Wednesday, June 11, 2014

My Pick-Me-Up (in honor of Father's Day)

My dad is odd.  Yes, I know I mentioned how goofy my mom is in my blog about her last month, but really, in comparison, my dad wins the prize.

But he’s also cool. He was a pilot in the Air Force, has some very interesting stories about those years, and he even briefly drove a limo for the building tenants where Dear Abby lived, as one of his side jobs.  (We won't get into who got a ride to school in that limo, but it was the same sibling of mine mentioned in my blog about mom, who was nursed and not bottle-fed, like me.)​
​And he was a good-looking dad—something my high school girlfriends reminded me of, often.
There were times dad worked three jobs so mom could stay home with us kids, and we were told to go to mom for things.  And she did all the disciplining.​

​Except the one and only time I got grounded, right before my 16th birthday.  How convenient—I spent the night of my 16th birthday in my room! As the only daughter, I was supposed to be my dad's "princess."  Unfortunately for dad, mom delegated the grounding job to him.  I remember dad coming into my bedroom to tell me I was grounded.  He looked so miserable, I know he felt worse than I did!  And I felt like I'd let him down.

Years later, when I called my mom to break the news my husband and I were separating, something I braced myself for as my parents are strict Catholics, I sobbed uncontrollably, feeling like I'd not only failed my marriage, but failed my parents as well.  When my mom and I were done talking, with reassurances from her that she was supportive of me, and things would be okay, I remember saying, “Please don't tell dad. He's going to be so disappointed in me."

Mom replied, "Jill, he knows.  He's been on the phone in the basement the whole time listening."  That was it, I cried so hard I couldn’t talk (a rarity for me,) feeling I'd disappointed him again, until he said, "It’s okay, Jill, we love you."  And although my mom had said the same thing, hearing it from my dad—a man who rarely talked of his feelings at that time—helped mend my grieving heart.
When my daughters were growing up, they compared some of my dad’s behavior to “Rain Man.”  No, he’d be no help to us in Vegas, but one of their reasons for comparison was his odd habit of walking laps around their ping-pong table as a source of exercise during the winter.  He knew how many laps made a mile​.  A lot.

He's got a great sense of humor, and is a people-person, just like my mom.  He'll ask you a million questions when he meets you, but it is only because he is genuinely interested in what you're saying.  And he'll remember what you said!  At almost 81 years old, his memory is like a steel trap.

Dad is smart, and loves technology—embracing it, when most run the other way at his age. And like my mom, he's a volunteer-aholic and has received awards for his work.  His main focus is Hospice, something that might surprise people who know him from his younger years. As an only child, dad was raised riding the world-revolves around-me horse.

​When dad retired, mom sat him down.  “Listen.  You aren't changing my daily routine so you might want to volunteer with me or find your own things to do because I won't be here to make your lunch every day."  (Or something rather frank like that.)  Dad got the message.  The world was not revolving around him.

So dad also turned to volunteering.  He is very giving and caring, and focuses on making other people's lives better.  One of his volunteer jobs over the years has been to help senior citizens pay their bills and balance their checkbooks (and make sure they aren't getting scammed). What is funny about that is most of the people he helps are younger than he is!

He'd do anything for anybody, you don’t have to be his little princess (sorry, I’m not giving out his phone number!)  And although he is a clean-freak, car-tire-and-motor-oil hoarder, my dad is exactly what I wanted in a dad—a man who is always there when I fall down, to help pick me back up.  And love me, no matter what.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

What If?

A teenage girl showed up at our house unexpectedly a few days ago. And I mean unexpected.  I hadn't heard from her in over eight years.  That might not seem like a big deal, but this was no ordinary child.  No ordinary situation.

I had connected with this girl we'll call "G", when she was seven.  I volunteered on my lunch breaks at our local school, reading with children who needed help.  Although she wasn’t one of my reading partners, G and I started a friendship, a Big Sister of sorts.  G’s life was different, and G was different.  And I wondered if I’d be of any help.

I told myself I could get through to this girl, who seemed to live in her own little make-believe world. She was living with her mom and dad at the time. And I soon realized why she retreated to her fairy-tale world.

Call me clueless at age 47. G's life was one I'd never witnessed, and I couldn't grasp why nobody was helping her.   

This girl fell through the system's cracks.  If I wouldn't have seen her lifestyle with my own eyes, I'd never have believed it.  And although the time we spent together every week was important, I felt she was living in quicksand, and I didn’t have the strength to pull her out.  Her family life was a mess, and slowly, this child who had so little already, lost everything.

That she hadn't lost her mind is a miracle.  It all came to a head one night when I was at the police department, waiting to speak with a detective with G and another family member—at 10:30 on a school night.  It was just another night for G.

When we were finished, the detective took me aside.  "You are being sucked into a mess.  I think you're over your head, and you might want to get out."  Oh boy, did I want to get out!  But I'd have just been another person in a long line, abandoning G.

The situation was eventually taken out of my hands.  G was moved out of our area, getting bounced from one place to another.  Our relationship was cut.  And over the years I’ve wondered what happened to her.  And what kind of life she had.

On Sunday, a strange truck pulled up to our house.  And out stepped G.

She'll be a senior in high school next fall.  My jaw would've dropped hearing how her life has gone these past eight years, but it didn’t, because unfortunately, her life continued to be as awful as I’d feared it would.  But as I hugged G, I knew.  She's a fighter, a survivor, and yes, she might have some emotional battle scars that make her unique, but if any of us had lived her life, we would too.

I have her phone number, I know where she lives now, and I'll be in touch. I want to know she'll be okay in (yet another) new school, having to deal with yet another new set of students.

When I was in school, my parents instilled in me to treat others as I'd want to be treated.  I might not have ever bullied anyone, or picked on them, but you know what else I didn't do?  I didn't reach out to those children that faded into the school walls, who walked silently down the hallways, hoping to blend in so nobody would notice they were "different."

I didn't take the time to know or understand them.  And now I ask myself this:  If I was going to be a senior at G's school this fall, how would I treat her?  I’m afraid I know the answer. 

And because of that, I want to stand with G on the gymnasium stage and tell her fellow students "This girl is a survivor.  She may seem different from you, but please do not tease or ridicule her, and please don't ignore her.  She is stronger than you'll likely ever be.  And she deserves much more respect than she'll probably ever get.”

Because none of us want to look back on our life and ask ourselves "What if that was me?"