I was born with Spina Bifida and have used braces and crutches all my life. I’ve been familiar with Big Brother/Big Sister (BBBS) since I was a child watching advertisements on T.V.. And as a child, I always envisioned the ideal “Big Brother” and I thought the idea was really neat! I thought it would be such fun to have the idealized “Big Brother” who could swoop me off to do idealized things. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had a wonderful life, disability or not. I had wonderful big brothers of my own (nearly 10 years older than I) and a wonderful Mother and Father. I had a good middle-class childhood and we did lots of great things together. But still, there was something about those advertisements and the not so perfect life that I lived with a disability.
There have been things that I missed out on doing with my father and family just because they weren’t practical to do, or I wasn’t healthy enough at the time to do them, or a million other reasons that seemed to get in the way. The “out-doorsy” things were especially difficult or impossible to do. As I grew older, I found out I could figure out how to do most anything to some degree of satisfaction if given enough time to figure out how and if I could do them on my own terms. But by then, the time and the wonder of a child and his Dad doing such things together had been suppressed or disappeared.
Now I’ve been married for nearly 18 years. My wife and I have been childless, but, in our time together, we have still enjoyed interacting with children through our church and through disability programs that we have presented at local schools. I have always wondered what it would be like to interact with a child to the degree that I wish my Dad and I could have interacted.
The opportunity presented itself with conversations between and the encouragement of a coworker who serves on the board of directors of our local BBBS. However, I had never actually dealt one-on-one with an elementary age child for any length of time alone and expressed concern that I wouldn’t be able to deal with the energy required or possible discipline problems. In reply, she told me that our local chapter had a site-based school mentoring program where I could begin working with a “Little” in a disciplined atmosphere. That sounded good to me so I started out in the fall of ’98 with BJ. By the end of the year, BJ and I had come to enjoy each other’s company once a week and I thought to myself that if I’m going to do this child any good and actually mean something to him, the relationship shouldn’t end with the school year. So, I signed up for a full-time core match that spring.
What has been the high point in the relationship with my “Little”?
The high point in our relationship has been in any “outdoorsy” activity of course! Last year, we participated in a BBBS overnight camping trip to a local Boy Scout camp. We couldn’t do everything together because of my disability but with all the activities we were able to do (shooting, archery, songs, and scary stories by a campfire) it was great. But the best time came to me when we all settled down for the night. There were eight of us (“Bigs” and “Littles”) in sleeping bags in an Addirondack (3-sided wooden lean-to with 4-sets of bunk beds). BJ was in a bunk in the opposite corner and wouldn’t turn off his flashlight to go to sleep. The others were getting a little irritated. Figuring out that he wasn’t just playing with his Pokie Man cards I finally asked if he was a little scared. It turned out that he was afraid that something might crawl up his bunk and get him. Not being able to convince him otherwise, I finally asked if he wanted to bring his sleeping bag down and stay in my bunk with me. He shot down like a rocket! It felt so good to know that I could comfort a child like that. Even thought he was only 9 at the time, BJ is no small boy and by the time he was situated and asleep, I was being pushed out of the bed. It was cold that night sleeping on the floor of that lean-to, even in a sleeping bag with a stocking cap on my bald head. But I felt so warm in my heart that I was doing what Dad and I hadn’t done and I was making this kid feel like I wanted to feel at his age.
Posted by guest blogger and Big Brothers/Big Sisters Mentor, Christopher O. Grandle