“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.