Sunday, November 19, 2006

Sweet Potatoes

“Mr. Servant! You want to eat with Taylor and me?”

“Sure, Travis. I’d love to.”

Truthfully, it had been a hectic day, shuttling kids to the Canby Depot Museum for my Virtual Museum project, and I really wanted to get a little adult company.

He led me over to a table in the corner of the cafeteria. This kid has changed so much in the few weeks I have known him. The first time he was in my class he openly challenged me.

Some kids are like that. They come in snarling and spitting. I’ve learned to keep notes to document these problems. It comes in handy to have such a record if things get worse, or to examine the needs of a specific child.

“Travis” has come a long way. Initially he refused to do any of the work expected of him in the robotics class. But he has moved from insolence and refusals, to working independently, to finally contributing to his robotics team.

He is on one of my four “Tournament Teams.” This means that his team will compete in a local robotics tournament in December (there are ten teams not going).

His assignments are all turned in and he is earning an A-.

His tray had a slice of pizza, jello, chocolate milk, and tater tots.

My tray had the traditional nod to Thanksgiving: turkey gravy over mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and yams with marshmallow sauce.

I smiled at “Taylor” and asked if I could sit down. He is also in my robotics class, but hardly ever talks. He nodded.

Travis has turned into a real talker. Between wolfing down the jello and chugging the chocolate milk he looked over what was on my tray.

“I didn’t see the sweet potatoes! I love sweet potatoes! I really like the marshmallows!"

He began talking about his life. How Taylor was another foster kid like him. How at the foster home the three miniature pinschers have such different personalities. How he calls his foster parents “Mom and Dad” even though they aren’t. How he was beaten with a curtain rod, and how his mom is in jail for something she didn’t do.

I listened carefully, taking it all with a grain of salt.

He asked about our home. I told him a little.

His eyes grew large when I told him about my two adopted boys.

“Adopt me! Adopt me!”

I looked into his begging eyes. Taylor’s eyes had also grown suddenly sharp.

“I don’t take much space. I’ll sleep anywhere. I can sleep in the living room!”

A part of me wants to say “yes.” Every child should have someone to love them, to parent them.

But I don’t take on such jobs unless I can do my best at it. My small house hasn’t room for another child. I already have two children who require a great deal of love, energy, and prayers. I am not the man to be this child's father.

He moved on to how he is enrolled in the Big Brother program, how they are looking for a guy who likes to do the things he likes to do and will take him places and do lots of fun things.

The boy needs a dad. Someone in his life who loves him.

Every child does.

My dad called me the other night.

He was getting ready to go have breakfast in the village below his rented bungalow.

He wants me to come down to see him this Christmas season.

I haven’t decided yet.

I don’t think he will be around a year from now.

He is planning on doing something... stupid? Foolish? Adventurous? The adjective depends on the point of view.

He is spending about $150,000 on a motorcycle.

It is a custom job of course. A bike designed for only one person to ever ride. And only for one day of riding. Its 400 horse engine will suck two gallons of nitro fuel in a mile and a third. He wants to set a couple of world records on it at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

He is turning 70 in May. I know that in his heart he is thinking that he willl finally be "old." From his point of view it would be better to get smeared along the salt flats attempting a world record than... well, rather than turning 70.

Meanwhile he is living in my sister’s old house (she died a couple of years ago, a sad tale of selfish desperation), next to his grand house. He doesn’t sleep at home anymore, ever since he took up with the maid. But I don’t hear much about that maid who arrives to clean people's houses in the new Mercedes he bought her. I think he has a new girlfriend in that bungalow in southern Thailand.

I make plenty of mistakes as a parent.

My father did.

I wish every kid could have all the love and guidance they need, they deserve.

We thought once we were pregnant. But a tubal pregnancy is a danger-filled let down that leaves a bitter taste after the surgeries are over.

We adopted a child, took him home when he was less than a day old. But that ended sadly.

We adopted two more, and that has been an adventure.

I look at the job my parents failed to do, and I see my own imperfections, and I look at these other children who so desperately want to have any sort of parents, and it makes me sad.

I recognize this is a fallen world and imperfection is how it is defined. I wish it could be different, better.

Whether or not I go see my own father this winter, this perhaps last chance to talk together, is really a side issue. I don’t know if I can afford it. I don’t know if it is wise.

I just know that the tension I feel when I speak with him is echoed in the tension I feel thinking how I want to do my best in raising my kids, which echoes the tension I see in the eyes of the child in the cafeteria when I slide my tray over to him so he can eat the sweet potatoes with marshmallow sauce.


Fred said...

Touching post, CS. Fatherhood is such an awesome's a very hard job, indeed.

I have a wonderful relationship with my father. He's 77 now, and so far, knock on wood, he's in the best of health. It's my brother who I don't see or speak to, which pains me at times, but I know it's for the best.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

jel said...

Hi Friend,
I don't remember my Dad ever tell me he loved me but I he did, he wasn't much of a talker , guess that's were I got it from, :)
I would tell him, that I love him, and he would say, that's what they all say! I miss that !

CS, I think you and your wife , are doing your best raising your kids!
God bless
HAppy Thankgivng !

Ame said...

Oh God, our God, please provide wonderful fathers for these two longing and desperate boys. Cover CS with Your blood of Jesus and give him the strength to be who You have created him to be to those whom you have placed in his path.
About 11 years ago we kept my four-year-old niece from Wed thru Sat for a semester while her single mom was completing her college degree. My sister has never been patient, and my niece saw quite a few men come through before my sister married a very strict and legalistic one. One day my niece and I were driving and she plead to me, "Auntie Ame, I want YOU to be my Mommy!"

"Oh, God," I prayed, "I need You NOW!" And I turned to her and said, "Sweetie, If I become your Mommy, who will be your Auntie Ame?" It was from God for her. But in my heart I wanted to take her in my arms and adopt her as my own. I could not; so I prayed for her.

She will be 16 in a few weeks and is a beautiful young woman with a good, kind heart. She emailed me this past summer, "Auntie Ame! I'll be 16 this year! Can I come see you when I get my driver's license?"

"Sure, if it's okay with your mom."

"Oh, she said as long as I pay for the insurance ... "

I was thinking of the 1 1/2 drive by herself; her mom was thinking of the money.

11 years ago my ex and I said often, "When she gets her driver's license she'll be here." Breaks my heart how true it is.

It's hard, heart-breaking, to live in a fallen world. You'll never know how "far" those sweet potatoes with marshmellows will go.

Squirrel said...

What an incredibly touching post. I had my own tension filled moment last night when my stepson screamed over the phone at his bio mother that I am his mommy too. These poor lost parents of these children break my heart. May God bless you and help you make the difficult decision about visiting your own father.

Anonymous said...

That was a hard post to swallow. Have you read the "The Boy Named It" books?

Joe said...

Double cool!

curious servant said...


Those books are a tough read.

I need a license to drive a car. I need a license to fish, or hunt, or cut hair.

But the most important job we can do, parenting, is available to anyone with functioning plumbing.

I see so many kids who are so screwed up because of their parents.

I wonder how I turned out as well as I have... Perhaps it is all just bubbling below the surface and some day I'll snap and suddenly start barking and twitching in the corner!

Seriously, I find this blog pretty therapeutic. I get to let things out here.

Joe: Good to see you again!

Secret Squirrel:

Always glad to hear from you. Hope everything is Ok. with you.

Ame: That was a sweet comment. Thanks

Fred & Jel: The whole parenting thing is a real wonder, isn't it? Fred, I wish things were better with your bro.

Looney Mom said...

Wow. That is so sad. I'll bet your heart just sank. I think on all the things my parents did "wrong" and I try to not repeat those mistakes but sometimes I find myself repeating the "cycles" and it scares me. Thank God HE can heal the mistakes because I KNOW I fall WAY short.

hazelorbs said...

i was a group home parent to six teenage girls for awhile and it always broke my heart to see the pain in their eyes, knowing they felt unwanted and unloved by parents who abandoned them for whatever reason. i had one girl who was 14 that was literally turned over to the state by her parents. they told her that they didn't want her. and now she's a ward of the state living in group homes trying to find someone to adopt her. my heart aches for her and the others...all with broken stories.

i pray that every child can feel love at some point...a child should never be as broken and unloved as these.

thank you for your beautiful, thought provoking, but heart-wrenching post.

Anonymous said...

Even though you can't be a father to that boy, you are a caring mentor and friend. Many people would walk away thinking if they couldn't be the boys father, they couldn't do anything. That boy will remember your kindness and the sweet potatoes for the rest of his life.

Without the benefit of knowing you in person, you are a good father, husband, teacher, friend and man.

It is my pleasure and honor to know of you what I do.