Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Gifts and Curses
A few days ago Annamarie and I went through the Wendy's drive-thru. The man at the window was a familiar face, but I didn't think much about it. If I had I would have just assumed that we had seen him working at Wendy's before. But the man greeted us excitedly, and asked, "Do you remember me?" I stammered for a couple of seconds, hoping that I would make the connection, when Annamarie leaned around me from the passenger seat and said, "Well hey, Billy!"
It turns out that Billy had waited on us several times at a restaurant that closed several months ago. Billy is a wiry middle-aged man who gives the impression of not having lived an easy life, and he told us briefly how he had shown up to work at the restaurant one day to be told that they were closing that day. After the connection was made for me I did remember Billy and that he had been an attentive waiter and particularly kind to the children.
When Annamarie recognized Billy without prompting, his face lit up and my throat closed up. She and I had been talking about gifts and talents just a little bit earlier, and this is hers. She has never met a stranger and she never forgets anyone she meets. If she asks you your name, she will remember it forever, and she will remember that you told her about your little grandson or that your knee was hurting or that you have a little dog named Skippy. She knows the name of every driver of every bus at her school, while most of the other children can't name their own bus driver.
In a recent post, I said that one of the patrons at the dog park had jokingly referred to Annamarie as the mayor of the dog park. Socially, it's an interesting place, the dog park. Those of us who are regulars know the names of most of the dogs but not of their owners. We refer to each other as "Ruby's mom" or "Jack's owner." We are familiar with many of the personality traits of the dogs --- we know which ones are possessive about toys, we know that if you throw a ball for Bailey once you had better be prepared to do so a hundred times, we know that if you aren't vigilant, Belle will jump on the picnic table. But for the most part, we the owners don't know much of anything about each other.
The exception, of course, is Annamarie. Sometimes I don't know whether we go to the dog park more for Ruby or for Annamarie. She greets each new person who enters the gate, learns their name and their dog's name, where they live, and the history of any surgeries or serious illnesses they have had. Often people are taken aback by her forwardness at first, but for the most part, they end up being charmed by her innocent interest in the details of their lives. Annamarie is fascinated by anything medical, and a number of the dog park patrons are residents at the University Hospital. She is especially excited to see them and asks, "What procedures did you perform today?" When she announced that she wanted to be a surgeon for Halloween, they brought her scrubs and a white doctor coat from the hospital. Annamarie will greet the people that she already knows by asking, "What did you do today?" One young man has taken to beating her to the punch, asking Annamarie, "What did you do today?" He teases her gently and she giggles in delight. Leo and Bailey's mom will play endless games of rock paper scissors with her. Meri, one of Annamarie's favorites, brought her a jewelry making set for her birthday. I am so grateful to these adults who are my daughter's friends, but I can't help wishing that she had just one friend her own age.
This post is already much longer than I had planned, and everything I've said so far is only background. Yesterday Annamarie and I went over to her school to spend an hour helping with the fifth-grade bake sale. Several other fifth-grade girls were already behind the table, and as Annamarie greeted them excitedly they rolled their eyes at each other in disgust. My socially clueless girl introduced me to one of her classmates, saying, "She is the one who is so nice to me, Mom." The girl turned away from her, appalled, and ignored her pointedly.
One of the girls decided that some of them should stand outside the polling place with signs, advertising the bake sale, so three of them skipped off with signs and danced around chanting, "Hot chocolate, coffee, brownies, cupcakes." After a few minutes they decided that it was someone else's turn, and they handed off the signs to different girls, including Annamarie. The other two girls stood as far as they could from her in a dramatic display of exclusion.
I know that it is a sin to be so angry at a group of little girls. I know that as a Christian I should be able to say, "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do." But I am angry, at them and at their parents who are raising them to behave this way. I am angry at the school for not doing a better job of working with these children on sensitivity issues.
I have written about these concerns before, and if you're still reading, bless your heart. I'm not even sure what my point is or if I have one. Actually scratch that --- I know what my point is. It is that I hate the bitter unfairness of watching the most caring and loving person I know, who has never intentionally hurt another person, who loves the young, the old, the disabled, people of all races, be so thoroughly excluded by her peers.
And most of all, I hate the fact that as her mother I can't do anything to fix it for her.