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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Lunch with TJ

     6:00 AM. I crept stealthily up the stairs to wake TJ for school. Down the hall the baby had just fallen asleep after a restless, fussy night. I cracked TJ's door. The light from the hall poured into the bedroom. I peered around the door in time to see her lurch up in her bed, cast off her covers, leap to the floor, and begin jumping up and down on her tip-toes,
     "I didn't sleep at all last night, Mama! I couldn't stop thinking that this is the day you are going to come to school and eat lunch with me!"
    The baby began crying. "Shhhh. Whisper, please. The baby is sleeping. We can talk down stairs." I tried my best to subdue her enthusiasm, but she bounded out of her room and down the stairs talking in full boom all the way. I may as well have told the north star not to twinkle as told TJ to calm down. During the next 30 minutes of twirling and leaping, she managed to get dressed, brush her teeth, comb her hair, find her backpack, put on her coat, get out the door, and beat her sister to the bus stop.
     At 10:15 baby Dani and I arrived at the school amid myriad of other  moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who had come to share Thanksgiving lunch with their kindergarten children. Class by class, the K5'ers paraded past the large crowd. When the searching eyes of the children caught sight of their family they grinned, waved, and waited for the signal to launch out of the line toward their kin. The adoring families eyes were soon diverted from their little ones to the bobbing of a blond head which rose rhythmically above all the others.
     "MAMA! MAMA!" TJ's voice echoed in the concrete hallway. "MAMA!"  The eyes of everyone were searching for the mama of this loud little girl who, unlike all the other good boys and girls, couldn't wait patiently.
     For me to acknowledge TJ would avert the gazes of the crowd of relatives, all the anxious children, the weary teachers, aides, staff, and volunteers toward me . . . the 59 year old, gray haired grandma, holding her her grand baby in her arms. This old woman would answer to 'Mama.' Questions will get bantered back and forth, quizzical looks arrowed toward me, and polite, obligatory nods of 'how nice that you have had a late in life child."
     I held Dani in the air for TJ to see and as inconspicuously as possible, hollered out, "Hi TJ." All eyes trained on me. "That's my daughter." Then the looks started and TJ continued with "Dani's my niece!" adding more confusion to everyone's already mystified minds.
     Soon, a tsunami of children came rushing forth. TJ grabbed my hand and drug me to the closest lunch line. The length of the winding line only added to my distress. TJ began jumping out of line and bringing her classmates over to me. "Brandon, this is my Mama." "Hey Karras! This is my Mom!" "Mama, this is Jordan," and on and on it went until I had met every kindergartner and a few parents as well. Somewhere in the long line of introductions it dawned on me that TJ is proud of me. It doesn't matter to her that I am older than all the other parents and older than some grandparents.
     All my pride was put to rest. I smiled at the lunch ladies and said 'yes, TJ is my daughter.' We found a crowded table on which to feast and the introductions continued, but I didn't blush any longer.
     TJ is proud of me.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Calling It Quits

     Sitting sideways in the old parson's bench, Bob stares thoughtfully out the window. His gaze caught by goats grazing lazily in the warm Indian Summer sun and the peacock strutting at chickens who ignore the glare of a hundred green eyes. "We just have to endure the next eight months. What else can we do?" After a year and a half our hopes for Anna turned to frustration and frustration has melted into resignation. We are left with a myriad of questions of which the two most burning are 'why' and 'why not.'
    Three years ago Anna appeared in my middle school math class, a vibrant 12 year old girl with a slight build and a broad smile. She befriended everyone and easily shared herself and her story to all who would listen. She like many of the other children, had been removed from her home by CSS, but her story had a disturbing twist. When she was three years old she had been adopted out of 'the system' and now, as a young teen, her 'parents' were giving her back to the state. I often heard her say she wanted a different life, to make something of herself, to prove everyone wrong, to become someone. She broke my heart.
     For months Bob and I prayed and discussed what role, if any, we should play in Anna's life. Taking on a teenage girl, possibly adopting her, would change our future and retirement dramatically. When all was said and done, the few years we could give Anna weighed heavier than the freedom of our retirement years. God, we were sure, would have us bring this young girl into our family.
     We were ecstatic over the possibilities. Anna would explore places she had never thought of going. Her front teeth, which appear to travel in opposite directions, and the overbite which accompany them would be brought into alignment. She would meet educated people who speak of ideas and view the world very differently. Anna was going to be submerged into the middle class.
      Anna, now 15, is happy she lives with a white family. 'There's not so much drama with white people.' and her friends think she is rich.  She has traveled to Pensacola, Charleston, Johnson City, Disney World and camped in the mountains and on the beach. She has taken our correction of her English well. She works hard at enunciating the consonants at the end of her words and self-correcting her 'I be ....' and 'he do...'
     But she hasn't made that 180 change she'd declared in middle school. As a second year freshman, Anna is failing her core classes. Her language at school is dis and dat, but mostly fu.... She lies about where she  is and what she is doing. She failed her last drug test and has indiscriminate sex at school. She has one or two girl friends, but her calling list is 90% boys.
     Bob sits sideways in the old parsons bench and wonders what else can we do. Are we of any consequence on her at all or are our prayers and efforts in vain? Can we impact the direction she is taking toward a life of entitlements or will she make something of herself? Will she acknowledge Jesus Christ as her Savior, which she so desperately needs?
     "We just need to endure the next eight months." After some thought Bob hears the Spirit of God; He is not finished yet. Quitting would be denying the power, plan and promise of God. Once again, Bob and I regain focus on the challenge ahead, putting one foot in front of the other.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Five year olds have no concept of time. Yesterday could mean yesterday or last May. Tomorrow might be tomorrow or next summer. Five minutes are equivalent to years; two days are less than an hour; this afternoon is tomorrow after the sun goes down or maybe it was yesterday.
I tried explaining the concept of time to TJ on multiple occasions. "TJ, if you count to 60 that is the same as one minute." With a little help she counts to 60. In my mama-teacher voice I'll extend the lesson and continue with "That's great TJ! Now, if you count to 60 fifteen more times, that will be 15 minutes and the cookies will be done!" Cocking her head, furrowing her brow, and squinting her eyes, she contemplates the idea of 15 more 60's making the cookies ready to eat. "THEY WON"T BE READY UNTIL TOMORROW!?!"
"No, Honey, they will be ready in 15 minutes."
She resigns herself to a "Whatever" and wanders back to watch Dora and the Map climb another hill.