It was a Monday, a couple of months ago. He told me that he and his family were moving, and his last day in Allendale would be that Friday. I couldn’t help how quickly my eyes got wet, as if some invisible man was slicing onions beside me.
We’ve known this family – mom and two boys – since I helped launch the Boys & Girls Club in Allendale almost two years ago. I couldn’t blame them for moving. His mom finished nursing school a few months ago, got a job in Aiken, where she had other family.
They always had a special place in our hearts. Little brother is very small for his age, quite sensitive, talks with a small lisp (“Mit’ter Joey”), and is great at math but struggles to read.
Older brother is meek, but the leaders noticed that he grew more and more bold the longer he was a part of the Club. Though he was sometimes picked on, he began to stand his ground. And we bragged on him the first time he scored a touchdown in a friendly game of touch football.
Mom worked while going to school. She and I had regular conversations about her boys, and was one of the examples I used when I wrote about Empowering Parents Instead of Isolating Them.
TGIF? Not Really
I spent the rest of that week remembering fond times I enjoyed with these boys, during after school and summer camp programs. And I had to mentally prepare myself to see him again on Friday, to wish him well without completely breaking down myself.
On that Friday, at 3 PM, I walked into the gym, where I knew he’d be for dismissal. I saw him four rows up, and motioned for him to come down to me. I can do this, I thought.
As he got close, I saw the tears streaking down his cheeks. And that’s when I, too, was unable to hold back my own teardrops.
Not knowing what else to do, I gave him a hug and told him that I’d miss him. And maybe if we did some more camps, he could join us. “Yeah,” he said, “I could ‘tay wit my grandma.” (Remember – he has a lisp.)
And that was that. I had to get away. Not just physically, but emotionally.
And though we’ve only been here for under two years, I think of the number of kids that we’ve connected with, who have since moved away:
- Another two brothers, one of whom my wife worked with tirelessly on homework day after day, now live with their grandmother in another county.
- Three brothers — one of whom had high-functioning autism and was with the Boys & Girls Club at the get-go — have moved to Atlanta with their mom.
- Another boy, who once Made My Week by popping into Subway to see me one night, moved an hour away.
I could keep making a list of other boys and girls that we’ve known from camps and programs, who we may never see again.
Good Memories Are Formed with Time
I should remember how fortunate I am that so many kids we know are still here. People move. Even our son Sender (not yet 6 years old) has lived in three homes.
But I’ve been surprised how quickly I’ve grown attached to these boys and girls. After all, we haven’t lived here for even two years.
I guess when you spend nearly every afternoon with a child for months (or a year!), you can’t help but connect. I guess when you spend all day with some during the summer months, you can’t help but grow attached.
So I guess it’s OK for me to miss this family.
And when it comes to the question of how long we think we’ll live in Allendale, I will always remember the words that a mentor gave me last December,
“The longer you are here, the more clear you’ll become aware of when your time is done. But the challenge is, the longer you are here, the harder it will be to leave.”
I’m not looking forward to that time.