How She Looked At Me

Today* both of my daughters got awards at their schools for grades and reading achievements. For Ariel’s, since Alice is away this weekend, Ben and I went to the school by ourselves. We sat way up in the middle of the stands and were extremely excited to find that Ariel would be sitting right below us a couple seats down the aisle! In front of me sat another girl. What got my attention, and what still has it even now, was how she kept turning around to stare at me; it seemed to be completely foreign to her to see a father coming to cheer on his daughter.
I don’t know how to express the emptiness and joy that co-existed in her eyes simultaneously when I first told her that she had done a good job in getting a Most Improved award. I still see her eyes when I close mine. She looked at me with distrust mingled with the hope of trust. Anxiousness, like someone used to having good things taken away as soon as they accept them.She sucked up my adoration. The more she took the more I gave. Soon I realized that I wasn’t only there for my daughter but for someone else’s as well.

As insecure people do, she started telling me all her shortcomings, “I’m not a good student,” she said several times as if testing me to see if I would change my answer: “You can be.” I encouraged her to read and work hard. I told her how great it was to get Most Improved. I consoled her when she didn’t get her other expected award (Perfect Attendance.)

Every time I gave her a compliment she lit up… as much as a completely reserved person can. When I called her by name she was amazed that I would care to remember it (from the award call-up.) I could tell she wanted to believe that I was proud of her but had no other evidence from her life that agreed. I asked her where her parents were and she told me that she didn’t have parents. She lives with her grandma. She said her father doesn’t come around and her mother left her when she was very young and she hasn’t seen her since.

If I wouldn’t have been arrested I would have hugged that little girl as tight as I could and tell her I loved her. Oh, she needs that!

I recognized this was a bigger problem than I imagined when another little girl right next to her started acting almost the same way!

That’s when I got mad. Really mad.

Mad at that child’s parents who left her and destroyed her sense of security and self confidence. If someone doesn’t love her and build her up – and soon – she is going to wreck her life trying to get attention. Ariel told me in the car later that she is known to get into trouble (already!) Lord, give her someone soon – don’t let her get to Middle School like this!

Mad at myself for not loving on my kids enough. I sometimes see things like these award ceremonies as tedious and things that I could live without. Shame on me! That my children would feel like those little girls today for even a second would kill me! My “sacrifice” means the world to my kids! It means the world to your kids too!

Mad at all the people in America and the so-called “civilized world” that act selfishly when choosing to live their lives for themselves at the expense of their children – born or not yet born. At those whom believe that divorce is an option and that our love of self trump our responsibilities.

Mad that there is no ready fix for these issues!

She was wearing a church camp shirt so I asked her if she went to church. She said she did. After I told her I know what its like to have my parents split up when I was young I told her I was happy that she had a church that would support her and pray for her. She nodded. I took that to mean that maybe she did and maybe she didn’t.

At my church, which I love, the nursery and children’s church seem to be consistently lacking in volunteers. At my church, which I love, people sit far away from each other in the pews and visitors still don’t get greeted like they should. I don’t say this to complain! Merely to ask the introspective, humility inspiring question: If she went to my church would she get the love she needed?

At the end, as we were leaving, she was having an argument with another girl further down the aisles. She turned to me and asked, “Isn’t it true that you are my best friend?”

I said, “Of course I am!” to the other little girl and told my new best friend to have a great day. Then I went home to be haunted by the encounter.

Originally posted on Facebook on May 2, 2009.