What does that word really mean? The technical meaning is to slaughter an animal, or to offer a person or possession to the Almighty. Yet I have heard that word related to what I am about to embark upon; the taking on of a six-year-old boy to raise for a while, to help untangle a family dynamic that is out of kilter. To allow my daughter some room to steady herself, to give him some direction, and to hopefully return him back to a place that is fertile soil for good development. To dig into his little brain and see if we can determine what is off base there. I do not think that word is apt in this circumstance.
But he, the little one, is part of my inheritance; my legacy, as people often like to say. It is true that I am giving over myself – my plans, dreams, my time, my privacy, some forward motion towards my larger goals, in order to offer help. Others do it every day, becoming the unsung and sometimes unseen safety nets for millions of little bodies and minds. Two of my best friends have been places of respite for their family in the past. It happened in my paternal family, in the family of my late husband, and in the family of my first husband. It is more common than people know and I now look upon those who have gone before me, those currently shouldering this responsibility, and to those that may be called to do so in the future, as returning in part, to the extended family role that was more prevalent in times past.
What will I miss? The country. I live and walk at dawn and dark in a place where barred owls call out; where the coyote pack voices come drifting in the twilight over from the state park; where deer are shy, fleet visitors. Where we are going will afford no view of the night stars, no educational opportunity to discuss fireflies, no teaching of night sounds, no sandhill crane calls to laugh about. It will be cars, trucks, angry voices, televisions and car radios, and it perhaps will lack the safety and freedom that I have felt here to walk, listen and breathe. True, in the active snowbird season some of these things intrude here also. But along with those intrusions have come friendships, cocktail parties, dances and dinners and opportunities to make a difference in someone’s day. I’ve learned of lives lived in other parts of the country, in times far different than now; of people gone but heard the echoes of their personhood imprinted on the hearts that they left behind; of honor, dedication and marriages that survived over a half-century. I have, in many ways, reconnected again, instead of being completely immersed in work and the natural solitude an introvert prefers. I have found a way again to contribute to others lives outside of my own family because they were close, because they were in my sight, and mostly because they reached out to me in kindness, in neighborliness, and probably sometimes, out of loneliness.
In other words, I have at this late time in life, learned to be a neighbor. Because I live among people mostly older than I am, I have also learned what life used to be like before McMansions and multi-floored apartment complexes. Before we all worked and commuted up to ten, twelve, sixteen hours a day and scurried into our shelters without even seeing another person. And so as much as I will miss the solitude of my walks, I find that I will greatly miss the wonderful people that have come into my life in this past year. People that may or may not be here again next season, due to illness, inability to drive, or the health of their loved ones preventing them from coming down to soak up our sun and warmth.
When I discussed with a few people my leave-taking, the first response from most was “Bring him here! There will be many of us to watch over him.” Ah, that he could have these influences, these kindnesses, the opportunity to learn to care for others and be cared about by others not family! Of course, it is not all good. There is gossip and in-fighting, misunderstandings and breaches of etiquette. There too, are lessons; in how to forgive, to overlook people’s faults, and greater insight into the labyrinth of human behavior. But he is only six, so I am not certain how much would sink in. Most likely what he’d figure out is how to get cookies from two or three people in a day 🙂
Parenting of little ones was in my past I thought. After taking care of nothing but an easy little dog for almost seven years, once again I must structure my life for school drop offs, homework oversight, teeth and body cleaning, hurt feelings, temper tantrums, and consequences of bad behavior, all while continuing to work full-time. No exhausted nights standing at the fridge and grabbing celery and dip for dinner. No putting off the laundry. No nights when I can pull the shades and bask in the quiet, taking my leave in the pages of a good book. Some moments, just the thought of it all overwhelms me. Some moments, I wonder if what I give will mean anything at all, if it will help. Always though, I come back to the fact that we will never know if we do not try.
So, sacrifice, adventure, or insanity? Ask me again in a year, and I will let my heart tell you.