Today I had my last tutoring session with the amazing fourth grader I work with. Each week I have listened to her read, helped her with vocabulary, and read to her. She’s an incredible young girl–smart, funny, a natural actor, and cares for her family. She always looks so pulled together and I’m pretty sure that’s part of the reason some of her teachers and administrators have nicknamed her Michelle Obama. I haven’t had too many sessions with her, but I’ve come to love this kid, and today was goodbye.
I brought her a present–a couple of books: A Wrinkle in Time and The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I hope she’ll be inspired to keep reading. I also brought her a registration form for the musical theatre camp I’m putting on this summer. She would be such a great fit. This girl can’t read a novel without doing voices, funny accents, and even tears! I highlighted that there are scholarships available and I really thought she’d be great at it. We’ve been talking about this camp for a while, and she told me she’d love to be Ariel or Ursala. And then she told me she can’t come. Apparently she already talked to her mom about it and she has to spend her whole summer taking care of family–a sister and a niece who are both under the age of two. I so understand where she is–I have been in those shoes. But now that I am older (and hopefully wiser) than I was as at the ripe old age of eleven, I realize that there is something so wrong with this. She’s just a kid. She shouldn’t have to be a part-time parent or full-time babysitter to family members. She should be able to go to camp and read books and have fun. Not change diapers, and make bottles, and entertain little ones.
This isn’t the first time she’s alluded to the fact that she is a caregiver in her family. Once when she came back from missing several days of school (for which I was told she was sick) I asked about how she was feeling. “Oh, I’m fine,” she said, “It was my mom that was sick. I had to take care of her.” Another time she told me she was responsible for making sure her brother got to school–waking him up, packing his lunches, etc. When I asked how old he was she told me he was in high school.
I’m willing to bet that if we took a hard look at kids in our country today, there are a lot who are being asked to be the caretakers of their family at a very young age. And I wish I could stop that–help them hang on to their childhood just a little bit longer. Not that having responsibility is bad, but filling the role of a parent or daycare provider is a lot to ask of a ten year old.
I hope I’ll see my awesome kid again some day. But I don’t know. Today may have been our last goodbye.
And that reminds me of all the goodbyes I will have to say as a foster parent, and how hard that will be. I’ve had to say a lot of goodbyes in life. To kids at the shelter I worked at, to people I’ve met in other countries, to friends and family as I’ve moved to six different states and two different countries, and to amazing loved ones who left this earth too soon. And maybe all those goodbyes have helped prepare me for the goodbyes I will have to say to foster children whose lives I will be a part of. And just like the amazing girl I tutor, I can only hope that somehow, by being a part of their life, I will have made a difference. That in some small way I will have left an impression that will remain behind as a reminder of the hopes and dreams I have for them. And maybe, one day, I will get to see them again . . . and see those dreams come true.