I've been so busy this summer that my involvement in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program started to become an afterthought. As horrible as it sounds, instead of actually looking forward to spending time with Stella Mae, she'd become just one more obligation to fit into my hectic schedule.
Although I love her dearly, Stella Mae can sometimes flat wear me out. She has more energy than I ever thought possible and likes to ask questions over and over and over--especially when it comes to buying her things. In the past few months, I'd begun feeling more like a glorified babysitter than a mentor actually making a difference in a child's life...
And then everything changed in an instant.
I promised Stella Mae a week ago that we'd hang out last night. Every single day leading up was met with calls and garbled text messages from her guardian's phone making sure we were still on for our "play date". (Needless to say, it became annoying.)
I picked her up promptly at 5:30 as promised (but not before she sent me three texts), and thought to myself that I'd have her home in a couple of hours and be off the hook for another few weeks (terrible, I know).
Because I didn't feel like doing much, we just headed to my house where we cooked dinner together and played with my dog in the backyard. Later that evening, while watching marathon episodes of Hannah Montana
, Stella Mae asked if she could see my cell phone. I handed it to her and she promptly started snapping pictures of everything in the room.
After taking a picture of herself, she looked at it and proclaimed, "Dang! I look drunk!"
I sat stunned for a second and then asked her how she (at 9-years-old) even knew what "drunk" meant. She replied in the quietest voice possible, "My daddy gets that way a lot."
In that instant, my heart completely broke for her. I had no words to make things better so I simply scooped her into my arms. She nestled against me and we sat like that for awhile, as I mentally railed against the world's unfairness.
That night when I dropped her off, instead of bounding out of my car like she normally does, she sat quietly for a few moments before saying, "Rachel...you make my life seem good. You know?"
I cried the entire way home.
Those childlike words from a hardened 9-year-old made everything worth it. I know I'll never be able to replace an absent drunk father, but damnit if I'm not going to do my best to try.