The Mentor needs Mentoring…

My little brother was eight years old when we were matched up. In some ways it is surprising how he made it to nine… if he was not trying to kill himself, I might have been tempted to try.

One of our first big events together was to see a circus at an indoor arena in Boston. We walked the concourse together, made friends with a nice young lady at one of the concession stands, and then took seats for a very athletic and interesting performance. After about 20 minutes my little was fidgeting in his seat, looking everywhere but at the stage, and clearly had checked out his attention and interest level back at the door.

At intermission we walked the circular concourse again, only this seemed to him to be the real treat, as he quickly ran like a horse at a racetrack. I kept him in view until I did not keep him in view… and thus begins my story. I could not find this kid anywhere… and after walking the perimeter twice I swallowed my pride and approached security with his photo on my cellphone and asked for help finding him. They readily assured me he could not leave the building, but I began thinking of how I was going to explain losing this kid to his mom and to the organization that was entrusting me with his safety.

After two more passes around the concourse, security said they did not see him and looked a lot less confident about finding him than when we had met some 10 minutes before. Trusting security a little less, I found the concession stand worker who remembered us, and told her if she saw my little brother to grab him like a $20.00 bill. After a fifth pass around, there he was, standing with the concession worker after she picked him out of the crowd, apparently looking for me.

We shared a kind of “teaching moment” where I explained while no one would blame an 8 year old for getting lost, everyone would fault the considerably older big brother for losing the little shit or God forbid, letting anything happen to him.

A few months later I was standing in line to check out at a Bed Bath and Beyond and realized I had left my wallet in the car. In what seemed a perfectly sound rationale to me, I asked my little if he knew where the car was (yes), did he know how to open the door (yes) and did he know where my wallet was (yes). I asked him to go out to the car and bring the wallet to me. Just writing this down, it is so painfully obvious how many things could go wrong here (kid in parking lot alone, kid with wallet he might lose, kid not telling me the truth of what he knew he could or might do) that I clearly might have no business mentoring anyone. But this was something I did often with my first little brother (who was 12 when we met) and in retrospect I clearly do not recognize or appreciate the differences between the capabilities of a 12 year old and an 8 year old. I never had a kid of my own to break in… sorry.

After a nearly 10 minute wait for my keys and wallet to return, I went out to the car to look for him. And I found him, standing outside the car, with the car door open, and the keys IN THE IGNITION of the car. The conversation went something like this:
“Why are you out here? Where is my wallet?”
“It is in the car”
“Where are my keys?”
“They are in the car”
“Why are my keys in the ignition?”
“I put them on the dashboard, and they must have slipped down and fell in the keyhole”.
“Why were you trying to start my car?” (asked three times)
No response (three times).

I do not recall all the details of the “teaching moment” we shared together, suffice to say my take away was 8 year olds do not always do what is asked and lie about it afterward. I am not sure my “teaching moment” lesson stuck for either of us.

That summer he decided he wanted to go swimming at a nearby public pool. The small detail I had to contend with was that he did not know how to swim. But the pool was kept very clean despite being very crowded, and every hour or so they throw everyone out of the pool so they can check the bottom for dead bodies. This is the result of an incident the previous summer where someone drowned in the pool and the body was not seen or noticed by anyone for some time. There were lots of lifeguards on duty and they all loved the 15 minute respite they get every hour to check for lifeless forms.

I let the kid frolic in the shallow end and showed him the line he could not go past as it would start getting too deep for him there. He was having a grand old time all by himself for an hour… then came over to the side of the pool (where I had stood watching him like a cat watches a baby chick) and asked me to come in. I agreed to, turned around and took of my T-shirt and glasses, and turned back to the pool 10 seconds later.

The kid was gone.

I began straining my nearsighted eyes for his curly hair and brown little body in sea of curly hair and brown little bodies… was I missing him because of no glasses? Did he get out of the water? Nah… he decided to go to deeper water. I found this out when I heard a muffled cry of my name, and then a lifeguard leaped from one end of the pool and picked him out of the water before the top of his head got wet. She handed him to me and gave me “the look” as I thanked her for grabbing him a full two seconds before I could have.

The teaching moment occurred when I realized the kid did not know what 3FT… 6 FT… and the like meant that were all painted around the circumference of the pool edge.

A couple of months later he asked to ride his bike in a nearby park after seeing a much smaller child ride their bike down a long steep sidewalk onto the grass field. I allowed the request, insisted he wear his bike helmet, and went to the field with him on foot. My instructions to him were to wear his helmet and stay off of the hilly areas.

After cleverly riding around on the flat baseball field for fifteen minutes and letting my attention wane a bit… he pushed the bike up on the hill overlooking the field. This is a popular winter sledding area, as it drops down, then levels out, drops down again, then levels out to the field level. Everyone stays away from one particular area, where there is a cement retaining wall that drops straight down four feet to the ground level. At one point a few years ago, I talked my yet-to-be wife into going sledding with her son and me, and on her first ride down she veered sharply left for a reason no one knows to this day and went off this retaining wall. She bruised an area above her knee so badly when she hit the ground that she later could not get her jeans off and the EMT’s had to be called to my house. They had to cut off her jeans and wheeled her through the front door to the ambulance on a gurney. We have named this area of the field “Corelli’s Corner” in her honor and I have always intended to spray paint that on the wall to make it seem more official.

When I next looked around for my little brother, I saw him 75 yards away at the top of the hill (perhaps 25 feet vertical from top to bottom) and his bike helmet on the ground (of course) only a few feet away from me. The next few seconds went by in slow motion… he started riding down the hill on his bike, quickly gained more speed than any 8 year old could handle, but did not fall off, which was unfortunate, since he was heading directly for the drop off at the retaining wall.

I cannot attest to the sound made when he landed on the ground directly on his head (having left the relatively safe confines of the bike a fraction of a second before) as I was sprinting across the field at a speed I did not know I possessed and screaming his name. When I reached him he had stood up and was looking around a little dazed but none the worse for wear. I asked him “Are you out of your mind? Are you trying to kill yourself?”, then went into a much more caring posture, checking his vision, his ability to move his arms and legs, and finally turn his head from side to side. Outside of a welt under one eye, the kid was proving to be indestructible, which might be a good thing when under my supervision.

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