Mikey, a good friend of mine, is a musician who also does a lot of great volunteer work with kids in our community. For a musician, Mikey is also rather athletic. That said, he points his skis down the mountain and goes a little too hard. Over the weekend, while doing one of his "signature moves" Mikey broke one his lower leg bones. The injury meant that he wasn't able drive to do his weekly volunteer work today. So, what do all good volunteer-musicians-in-traction do when they need someone to fill their place? They call Namaste, of course.
Over our last few coffee dates, Mikey has told me about the time that he spends each week with his "little brother", Pablo. Pablo is 9 years old. He's the oldest of 7 children, half of whom are not longer in their mother's custody. Pablo's mother is my age, too, which definitely puts a great deal of things into perspective. Anyway, Pablo likes baseball and soccer and art class at school. Mikey takes him to baseball games in the season and cheered him through his first time on a soccer team last spring. Pablo told me today that really looks forward to his "Monday's with Mikey". He said that it makes his "whole week feel good".
Rather than miss his important date, Mikey sent me over to Pablo's house to pick him up after school and cart the little guy over to his place so that the three of us could spend the afternoon playing "Memory" and "Shoots and Ladders". On my way to Pablo's house, I stopped by the grocery store, stormed the bakery section and bought enough chocolate chip cookies to give the kid a sugar high for days. I also made sure go grab several of those personal size milk things. After all, a 9-year-old needs his milk, and, considering Mikey's evident bone fragility, he could use some, too.
With milk and cookies in tow, I ventured to the other side of town on my quest to retrieve young Pablo. Of course, I got lost and a little flustered on a side of town that was not only covered in bars on the windows, but was also completely alien to me. When I finally found Pablo's address, a woman holding a grape jelly-covered, 2-year-old answered the door. From the moment her eyes set on me, I knew that she took issues with a white woman coming to take her son. In my best Spanish, I told her who I was and that Mikey was at home with a broken leg, but asked that I pick up Pablo for the afternoon. She said that it was against the rules that I do this, and that she will have Mikey fired from the volunteer organization, and that her son was not going anywhere. Pablo clung to the side of the doorway, anxiously looking me up and down, while I reached Mikey at home to tell him what was going on. Mikey talked with the mother, but it didn't seem to change anything. Finally, success only came when Pablo started crying hysterically and begging his mother to let him go and see his friend. She finally relented, I promised that I would bring no harm to her child, and we were on our way.
In the backseat of my car, Pablo didn't say much. I asked him all sorts of things about himself and his likes and dislikes. He answered me politely, but didn't seem to want to talk. Finally, he asked me in Spanish if I would speak Spanish to him. I told him yes, and laughed, because my Spanish is so bad these days. It seemed to break the ice a little bit. I could tell that Pablo enjoyed being able to teach me words from his neighborhood. If anything, it made us connect a little bit more.
When arrived at Mikey's place, we gorged ourselves on cookies and milk, played games and took turns spinning around in Mikey's new wheelchair. With Mikey, Pablo transformed from a shy, cautious kid, to a happy, rambunctous 9-year-old. He beat us in "Shoots and Ladders" a few times, but I wasn't about to relent in "Memory", which was, after all, my all-time favorite childhood game.
The afternoon flew by, and it was dinner time again. In the ride home, Pablo asked if he would see me again, if Mikey was my boyfriend, and if I had children of my own. I told him that he would definitely see me next week, that Mikey was not my boyfriend, and that I didn't have children of my own.
"Well, I think you're very nice," he said. I smiled and told him that he was nice, too.
"And Mikey likes you, too," he continued. I told him that Mikey was a very good friend.
"And thanks for the cookies."
Without getting lost this time, I pulled up to Pablo's place and walked him to the front door. He thanked me again, and gave me the cutest little boy hug ever. As if I wasn't glowing enough, he looked up at me and said, "You are a very nice person, Namaste. You're going to be a really good mom some day." He opened the door and disappeared inside. I put my head in, and I waved to his mother, who hadn't moved from the couch under the front window since I pulled up. Rather than say thank you, she snarled at me that I brought him home too late. Even though I apologized and told her what a great kid Pablo is, and she still didn't crack a smile.
On my way home, I thought about this situation. I thought that it's enough to want to pull kids out of homes like this to at least give them something to look forward to each week. But, in thinking about it, I think that there may be something missing with the situation. It seems to me that the parents sometimes need more parenting than the children themselves. Clearly, Pablo's mother was let down by someone in her life. Her anger isn't at me. For all I know, it may be at some other white woman who actually did take her other children away.
Next week, when I pick Pablo up for Mikey, I intend to bring his mother some pretty flowers...some milk in a little bottle and even some of her own cookies, too.