Two years ago, when I was contemplating becoming a Big Brother, I was looking for an opportunity to do something of value in the community. I wanted to do something that would make a difference. I wanted to do something that was ongoing, not just a one time deal to make myself feel better and then move on.
I suspect I wanted to fill a void in my life that can not be easily filled through more “natural” means, yet not fill it so much as to take on a 100%, full-time commitment that maybe I can’t afford to take on. I liked the idea of having the opportunity to influence a young person and, hopefully, make a positive difference in his life. The thought may have crossed my mind, once or twice, that I might be able to “save” a troubled kid; help him to find a better way to live. Maybe I wanted someone to idolize me, perhaps to aspire to be like me, though I really hoped to give him more to aspire to than I have done.
There have been times, more than a few in fact, where I felt like none of that was happening. Lil’B is a good kid with no problems to speak of. (I hope he stays that way, but he’s only nine.) With the exception of one outing when he was seven, the first day after Halloween, when he’d had much too much candy for breakfast, he’s never misbehaved and he accepts the limitations I place on him (that his mother has requested) without any trouble. When we go to the movies and we go to the concession stand, when the cashier asks us if we want anything else, I see him point at the candy in the display case. I laugh, tell him no and tell the cashier that our order is complete. Lil’B laughs and we go on about our day. (Mom doesn’t want him to have very much candy because he misbehaves if he gets too much sugar in his system.) An occasional piece of candy, every once in a while is allowed, but not all the time. He knows this and doesn’t get upset when I tell him no.
I’ve tried to enquire about deeper issues. Is he hurting about anything? Is there anything that’s bothering him that he wants to talk about? But of course you have to be subtle about such things, you can’t come right out and ask. He always tells me he’s fine. He doesn’t talk a lot. As often as not, I ask him a pointed question (i.e. What did you learn about in school this week? What did you have for lunch today?) and he answers with “I don’t know.” I feel bad when we’re driving down the road in silence, but I’ve run through my list of questions to ask him and he’s answered “I don’t know” to all of them, so, in silence we drive.
There have been times when I felt like maybe this relationship wasn’t serving any purpose after all. I wanted to make a difference in his life, but maybe I’m not. I wanted to feel warm and fuzzy, knowing that I was important to him, but I don’t. I thoroughly enjoy the time we spend together, but some weeks I feel like I’m going because I’m supposed to, not because I want to. I feel badly about that, and I hope he doesn’t see it.
Sunday afternoon was my regularly scheduled time with Lil’B. Neither of us really knew what we wanted to do. Our last few outings have been movies, which are always fun, but I – and I hope he – likes to do other things besides sitting around in a cold, dark room not talking to each other, sometimes.
I showed up at his house right around 2:00, our usual time and while he was finishing getting ready his mother called out to him in Spanish; something about “la escuela.” He still has one week left of school, but he already has his report card and she wanted to show it to me.
He did very well in school. They had three terms and for each term they were assigned a numeric score; not an average, a number. I didn’t memorize the meanings of the numbers but essentially a 3 was average, or meeting the standard. A 4 was proficient in the particular skill. I’m not sure how those numbers relate to the letter grades and percentages out of 100 that I remember getting, but whatever.
For the first two terms he got 3s for both reading and writing, but then in the third term he got 4s. This is a bi-lingual school. So he was rated proficient reading and writing both English and Spanish. For the other subjects, Science and Math (and it seems like there was one more) he had gotten 4s throughout the entire year.
Lil’B’s mother told me she was very happy that he had gotten such good scores; both Lil’B’s older brother and younger sister got good scores as well. Then she told me that the day he brought the report card home he was very excited and he told her, “Be sure to show this to my Big Brother!” (Warm)
I told him I was very proud, and I am. He’s worked hard this year. In the second grade we had to bring his homework with us sometimes and spend some time on that and he didn’t much like having to do that. In the third grade there was an after school program that he was in and he had time to do his homework there. He got his homework packets done every week in the after school program and, we are told, he even helped the other students with their homework (particularly the math, yech!)
We decided to go Miniature Golfing for our outing which was a lot of fun, except that I don’t know where my sunscreen is and I was wearing short sleeve’s, shorts and flip-flops. I now have some very oddly laid out sunburn.
It’s the end of the school year for a lot of students. It was also the first really nice day we’ve had so far this summer. Mother Nature seems to have forgotten that this here is California, land of sun and fun; also that it is mid-JUNE and we like to not have to wear coats this time of year. Naturally, the mini-golf place was very busy and there was a back log of parties on the course.
Lil’B and I got stuck behind a party of six, spanning in ages from “Grandma” all the way down to “Little Lexie” who was “not quite three and doing surprisingly well” (if you count carrying your ball over to within two inches of the hole and then using the narrow end of the club head and a double ham-fisted grip to hit it toward the hole – and still missing half the time). Clearly a completely unbiased opinion from Grandma. I opted not to get mad, because as much as it’s no fun to sit around and wait, I don’t like to feel rushed either and the party of six was every bit as entitled to enjoy their time in the sun as Lil’B and I, and all the people behind us.
So Lil’B and I would play our hole and we’d move ahead to wait for the next one after “Little Lexie” finished making her play. Since we were only two, and they were six, there was a lot of time waiting between rounds. We’d finish playing, move to the next hole and sit on one of the many benches around (Well, I sat. Lil’B usually didn’t.) When we were finished, the family behind us, two little boys – probably close to Lil’B’s age – and their two young parents, would play. It seemed that only the boys were playing. Mom was there to keep score, and I would guess, dad was the money. (Actually, mom and dad may have been on a date. At one point I heard one of the boys say, now I want to try this hole with my mom. I would only be guessing to say what that meant.)
It was around the tenth hole, when I was sitting on the bench waiting for Little Lexie to finish her play and the family behind us finished their round on hole number nine. I scooted down to the end of the bench and the two little boys sat down next to me. Just then Little Lexie moved on and Lil’B stepped up to take his shot. I guess the family behind us had been watching us closely because when Lil’B took his shot and his ball stopped fairly close to the hole, one of the little boys looked at me and said, “Your son is pretty good.” (aaaand fuzzy)
I didn’t correct him. It seemed like it would be unkind to point out an error he couldn’t have known he’d made. Besides, “I’m not his dad, I’m his Big Brother” is no explanation at all, since you can’t see the capital Bs when you talk. I think we all know by now, Lil’B is mexican… I? I glow in the dark. Clearly we do not share any blood, so we can’t be brothers… unless one of us is adopted I suppose.
I simply answered, “He gets a lot more practice than I do.” And from then on we were all chatting together and having fun together. It may have become apparent later that maybe I wasn’t his father when I talked to Lil’B about our outings, but nobody questioned it.
And I realized something. I would be proud to be his father. Maybe someday I’ll get the chance to be a father, but if I don’t, at least I’ll have had this time with my Little Brother, and that’s pretty special, too!