I’m not a parent yet. My husband and I are in the “trying” stage.
After a miscarriage in the fall, we consulted a doctor — several doctors actually — and I weaned off prescription medications that could be harmful to a baby during pregnancy, and I started taking prenatal vitamins in preparation.
It was a weird month emotionally and physically, but I feel good and healthy and ready to be on this journey.
Meanwhile, while waiting to create a little life, I have this other life that depends on me. I mentor her.
Her name is Jade and she’s 12. She’s kind and funny and curious and is looking for someone to just love her. And I do.
A new pathway
It all started about a year ago. I attended a fundraiser breakfast for an organization called New Pathways for Youth and it was the first time I felt truly overwhelmed with a desire to do something big and bold to make a difference.
Growing up as an actor, I was always told to never stand for an ovation at the end of a performance unless you were moved to your feet to do so.
I was moved.
Deeply moved by the passion and sincerity of the director, by the impact the program was having on young lives and by the fact that, unlike any other fundraiser I’ve been to, they simply brought the kids out who were part of the program and let them speak. No local celebrities or gimmicky auctions. Just the kids.
It felt real and meaningful and the kids had powerful testimonies. I was sold, but I was also terrified.
Go big or go home
It’s a big commitment at this organization to mentor a child. BIG. It’s not a program where you show up occasionally for an hour or two and go over school work and surface topics.
I had to go through several training courses, get fingerprinted, show proof of insurance, be interviewed and sign a one-year contract.
My desire never wavered.
Once I had gotten through all the preliminaries, I waited to get paired. It was during this waiting period that the panic started to rise…
Fear is a four-letter word
The “I know smithereens about children” fear: What if I’m a terrible mentor? I’m not a parent! Hell, I’m an only child — I didn’t even have sisters or brothers to relate to as a kid! I know nothing.
The “I don’t remember math” fear: What if this little person needs help in school? I forgot how to do simple fractions. I am completely dependent on a calculator. I’ll fail her, and then she’ll fail school, and it will all be my fault.
The “maybe I’m too busy to take this on right now” fear: Why did I think I had time to do this? I have to see my mentee three times a month. That’s mandatory! That’s almost once a week. I barely have time to wash my hair or respond to a text message. How am I going to do this?
The “I’m not good enough” fear: What if my mentee hates me? Maybe there will be some other cool, more hip mentor they wish they got instead of me. The shame…
But then I met Jade. My match. I looked into her blue eyes and her freckled face and I realized, it’s not about me. It’s about her.
In one of the training classes, they said that your time is the greatest gift you can give to your mentee. And it really is. I make an effort to commit fully to Jade when I’m with her.
The only thing she has to battle for attention is the GPS voice that keeps rudely interrupting us when we’re driving.
It’s a joy to give her my time. As with most things, you can find the time if it matters to you, and she does. I like showing her new things, taking her to new places, trying new foods with her. I’m expanding this child’s world every time I see her. I think that’s pretty cool.
Even now, I don’t have a clue
I’ll be honest, I still have no idea what I’m doing. Most of the time, I feel like I’m learning more from her than she is from me. There are days she’ll say something and it leaves me baffled at how direct kids are and how much they notice things.
There are definitely difficult things about this new relationship. She has a hard time making friends. Decisions are being made on how to raise her that are different from my own upbringing and that’s difficult for me to understand sometimes. But my job isn’t to raise her or fix her whole life.
My job is to be there for her. Always. It’s to hear her and support her. It’s to love her despite all of my awkwardness and non-parenting skills. Love her just as she is through the bad days at school and the tough times with mean girls and the complicated parts of growing up.
I can do that. I can give her that. In return, she has made my life feel whole, and that is a gift I was not expecting.
Editor’s note: This story has been published with permission from Jade’s family.