On top of speaking and training on human inclusivity across the country—and in addition to writing for this and another local magazine and hosting a weekly radio show—I’m the kind of person who horribly over-commits.
Need a new board member for an organization that works to protect marginalized humans? Yep, I’m in.
Want to meet for breakfast or coffee to talk about career path or a job search? Sure, I’ll be there.
In search of a volunteer for condominium board president? Sign me up.
You get the idea.
Much of this is about finally living as the authentic me, someone who earnestly wants to make a positive difference in the world. Another part is about having time on my hands; I’m not in a relationship and sitting around is absolutely the last thing I want to do. Thus, I try to keep busy.
Actually, what you just read isn’t entirely true. I really am in a relationship—a mentor/mentee relationship; her name is “Jasmine” (a pseudonym) and she’s almost fourteen years old. We started out as a “Little” and “Big” through the Big Brothers/Sisters program way back in late 2012. I thought I’d be Jasmine’s Big Sister for a year or two and then we’d each move on, presumably because that’s the way life usually is.
I was wrong about that. Way wrong.
I’ve written about Jasmine here before, many columns ago. Even then, I didn’t think the relationship would last. I had already done my stint of raising two daughters and parenting them well into their twenties. Did I really want to invest in another young human?
It turns out that I sure did and do.
For one thing, this kid is way worth it. Jasmine has a wonderful soft heart that shows up when you least expect it. On the outside, she’s tough, maybe reticent. You might even think that she believes the world owes her.
Yet occasionally she lets me in, and when she does, it’s quite incredible. We’ll sit and talk about things—cute boys, mean girls, temptations—that I know she shares with no one else. She offers up vulnerability which suggests that my presence in her life might be important, maybe even critical.
It also helps that Jasmine is darn smart. One of her favorite things is to watch documentaries about such varied things as global warming, homelessness, and K-pop. I’ll hear, “What’s that mean?” or “Can you believe that?” as the video rolls. Afterward, she’ll want to sit and talk, dissecting and absorbing.
The same thing happens when we watch movies. We had long, nuanced talks after seeing Green Book and Moonlight. Long ago, I taught Jasmine to look for themes and symbolism in movies and books; sometimes, she’s relentless in wanting to get the most out of the film: “What else was there in the movie, Ellie? There’s got to be more.”
Sometimes it’s not simple with Jasmine. On several occasions, I’ve dropped her off back home early because she wanted to take life’s frustrations out on me. Once, she told me that we were done, that she never wanted to see me again. Thankfully, the freeze-out didn’t last.
Please understand that the relationship isn’t one-way, either. I get back as much from this kid as I give. She will say witty things that make me laugh out loud days later. Most recently, she went on a rant making gentle fun about how I’ll ask for “one” of her French fries when we share a meal, only for me to take four or five or more. She added, “And don’t even get me started on how you ask for a second spoon for my Dairy Queen Blizzard.”
She was so right; I do all of that and it was hilarious on how she called me out on it. Both of us were near-hysterical as she did so.
Most of all, Jasmine reminds me that it’s possible to make a difference in a younger human’s life.
In today’s world, so many people feel lost. Often, social media dictates how young people feel about themselves. Younger folks can be so cruel and marginalizing since it takes nothing to post something mean.
The last six and a half years have reminded me of how important it is to simply be present for Jasmine. Many times, she just talks, but sometimes she cries. I have no special words of wisdom or solace; the best that I can offer is, “I believe in you” or “You will get through this.” I’ll always add, “You’re so very smart” and, “I care about you.”
I’m learning that maybe simply saying those words helps.
I sure would have wanted to hear such things when I was growing up.
Ellen (Ellie) Krug is the author of Getting to Ellen: A Memoir about Love, Honesty and Gender Change (2013). She speaks and trains on diversity and inclusion topics; visit www.elliekrug.com where you can also sign up for her e-newsletter, The Ripple. She welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.