iLOVE: looking back
This is me and two little girls, circa lots of years ago. I was about sixteen-going-on-thirty I guess, which would make Katrina a squirt and Larissa a pipsqueak. Today, March 16, is Katrina's birthday, and I thought I'd share a little story. She's the one with her tongue hanging out the side of her mouth and the dirt smear on her nose.
Just before my 12th birthday I got my babysitting certificate at the Kinsmen in Sherwood Park. There was a lady who lived in the apartment downstairs who had the cutest little girl on the planet. The little girl's name was Katrina and she was three. Now, it wasn't until I became a parent that I fully understood what it meant to entrust the care of your children to someone else, but Katrina's Mom had faith in me.
For the next year Katrina became my regular charge. And when I wasn't babysitting her, I would take her to the park anyways. Back in the days before mandatory helmets and bike seats, I would strap a pillow onto the slanted bar of my bike, hang her legs over the handlebars, and off we'd go. We'd play in the leaves, I'd push her on the swings, and sometimes we'd stay at the park too long and she'd pee on the way home, sometimes on my pillow. Other times the pillow would slip off to one side and she'd get a sore butt. She always came with, every time. It's what we did, and I was very sad when my sister, my Mom and I moved away.
Luckily for me, Katrina's Mom was nice enough to have a NEW baby for me to play with. (That would be Larissa, whose birthday isn't until June 9th, so she will have to wait for her story... lol) When her Mom eventually moved into the city, too, I started babysitting for her again.
Then things started turning strange in my life. I turned 13 and Life Was Hard. I think I've mentioned before how much I hated junior high. I was probably the most awkward and unhappy person on the planet and how I made it to grade 10 let alone graduation is still a mystery to me. I kept a handful of friends, but mostly I felt like I didn't quite fit in. Beyond that, I had a treacherous relationship with my mother, who felt at a loss what to do with me. She thought I was into drugs and sleeping around. I was none of those. I was bulimic, to the point where I would sometimes pass out in class, faint, or just black out for periods of several minutes at a time.
I can't blame my Mom for being at a loss. I did a very good job of hiding my disease, which in retrospect probably did look a lot like some kind of drug addiction - I never had any money in spite of all the babysitting I did (spent it on food and laxatives), my voice was always hoarse (puking 5 or 10 times a day will do that to you), I was sneaky and hiding things in my room (empty bags of cookies and ice cream cartons not baggies of dope and rolling papers), and I suspiciously lost a lot of weight (that was kind of the point...) I developed weird habits, too, like taking extra-long showers (needed the noise to drown out the sound of puking) and an OCD-like obsession with brushing my teeth (didn't want my teeth to get eaten away by all that stomach acid.) Yeah, glamourous, I know...
When my Mom called up Katrina's Mom asking if she had some babysitting for me so I wouldn't be hanging out with my bad friends, instead she offered me my first real job. She had faith in me that I would do a good job. So I began working in a telemarketing office doing manual database updates for the address files. It wasn't the most interesting work, but it did keep me busy, and made me enough money that I saved up enough for a damage deposit and first month's rent in a few weeks, and promptly moved out of my mother's house. I was 15.
Now, while most of my friends actually were partying and sleeping around and trying drugs, I was working my butt off. When things weren't working out with my roomie, Katrina's Mom took me in. I lived in her basement, paying room and board and nannying the girls. In spite of it all, Katrina's Mom STILL had faith in me. She trusted me to work for her, to go to school and get good grades, and be responsible with her children. And I did. I worked HARD, and a lot of it was borne from the idea that there were two little girls living in the house and I needed to be a Positive Role Model. I worked, I went to school I worked, I went to school, I worked... that was my life as a teenager.
Whether Katrina and Larissa and her Mom know it, they saved my life in more ways than one. They allowed me to be who I was (to this day the girls think I'm weird and it's just a Hopey thing) and trusted that when it came time to step up to the plate, I would always be there. It was a struggle to make it through - there were many times I wanted to just give up. I was a teenager who was trying to make rent, while the rest of my friends were trying to be cool. On the cusp of making some pretty monumental mistakes, I always had a homing signal. I loved those two little girls like they were my own flesh and blood. They always made me feel like I was cool, even if it was just because I'd microwave half a brick of cheddar to eat with Melba toast or build an entire snow train pulled by a snow dinosaur instead of a dorky little snowman. They had the Coolest Teenager On The Block living with them. It was way easier to handle the social pressure of hanging out with little kids than my peers, so it was all good. My mission was simply to never do anything they couldn't or shouldn't or wouldn't forgive me for.
Now that I have children of my own, I believe in conducting myself the same way. I try and say and do things my children won't be ashamed of. I live my life to the best of my abilities in a manner that shows through example how to gain self-worth and respect through hard work and to value the simple things. Like a three year old who wants nothing more than to come to the park with you, even if it means she gets a sore butt and pees her pants.
As I've grown older, I've come to know that you don't always pick your family. Sometimes they pick you. When we reconnected through that wonderful awful place called Facebook many many years later, Katrina and I hadn't lost any space, only a bit of time. She's all grown up now, married, two kids... and at least as weird as I was ;) for sure. And, if I had to do it all over again, Katrina would still be part of my family.
Happy one-year-closer-to-thirtieth birthday, my little Treen Bean.