My thirteen-year-old daughter recently recounted a story for me about a disruption at her school involving a classmate that required administrators to respond to a sort of “Code Red” emergency. Weighing life’s major moments of civil unrest, online this one sounded fairly tame on the terror threat scale, but it still landed hard as a story of a disruptive teen who was clearly struggling with the challenge of finding a way to appropriately express an emotional response to something that had gotten under her skin.
I couldn’t help but think of this tale as I took my seat next to Tamia, her mother LaQuanda and Tamia’s Big Sister Denise at a recent gala held by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Milwaukee in the Pfister’s Grand Ballroom. My mind didn’t turn to this tale of troubled teenage drama because of anything happening over plates of chicken, drugstore fish and dinner rolls, but instead because I found it hard to believe that thirteen-year-old Tamia could have once easily been cast in the role of the disruptive girl in my daughter’s story.
The broad smile across Tamia’s face didn’t seem like the mask of a troubled kid. But I discovered in talking to this bright young girl and her caring mother and Big Sister that trouble had seemed to follow Tamia everywhere she went during her preteen years. As an elementary school student she had difficulty focusing in school. She caused her fair share of incidents and was the central figure in many stories like the one that my daughter had shared with me about her recent particularly eventful school day. All that began to change when her mom LaQuanda decided that she, as a single mom trying the best she could, would not be able to tackle the Tamia problem alone. LaQuanda did what any loving mom would do—she reached out for help, and in doing so found a sister for Tamia; a Big Sister to be exact.
Denise has been Tamia’s Big Sister going on some five years now. She and Tamia have a relationship that is now forged in steel, but according to Denise was once more like a pile of fresh clay ready to be shaped into a symbol of strength.
Denise remembers that when she first met Tamia, the little girl was timid and scared, a young lady who hid behind her mother and barely spoke. I look across the table at Tamia who scans the ballroom with a gentle, open, honest, and inquisitive gaze. She’s chattering away with her mom and confidently answering the questions that the couple who are seated with us as our tablemates are asking her. It’s impossible to imagine that this poised and charming young woman was once the type of kid that could turn a sunny day dark. She’s now the type of child who will pick up the phone and call her Big Sister for help with her math homework even when Denise is traveling in Asia for business. You know that Denise adores Tamia because she tells me that she took that call at 3am so she could work out some tricky word problems with her Little Sister across time zones.
Denise and Tamia are special honorees at this evening event, recognized as the Big Sister and Little Sister match of the year. They are shy about the honor, almost embarrassed whenever anyone offers them a nod of congratulations. They seem to realize that they’re just lucky to have found each other, one of the many success stories from the 1,300 matches that the Milwaukee Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter makes each year.
LaQuanda takes another approach to celebrating tonight’s honor. She’s gaga about where her daughter is today. LaQuanda is playing the role of the proudest mother in town and she does what any fierce, strong mom would do on a night that her kid is publicly recognized for something great. She takes as many pictures as she possibly can and claps and cheers louder than anyone.
As I watch LaQuanda standing in a crowded room taking pictures of Tamia and Denise receiving the recognition they deserve, I think of my own thirteen-year-old daughter and how blessed I am to not be a single parent, but to have a superbly supportive and wise spouse to help me raise my two children. I don’t know if I would have been as smart as LaQuanda to reach out for help if I found that my daughter was headed down a rough road as a young girl, but I’m wise enough to know that LaQuanda deserves her own round of applause.
LaQuanda and I end up talking about options for high schools for both our daughters, a dynamic concern we both share about making sure we get our children in the right environment for success. I catch Tamia and Denise bantering back and forth across the table about the food at the event, and they absolutely look like there’s a blood bond between them with the obvious love they show one another. Our table hoots the loudest as Tamia and Denise get their moment in the spotlight, and then we all conspire over how we might trick our server into bringing us double dessert. Just your average night when you’re seated with the coolest people in the room at a fancy affair.
As our night winds down I promise to take Tamia and LaQuanda to see the top floor swimming pool at the Pfister. Before I do I pull Tamia aside and tell her, “You know, my daughter is thirteen-years-old, too, and she’s ALMOST as nice as you.” Tamia gives me a chuckle and flashes a smile to make your heart melt, and I know that my own child wouldn’t even roll her eyes over that corny bit of dad humor. Tamia is all winner, and thanks to a mother and Sister who have her back, she’s ready to tackle any mountain that might get in her way.
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