Thursday, January 29, 2009

Charity Begins At Home

One of Intuitive Monkey's classmates has recently attached himself to our family.  It happened gradually.  I first noticed Mark, a small, scrappy kid, walking home by himself from school. He didn't walk with friends, as far as I could see, and no adult or older sibling accompanied him.

This troubled me, but once the kids are out of kindergarten, the school can't prevent them from going home alone.

When I was in school, we walked back and forth alone all the time. Things were different then. We also had an open lunch. At 12:00 the school opened the doors and children could leave and walk home in order to eat lunch there.  They would have to make it back to school before class started again.  I spent many a lunch period wandering around the neighborhood with friends, or going to the local corner store to buy candy. No supervision.  No need for permission.

It was a different time.

At the beginning of the year, I usually drove the kids home from school.  I was still recovering from treatment and couldn't handle the long walk combined with the 90 degree heat and humidity of Florida afternoons.  It wasn't until I became stronger and the weather cooled down that I would walk to the school, get the boys, and walk home together.  That's how we met Mark.

One day the Florida sky opened up and sent buckets of relentless rain.  I drove to get the boys and as I was picking them up, one of the teachers said, "Mark says he walks home with you every day."  I glanced into the crowd of kids and saw Mark edging forward.  I realized that no one was coming to get him.  He was going to have to walk half a mile in the downpour.

I explained that we didn't exactly walk home with Mark every day, but that I would be happy to give him a ride. We ran through the rain to the car and I took Mark home.  Once we arrived, I took him to his door, and told him I wanted to meet his parents.  His adult cousin answered the door and I explained that I had given Mark a ride home.  I left my name, number and address in case Mark's mother wanted to talk to me and find out who the strange woman was who gave her son a ride home.

Now Mark wants to come over and play each day.  He shows up at our house in the mornings needing a ride to school.  That's partly my fault.  When he had missed school one day, I asked him if he had been sick. 

"No, " he said, "I just didn't have a ride to school and it was too cold for me to walk by myself."

I told him to come by our house if that happened again and I would get him to school.  He took me at my word.

I don't mind Mark's visits.  I know from my brief encounters with his mother and adult cousin, and hints from his teacher, that Mark is on his own most of the time.  

I have several dilemmas.

1. Teaching Mark that he is welcome, but that we have boundaries. When his tire went flat, he asked us outright to buy him a new one.  When I had already taken the kids to school, he showed up late, needing a ride.  He needs to understand that we can't do everything for him. This is hard to navigate, because I know that some of his lateness is not his fault, but his lack of supervision.  He doesn't have anyone guiding him in the morning and waking him up on time. No one cares if he's late or not.

2. Being open to Mark, helping him, and welcoming him in our home without irritating his mother.  For the most part, I don't think she cares.  She works nights and is probably just trying to keep things together. However, I have to be careful not to overstep my bounds.  She is still Mark's mother and I constantly have to tell him that he needs her permission before he can come over.

3. Mark always wants The Rationalist and Monkey to come over to his house.  He asks constantly about this and I am running out of excuses.  There's no supervision at his house.  His mom is usually sleeping in the afternoon and I'm not comfortable with the adult cousin who is usually at home. 

I feel a certain amount of helplessness.  I identify strongly with the Marks of the world. I grew up in a home in which I was mostly on my own.  I spent a lot of time over at my friend's houses, envious of their normal families. My basic needs were provided for, but I had to rely on myself to get ready for school, make my lunches, and get my homework done.  

In some ways, I probably gained much of my self-sufficiency and independence from that type of parental neglect.  On the other hand, I always felt lonely and somewhat disconnected from my parents.  They weren't people I could go to with my troubles.

I look at Mark....and I see me.

Contemplating all of this, I wonder how much of my life is spent trying to fix what I perceive as my parents' wrongs.  I try to give my children the things I never had, which aren't material things, but consist of an engaged parent, a warm home, emotional support, playing board games, making cookies together....it all sounds very Donna Reedish, I know.

I am subconsciously and vicariously trying to redeem my childhood.

I recognize this and also the tug that Mark's situation has on me.  The frustrating part is that there is only so much that I can do.  

We have the parents that we have.  We deal with the cards Life gives us. There is no magic wand that can right all the wrongs in our own lives or the lives of others.

We can only hope to add a little light, or provide a brief rest in the lives of others.  

1 comment:

Assistant Village Idiot said...

It sounds like you are balancing things in a difficult situation as well as could be.

With vulnerable children, we want to get it 100% correct, because we are afraid a false step will break them. But insisting on perfection from yourself is likely to build up a mental account where you expect him to learn more quickly or be more grateful, because you have invested so much thought and anxiety.

You don't get it 100% right with your own kids. You won't with Mark.

Lean on that mother-sleeping excuse as well as you can. It works for you, and it teaches him something to boot. You can also confess to being a little strict and fussy about wanting your children home, which takes the focus off his lack of supervision.

You might also try and get Mark connected more generally to others - good for him and for you.

The word verification is "minkleap." That must mean something.