By Tami Shaver, LSW – Program Director
The stumbling block for so many new Bigs is the stress of thinking they have to entertain a Little. But the reality is, kids just want someone who will be there for them. It doesn’t take a lot of wild and crazy activities (although you can be as wild and crazy as you and your Little like). It literally is about just showing up when you say you’re going to show up and letting that child know you are someone they can depend on.
I’m not a Big Sister, but I am an aunt to five nieces and three nephews. And one of those nieces is also my God-daughter, Lillian. Unfortunately I live several states away from Lillian and don’t get to invest the in-person time with her that we both crave. This past Christmas, I made a personal commitment to be more intentional about carving out some one on one time amid the chaos of my large family at the holidays. She’s seven. She’s “popular,” so I hear. She’s smart. I adore both her sass and her thoughtfulness. But she’s also pretty sheltered in the same homogeneous community that I grew up in and I’m so eager to help her discover the world around her. So before we made the 10 hour drive with a toddler and two large dogs to Minnesota, I called my Lillian and asked her if just her and I could go to lunch together when I visit. She got really quiet for a minute. This was new, but she was all for it. I asked her what her favorite restaurant was, and it was decided that we would have a Jimmy John’s date over Christmas break.
Fast forward to Christmas and me trying to make sure I have quality time with my four brothers, their wives, all of my nieces and nephews, my parents and some friends, as well as my own husband and son. I was running out of time to have our date. I debated telling Lillian that I just ran out of lunches and we’d have to do it the next time I visited. I knew she’d say it was okay, because that’s what kids do to save face when they are disappointed. No, I decided cancelling wasn’t an option, so we went with Plan B. I told her lunch wasn’t going to work, but I asked if we could go down to our small town café for breakfast the next day before I had to head back to Arkansas. I told her I’d pick her up at 7am sharp.
The next morning, I got in the car and drove the few miles to my brother’s house. As I drove up their country driveway, I saw this bundle of pink standing in the pitch black -15 degree frigid morning anxiously awaiting my arrival. Apparently she’d been running outside any time she saw a car turn down their road, thinking it was me. My brother said she’d been standing by the door with her winter coat, mittens and hat on for awhile. She didn’t want to be late. Aunt Tami said she’d be there at 7am.
In that moment, I realized how important just showing up was to my niece. We didn’t talk about anything of major consequence over our French toast and orange juice. We just talked. I got to know her a little better. And she knew that someone thought she was special. So next time I visit her or she visits me, we’ll build on our relationship with more breakfast or lunch dates. I’m just hoping it isn’t so bitter cold next time.
This lesson of showing up, one that I’ve talked about with Bigs for many years, was reaffirmed this Christmas by my sweet Lillian. So to the Bigs who show up for their Littles every day in Northwest Arkansas, thank you. Thank you for your dedication to helping a young person grow. Thank you for your commitment to showing up for a child in our community even when it may not be easy, convenient or you’re running out of hours in the day. We see what you do and we are so thankful. You are making a difference in the life of a child. You are showing up!
Pictures: Top Left – Tami and Lillian 2011; Middle Right – Tami and Lillian 2013; Bottom Center – Lillian and Tami’s son, Graham 2017