When I was in first grade, I hitch hiked for the first time.
My family and I were on our way to a very important event–the State Spelling Bee competition. My brother, Christopher, was in the fifth grade and had just won the Howard County Spelling Bee. He now had to represent our county in the BIG state spelling bee competition in BIG Indianapolis. This, in no uncertain terms, was a BIG deal.
So there we were, our little family of four, cruising down highway 31 south to the big city of Indianapolis, when our Oldsmobile suddenly started to sloooooow down. My dad instinctively pulled to the side of the road. The atmosphere in the car was tense. Dad was visibly pissed. Mom was visibly worried. Dad attempted to restart the car to no avail.
My brother, Christopher, was in the back seat with ginormous headphones on, listening to a casette tape of God only knows what, while trying to remain in a zenlike state; but I knew he was very preoccupied. I mean, a lot was riding on the line here. If we didn’t make it to Indianapolis in time for the Spelling Bee, HE WOULD BE LETTING ALL OF HOWARD COUNTY DOWN. After listening to my questions about what was going to happen and hearing my mom sigh in disappointment, my dad was finally like, “Hey you guys! I’m gonna get out and do what I do best–start moving around.”
I remember peering at him through the window, watching him stand there with his thumb up in the air. I remember wondering what would come of this and who would be either dumb or kind or scary enough to pick us up. I didn’t have to wonder long, though, when a man wearing dark shades and smoking a cigarette pulled up to us on the side of the road.
My dad chatted with him for a minute, and then my dad nodded to all of us to get in the man’s car. We were all freaked out, but it was the only plan we had, so we were sticking to it. I remember him smoking his cig with the windows down as we blazed down the highway in his hot car. This man “got it.” He understood the Spelling Bee was a big freaking deal. He sped his way all the way to Indy and drove us up to the doors of the humongous building where the state spelling bee was taking place. We were late–but not too late. We hustled Christopher into the building and he got up onto stage.
I sat in the back of the dark auditorium, trying to recover from the craziness of the day, while listening to children spell words into the microphone in front of some very austere judges. I looked over at my parents every time my brother took the mic to spell a hard word. They had love and faith and concern all wrapped up brightly in their eyes. In that moment, my little first grade brain was able to process that my family had our backs. No matter what kind of crap would hit the fan, they would be there for my brother and me.
And I feel thankful to still feel this way. My parents are a little austere at times–especially my mom. I mean, she was raised Mennonite, for crying out loud so it makes sense that she is that way. But they have always listened to me and been there for me. I feel grateful–VERY grateful–that they let me and Aliana come and live with them for the three and a half months following my divorce. We drove each other a little batty at the time. My mom would yell at me in the middle of the night to make sure I “jiggled the handle on the toilet” if I got up to use the bathroom. My dad drove me a little crazy with his long stories about random people who had no bearing on my life. And both of them, for some reason, kept telling me I needed to drink green tea at the time, which for some reason annoyed me.
And I’m sure I drove them bananas with my strange music and texting habits and sudden tearful outbursts. But they knew that I was doing the best I could. And I knew they were proud of me for doing my best.
Sometimes we are afraid others are going to judge us, when all they want to do is love us. For a long time, I was afraid to show my parents who I really was. I was afraid I wouldn’t live up to their expectations for me. When my world began to shatter in my divorce, I came to the realization that the people who wanted to be there for me needed transparency from me.
Sometimes we have to be honest about our reality and our pain and how messy our lives are with those who REALLY love us. Because only then can we get the support we need. I learned to talk about all the crap I had been through with my parents, even though it felt WEIRD to say everything to them. I hadn’t wanted them to know I had made mistakes. But they really NEEDED to know it so they could support me in my next steps.
My brother lost the spelling bee that day, but he went back to the state competition two additional times. He was truly a champion speller.
We love you, Mom and Dad. Thank you for always having our backs. And for teaching us to hitch hike. ❤️