmed hedges and polo shirts and getting stopped by the police for the tiniest infraction.

      Yes we thrived and survived, and that is what has shaped us into adults who deal with high unemployment by doing whatever it takes instead of making demands to be supported.

      LOL I too remember whining for stuff “all the other kids had” and never getting any of it. I used to blame my mother for making me such a misfit but now I thank her spirit for giving me the strength to embrace our power to adjust to life’s circumstances, the same way my urchins do. Though I have yet to hear them whine about anything.

  9. Your true nature comes through once again. Kind, aware of others, and alert. That you drove to Tuscon to buy bikes for the girls is just wonderful. And that you stuck to your guns to teach them that a deal requires two parties is just as valuable. You make their life richer.

    And that you love archery (as do I) is just perfect. Your aim is true!

    • Hi Bill, thanks. I didn’t know you love archery. Long bow or compound? There’s something so wonderfully primitive about it. But I always worry about bow hunters wounding animals, but I guess that happens with guns too.

      • I shoot both a recurve and a compound. My aim is true, like yours. What I love about archery is the Zen of the sport. Once you get in the groove you can just feel it. No aiming necessary, its just pure energy and arrow flies to where you intend it to go.

        • Exactly. I think a lot of people who feel this have a little thought or saying before they shoot, mine is Be The Projectile. It applies to archery, my gun, a frisbee, or even tossing someone something across a room. Once you let the ‘oneness’ take over, you can’t miss. Now if I could only feel this oneness with everything else…

  10. But you can, it just takes getting into the groove of what you are doing!

    Really though, archery is such a good metaphor for many of the hurdles we face in life. What I like about archery (or aiming a gun or a sling shot) is that you FOCUS on one point. And through that one action everything comes into view, even the areas outside of the target. And that feeling you get when it is all so effortless. That is the feeling that we should all strive for in all of life. Pure, simple, true.

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