For most of our grade school years and beyond, my brother and I were latchkey kids. Our mom was a single, working mother. She worked for the State of Illinois in a 9 to 5 job and sometimes worked evenings as a bartender or cocktail waitress. As time went on, she also added part time student to her resume.
I'm going to insert here, though it has nothing to do with this story, that not a single band concert or local drum corps show was ever missed by my busy mom. In fact, both of my parents were always present at these things and more, always sitting together like friends. I was never, ever put in the awkward position of choosing which parent to invite to events because they made the decision to set aside their differences and be there for my brother and I. We will always be thankful for that.
Our dad had weekend visitation and we spent most of our weekends with him in Taylorville, a pleasant, small, central Illinois town about 25 miles South of Springfield. He lived in Taylorville for many years and later in Springfield. Taylorville was also home to my Granny, aunts, uncles and cousins. I loved being there. My cousin, Denise, and I are the same age and we more often than not would have sleepovers at either Granny's or Aunt Kathy's. My brother and my cousin "Bang" were great friends, also. It was a fun childhood. I sometimes wondered what my life would have been like if my parents never divorced and I was able to grow up in that town, surrounded by family. I prayed and hoped that it would happen, that my parents would miraculously reunite and that I could have the life I thought I was meant to have. It wasn't in the cards, though. Winter weekdays were busy. We had school and friends and then weekends with Dad. Summers were rough, though. Mom and Dad both worked full time jobs and that left my brother and I to entertain ourselves in those hours that we would otherwise have been occupied in school. There were quite a few school friends in our neighborhood, though. We could form halfway decent sized baseball teams and play ball in the empty lot that was between our apartment complex and the houses on the street. There was a small grove of trees big enough for hide and seek and a few failed attempts at building a club house. That grove of trees was also a grave site for more than a couple of hamsters and gerbils.
Among the neighborhood kids were two girls my age named Jackie and Brenna. They were my very best friends and we played Barbie's, watched bad television, walked to the dime store and bought penny candy and tried to re-create the entire movie, The Wizard of Oz. This was before VCR's, y'all! It was a labor of love! Sometimes we played Ding-Dong-Ditch 'em until we were caught and scolded for that venture. Let's not talk about that. Jackie's parents belonged to The Olympic Club, the local swim club. During the hot days of summer, they went to the pool for at least a couple of hours every day. Jackie's mom invited me to go every time. It was a great feeling. I felt like I belonged to that pool, too. It was so much fun. I can still remember the silly games we played in the water and buying Reese's Peanut Butter Cups at the snack bar. What seemed like a small kindness to them, dragging me along to the pool every day, was HUGE to me. As a child, I am sure I never was able to express my gratitude sufficiently, but recently I was reunited with Jackie via Facebook and was able to thank both her and her mom. I let them know that I will never forget them and their kindness and how now, as a mom, I try to go out of my way to include a kid or two in our activities. I feel like I'm paying it forward in a small way.
I was talking to my mom one day several years ago, and we were laughing at some of the things we did as kids that she knew about but we didn't know she knew and about some of the things she never knew we did. (that was a hard sentence to follow!) She told me that we didn't know it, but she had asked a couple of the neighbors to keep an eye on us while she was at work. I can't imagine how it must have been, leaving us like that and hoping we kept ourselves out of trouble. I think she must have been a nervous wreck!
Things don't always work out the way we hope, but they work out the way they should. It always helps me to remember that. It helps to realize that there are so many people in my life that never would have been there if things had gone the way I wished and prayed for at that time. And I wouldn't be who I am today.
(I held off posting this in hopes of adding a couple of photos...but I can't find the ones I want. When I find them, I'll add them.)