Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Little Guy

We traveled last weekend to the Great Northwest, and found ourselves looking at a very high waterfall east of Seattle. Among the other spectators I noticed a tall guy, pretty clearly an American with one of those Rasta dreadlock kind of 'dos, though it wasn't especially long. He had what appeared to be a striking Asian girlfriend. I didn't intend to listen in on their conversation, but was still surprised to hear them speaking...in Japanese. It was one of those "only in America" moments.

My two sons and five daughters are almost grown and doing well. Four are now parents. I have five grandsons and five granddaughters, also fine, but all of them live far from here, hundreds of miles. I feel more than a bit guilty, but what can I do?
In this state we have a thing called CASA, which stands for "Court Appointed Special Advocate". An adult looks after one or more children whose families have disappeared from underneath them. I volunteered to take the training two years ago. The Ghost of Jacob Marley in "A Christmas Carol" had a line I just couldn't shake. The Ghost got impatient when Scrooge tried to patronize him by saying that Marley, while alive, had been "good at business". "Business!", wailed the ghost. "Mankind was my business!" It's true. If you're not serving someone, somehow, you should make changes in your life until you can.
In the fall of '06, I got assigned to look after little JR, whose name I don't use for security purposes. He had just turned seven and lived with a foster mother not very far away. My assignment, then and now, is essentially to see that he's getting through life OK despite the fact that his mom failed him (drugs) and his father was never involved. Since then he has moved to the other end of town to be with the nephew of his mother's ex-boyfriend and his family. Follow that? It's actually an improvement, though he didn't know the new family before arriving. You've got to be open to change in this kind of system, and he is, or at least he pretends to be.
I hesitate to describe him because I know it sounds creepy for a guy to talk this way about a young boy. But believe me when I say that he is beyond cute. He has pure blond hair and bright blue eyes. He sometimes has trouble because he's undersized compared to most 3rd graders at only about four feet and 50 lb. So he may not be future linebacker material, but he climbs like a monkey and is always impressive around playground equipment. He's also smart, and will let you know that you have bored him by asking the same question more than once.
We're....playmates. I see him every couple of weeks and try to pry the details of his life out of him while he tries to be pretty stoical about it all by saying relatively little. We go to various spots around the city. He loves the Mall, the parks, the beach, the movies, and a place called Bounce-A-Rama. He likes checking out the pawn shop for the latest in used video games. He eats like someone else will take it if it doesn't get in his mouth fast, and he has a knack for getting all the money I may have on me on a given day to be spent on him. I...just can't stay mad at him.
But I do get mad now and then, because he's not all that happy, though he pretends to be, and this sometimes leads to him making me uncomfortable. He once, in a stoical moment, told me all he needed to be happy was nice weather and no bullies in his life. He confessed later that there were, in fact, plenty of bullies capable of giving him trouble, which I believe, having seen some of his hulking classmates (girls, too!). I stick up for him to the social workers and am trying to work with the new foster family to see that everything is simpatico. I went to court a few times to see his mother's parental rights dissolve as she disappeared for months at a time.
I'm no hero in this, because other CASA volunteers end up in situations that are far more complicated. I just can't stand the thought of him growing up angry at everyone and everything because his mom disappeared on him. So my grandkids are getting plenty of love at home, THEIR homes, and I get to give a little attention to a little guy who needs it right here. He said he was going to invite me to his 9th birthday party in September. We'll see.


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