Taking a page from my mother’s book, I take the kids on dates. Not that often, but sometimes, just me with one of them. Girl two and I had a date last week. We dropped the other kids off at school, went home, moved a table in front of the wood stove, and played games. We had popcorn and tea. Then we got in the car and drove to a skating rink. We arrived towards the end of the adult skate time. Girl two was too pulsing with excitement to wait. We did our best to stay out of the way. She is very enthusiastic about skating. Girl two skates much like I would imagine a person with limited limb control and a deep desire to sprint would skate after say a six pack of beer. Very happy. Very fast. Not so steady on her feet. Somehow oblivious to pain and the possible connection between frequent crashes and speed.
The rink we went to is used for Junior A hockey. Compared to our pond, it’s massive. To our utter amazement, for about fifteen minutes after the adult skaters left, we had the whole place to ourselves. We skated clockwise, counter clockwise, across the centre sideways and every other way we could imagine. We talked about having a dance competition but luckily that fell through. Eventually a few others came. Not being used to an actual rink, I thought Girl two might tire but she insisted on skating for the full hour.
“That was perfect,” she said as we skated off the ice. “That was exactly what I wanted. Just to skate with nobody telling me what to do. Not like at the pond where everybody is always bossing me around.”
We went for lunch and played magic fairy. (The magic fairy makes anything possible.)
“If the magic fairy let you try three things to be when you grow up, what would they be?” I asked.
“Missionary . . . doctor . . . or . . . or own a restaurant,” she said. “Because I want to do something that people actually need and everybody needs to eat. Probably not doctor though. Just the other two. And if I had a restaurant, poor people could always eat there for only one dollar. No matter what.”
It is very frustrating to find times to fit in the dates. I promise them ahead because I worry otherwise I wouldn’t do them. Even so I drag my feet and think of giving rain cheques. Afterwards I can’t imagine how I ever thought of missing it.
Girl one is anxious for our upcoming date. “I like to be with you because I can say anything and I know you won’t make fun of me,” she said. “I like talking to you because I trust you with my words.”
How is it that we find love so inconvenient, and yet it always seeks and waits for us?
My troubles started when I was six. Our family had spent the summer in Colorado that year. Before that, my mother said, I was happy go lucky and lighthearted. After that, things were not the same. It was a mystery to her the heavy quietness that was now me.
That fall, the bold and brave self that had eagerly trundled off to kindergarten, was afraid to leave my mother for too long. I would get to school and dissolve, unable to stop crying with how much I missed her. A few times I was sent home. Other times, I stayed, crying. I can remember the teacher shaking her head, while I buried my head on my desk and sobbed. I remember the desperate aching of needing my mother.
I banged my head and ran all the way across town from a birthday party to get home to my mother. I left a sleepover at a friend’s and refused to return. Nothing was wrong, except I missed my mother so desperately, I had to be home. My mother was embarrassed, but I was immovable. Calling the neighbors was one thing. Quitting school was another.
Out of the blue, I was picked up from school one day and taken on a date with my mother. Just us. To a real restaurant. I had a hamburger and a milkshake. My mother watched me eat. That’s all I remember. Eating my hamburger and sipping my milkshake, talking to my mother while she watched me.
Things improved. In grade two, I had an angel of a teacher. We moved the summer before grade three and I fell apart again. My mother walked me to the outside of my new school. We said goodbye, I walked into the school and down the hallway. A little later I ran out the door and all the way home. I couldn’t do it. I needed to be home. My mother decided it was date time again.
Maybe her dates with me didn’t fix the broken things, but those minutes of being all that mattered helped. (My mother was still swearing by them, recommending them to other bewildered parents when I was an adult.) I took Girl one out of school two weeks ago. Chicken fingers. Coconut Cream pie. Then back to school. I try to keep an eye on all of them, not for anything big, just to see who needs it. Eventually, I get them all whether they need it or not, then I start again. They love it, and I do too.
It was a good thing my mother taught me. I’ve decided it doesn’t apply to just kids or crisis. Everybody needs to feel seen and heard. Here’s my prayer for today:
Dear Lord, may I see my neighbor’s brokenness and be willing to watch and listen – with hamburgers and milkshakes of a sort. May I not turn away because I cannot fix it. May I whose tears were not forgotten, faithfully remember the tears of others.