I was 19 when I got my first full-time job as the teacher for a group of school age kids in a daycare center. It was summer and I took my class bowling a lot.
Those kids were weird, all wild for bowling. There weren’t enough lightweight balls to go around, so we spent most of our time waiting for one of the two balls to pop up in the ball return, which was fine with them because there was that fan that would blow on their faces.
Like I said, they were weird kids.
My classroom was right next to the two-year-old classroom, and in that classroom was a little boy named we’ll call David (which is not his real name because DUH).
I fell in love with David, and the feeling was mutual. He had no words; in fact, he rarely vocalized at all, but he ran to me every time he caught the tiniest glimpse of me through the big accordion curtain between the two rooms.
David was broken.
He was also perfect. Painfully, acutely perfect. He had fetal alcohol syndrome; a not-yet repaired cleft palate; severe asthma; and a deep sadness that didn’t cover up his pure and perfect soul.
Did I mention I was in love?
Every day after lunch, he had to have a nebulizer treatment. Getting a two year old to sit still for a 20 minute nebulizer treatment? Not easy, and the teachers in the two-year-old classroom struggled with getting him to finish the neb while getting the rest of the kids down for their naps. So the kids in my class and I developed a system; I got the medicine ready while they emptied our basket of dress-up clothes. Next? We put David in the basket.
I have no memory at all of how we discovered David’s love of that basket, but as soon as he saw it, he reached and struggled until I set him inside. In that basket, David sat for his nebulizer treatment while I read books and sang songs with the older kids.
For his part, he gazed at me adoringly.
Who doesn’t love that?
I fantasized that, by some fluke of the law, the state would give him to me.
Oh, shuddup! I was 19, remember?
At the age of two, David was living in his fifth foster home after spending the first 9 months of his life in the hospital. He needed love. He needed speech therapy and surgery and all kinds of other things, too, but mostly, he needed love. An infusion pump of love.
He and I were like two puzzle pieces that fit together without a seam. David was the first person who ever needed me. He was my first experience of loving someone with abandon, in spite of 100% certainty that it would not end well.
When you fall in love with a child who is in protective custody, it almost never ends well. The system won’t let you follow them when they move. They just……disappear.
When David disappeared, we had no advance notice, no warning, no opportunity to give a kiss and a squeeze and a wish for a bright, bold, odds-defying life.
I knew David 20 years ago, but he still owns a bit of my soul. When he was moved on to his next family (ohpleaseohpleaseohplease let it have been a warm, open, wildly generous forever-family who have loved him like no other all these years), I wept for days. He was my friend and my teacher.
He taught me about baskets.
Wasn’t that thoughtful of him, to give me a convenient metaphor that I could save for later?
I couldn’t fix anything for David. I couldn’t rescue him from a difficult life in foster care; couldn’t reverse the devastating effects of his biological mother’s alcohol use during her pregnancy; couldn’t give him a voice or repair his palate.
I could put him in a basket, give him a feeling of safety and comfort for a little while.
I gave him love; he returned that love and so much more. I learned what unconditional love feels like; I got a taste of some of the feelings I wouldn’t fully understand until I had children of my own.
Did I change his life? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t matter. The love and connection that traveled like electricity between David and I was important.
Giving love and kindness to him changed my life. It changed me.
Reading the comments that many of you left on my recent post about trichotillomania, I couldn’t stop thinking about that basket. Your words were a safe place; an embrace and a reassurance and I am gazing up at you with adoration.
I’ve thought about blogging and the community around it a great deal in the past few weeks because of the dozens of post-BlogHer* posts I read.
I am never going to that thing. Almost everyone seems to have had a wildly emotional experience, much of that emotion being pain, shame, and fear.
Sheesh. I have more than enough of that right here at home, and for free!
But mostly, I’ve been thinking how much my online life has changed me, changed how I live my 3-dimensional life.
I have a place to put all these words that were crowding my head, to give the little girl in me (who never wanted to be a ballerina or a fire fighter or a doctor) the chance to live her dream of being a writer. And amazingly, some people come read those words.
Turns out that living my dream is good for my soul.
I have new friends, people who I love and who love me. For me, somewhat isolated by Carter’s disabilities, that’s like digging in the garden for a potato and turning up a giant diamond.
I’ve learned to laugh again; head thrown back, tears streaming down my face, stomach-hurts-the-next-day laughter.
That is also good for the soul.
There is much angst and drama in my online world. This is not, after all, a homogeneous group.
Also? Some people are assholes.
The internet is not a safe place. There are potholes in the road and muggers in the shadows; terrorists are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to terrorize. This is not a risk-free enterprise, any more than loving David was risk free.
For me, the risk is worth it.
You people have some pretty great baskets, and sometimes I get to offer some love, comfort, and laughter to you, too.
Brooke said in her comment on my last post:
[C]ompassion born of shared experience [is] priceless. And the feeling when you’ve found it, unexpectedly, in what you thought was hostile and unforgiving territory? Unspeakably precious.
What will remain truly, and quite literally, marvelous to me about the internet is that it allows and creates exactly those kinds of encounters, multiplied exponentially, every second. We’re here, if we wish it, to be in the business of multiplying compassion in this world.
You didn’t rescue me from trichotillomania, but you shined love into a dark place. That’s a big deal.