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Parenting Strangers, part 1 - The Early Years

I began working with children shortly after my 10-month old son died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in 1982.  I was attending the University of Texas after 4 years in the Air Force.  I came home one afternoon and got a phone call that my son was in the hospital.  By the time I got there, he was pronounced dead.

A few months later, a friend at the Episcopalian/Anglican church we were attending asked if I wanted to teach a Sunday School Class of second graders.  I don't know why I said yes.  I had volunteered in Headstart during college and the experience was wonderful, and I loved being a Sunday School teacher.

Normally, I am a shy and reclusive person, but in front of a group of children, I am transformed into an outgoing, silly person.  I loved that me.

After several years of teaching Sunday School, a voice inside me (I think it was God) began to nudge me toward working with teenagers.  I was frightened, but I gave it a try as a volunteer with the youth group at my church.  I love the earnestness of teenagers.  I love the struggle they have to become individuals, to discover their own unique identity.  I love their passion.

And I discovered an honesty in myself that was lacking.  To reach teenagers, I had to dig deep into myself.  Some of what I found, I didn't like and it took me years to dredge that filth up into the light and let go of it.

I also discovered a wacky sense of humor to which teenagers responded.  A line from W.C. Fields always runs through my head.  "You take life to seriously.  I was only trying to guess your weight."  Because teenagers are earnest in the extreme.  So many teens think that every little thing in life has great depth and meaning.  Life does have depth and meaning, but if I don't laugh, that only leaves crying and I don't cope well when I'm crying.

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