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By JoAnne Bennett
As I pulled into the parking lot, I had to drive around a group of teenagers standing in front of me just shooting the breeze. “That’s Adam,” my daughter informed me.
Not having a clue what she was talking about, I curiously asked, “Who?”
Raising her voice she replied, “Mom, Adam that you used to take care of when he was a little boy.”
“He was back there,” she motioned with her head, while jumping out of the car to run into the grocery store for me.
Looking in my rear view mirror, I saw a handsome, young man with a short beard. He did indeed look similar to the once restless, first-grader who used to come to my house after school. Not wanting to embarrass him, I waited until his friends got back into their cars to leave.
Walking over to him I said, “Hey, Adam, do you remember me?”
“Oh man, you were my babysitter,” he said as he grinned matter-of-factly.
After exchanging, “It has been way too long, how are you.” Adam blurted out, “I am sorry that I was such a bad kid at your house. I want you to know that I’ve grown up a lot since then,” he assured me. “I have been accepted at a good college and I am out of here in just a couple of weeks,” he bragged.
My emotions were that of a proud parent when he told me of his successes in life. Obviously, he was no longer a constant ball of energy that could bound from my furniture to our chandelier in less than a minute flat. Fondly, I still remember having a soft spot in my heart for Adam when, as a little boy, he delightfully brought me a Christmas present. That’s when I saw the gentler, softer side of him. He was a wide-eyed little man who couldn’t wait for me to open his gift…a crocheted container for my tissue box. Standing in front of me now was a young adult who I knew had felt pain in his young life.
For years, Adam and I continued to live in the same small community.
However, it wasn’t until recently that our paths crossed one more time.
Seeing him now, it was hard to believe that he was once a little boy who made himself right at home in our family, like a comfy pillow sitting on a leather couch. An entertaining child, who, with his antics, could make you laugh and pull your hair out in the same breath.
Looking back, I feel like I had been Adam’s drill sergeant. It even got to the point in our “I am the boss and you are the kid relationship,” that, after misbehaving, and before being told to do so, he would march over and plop himself down in the quiet chair. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the legacy of his quiet chair has lived on. Years later, you can still hear me saying to the children in my care, “Go sit in Adam’s quiet chair.” A little confused, they often look at me and say, “Adam who?”
Not long before my daughter pointed out Adam in the parking lot, I had read a touching story written by him in a literary book put together by graduating high school seniors. I couldn’t get his sensitive thoughts off my mind. Through his writing, Adam impressively described what it felt like to watch his friend’s car burn on a not-so-long-ago Valentine’s Day; a car that a son and father had built together. While intricately weaving the difficult words, he compared this to “the morning after love, when he watched his parent’s 30-plus year marriage burn after learning his mother and father were divorcing.”
There was so much more that I wanted to say that day to my young friend in our brief reconnection. I admired him for his inner strength and courage to “tell it exactly like it was” and not hide his pain behind drinking, drugs, sex, or violence. I believe being real is a valuable lesson that many adults never learn in a lifetime.
Tragically, I feel so helpless when I picture the distant, lost faces of the troubled teenagers once in my care that are desperately struggling now to find themselves. As I affectionately recall each one of these precious children standing on a kitchen chair in my front room happily singing “I have joy down in my heart,” I want to grab them up in my arms and say, “Please don’t give up on this world. Tell it exactly like it is; your voice truly does matter my young friends.”