Young Lady has a friend.
I met her for the first time last year when she walked into her ballet class and saw “Anne;” they threw their arms around each other and called out each other’s names in delight. I must admit to being surprised at her objection of affection – slight, rather stringy hair, awkward sort of girl. I noticed that it was always her father bringing Anne to class and wondered if perhaps he was a single dad because he was always struggling to put her long hair into some semblance of a chignon each week (and failing at it miserably). If he were married, wouldn’t the mother help her with that?
When it came time for the Christmas performance, I brought extra bobby pins, hair nets and elastics with him in mind, knowing that his daughter would want to be as well-coiffed as everyone else, and that he was way out of his league. I offered my help and he ceded gratefully. Shortly after that, he invited Young Lady to come over and play with Anne.
In the meantime, I had finally met the mother. Or rather, I spotted who the mother was when Anne ran over to her after school. I was taken completely by surprise. She was … unkempt. She had long grey hair that hung in her face. She wore glasses, was heavy set and ill-dressed. She wore what looked like men’s clothing.
When I brought Young Lady over to play, I discovered that she lived in a narrow, tall dilapidated row house that was sort of falling apart. The entrance way didn’t bode well for neatness and order, but rather looked like a hoarder’s domicile. To be honest, I was nervous leaving her there. I didn’t know this family and in the absence of my standards of normalcy, I was worried that she would be unsafe. But I kept telling myself not to judge. Don’t judge.
When I came to pick her up (she was very happy from an afternoon well-spent), Anne asked if she could stay longer, if she could spend the night. I hemmed and hawed at such insistence. The only person she’s ever spent the night with was the daughter of a family we’ve known from church since Young Lady was a baby (we also spend tons of time together outside of church). I wasn’t keen on having her away from home all night with a family I didn’t know well, and let’s just face it – with this family in particular. Anne’s father saw my reticence and explained that none of her friends could ever come and play.
It seemed like there was a world of meaning behind that statement and it pierced my heart.
From things Young Lady would say, the little gang at school this year was her, Anne and Manon. Manon is the one with whose mother I had that camembert-farting connection. (You just have to read the link to understand that statement). Young Lady also said that Anne whined and pouted if she didn’t get her own way. Hm. With her unusual home life there were already many strikes against her; if only she could realize pouting was not going to help her get ahead of the game. But I wasn’t sure there was anyone to teach her.
Anne came to Young Lady’s birthday party and it seemed to me her older sister looked on longingly at her friends. I never see her older sister with any friends. (I gave her a party bag too). And then there were no more invitations for the rest of the school year or summer until a trip to Disney was proposed in September with Anne’s family. I was almost relieved she couldn’t go because she had already promised to attend a birthday party that day – I just didn’t know if she would be safe in large crowds with people I didn’t know that well. But her mother sounded so disappointed and I was glad to be able to confirm that Young Lady would indeed be present at her birthday party.
I asked Young Lady who would be going and she listed a bunch of people that were invited. But when we arrived, there was just Manon’s mother there chatting with Anne’s mother. Keep in mind that Manon’s mom is beautiful, well put-together, classy and it raised her in my esteem that she was able to look past appearances and bring her daughter to the party. This was especially the case when I found out our two daughters were the only ones who had accepted the invitation.
That’s right. Only two kids came to her birthday party.
We said we’d get our kids in three hours (the usual birthday party length of time) and the mom tried to push for later, saying that it was nice out and the kids would play on the trampoline, etc. I sensed this desperation that her daughter enjoy her party as much as possible. So we talked about coming a bit later.
When I picked Young Lady up, Anne’s mother and I made small talk and I asked her about Disney. It seems they go quite a bit. She was saying that she and her girls had year-long passes so they go all the time. And her husband had a free pass because she was handicapped and needed an official escort, and escorts got to enter for free.
Wait. She was handicapped?
Suddenly my whole perception of the situation shifted. Instead of questioning their marriage and how they came to be a couple, I saw a husband that loved his wife the way she was and stuck by her in spite of her handicap, whatever it was. Instead of seeing an incredibly messy house and unkempt family, I saw a father trying to work full time and manage the house and manage the children. (Trying, not quite succeeding, but trying). Instead of seeing a strange family that didn’t fit into the norm, I saw a family with extra difficulties trying to do the best for their children by inviting friends and by surrounding them with activities (Anne is in dance and music and they frequently go on outings as a family).
It made me glad to be there. When the party was over and I told Young Lady to say thank you, she reached up to kiss both the father and mother without pause. With the innocence of a child, she didn’t see “unkempt,” “strange,” “unattractive.” She saw the beauty of their personalities and the fact that they were her friend’s parents.
And I left more determined to welcome them into the community and into our lives.