I was honoured to attend the wedding of an extraordinary young woman over the weekend — a young woman I first met as she crawled down the hallway as a baby. It was surreal to witness her all grown up and moving on into a brand new phase of her life.
When we first moved to Fort Saskatchewan when I was 12, we rented a house for a few months before my parents found one they could buy. I had just turned 13 and was attending a junior high school — a brand new experience for me, coming from a small rural school where we didn’t even have lockers, much less move rooms. At the time, we didn’t know what kinds of internal struggles I was dealing with. I knew that I hated having to move from the mountains to the prairies; I knew that I wasn’t coping with the move, but I had no words to really describe the sincere struggle I was trying to curb. All teenagers have their mood swings, right? Aren’t all teens supposed to be moody and unpredictable sometimes? Wasn’t that all this was?
But no one could have known that then.
So we moved in to 8949, 92nd Avenue — a 950 sq.ft bungalow that served to house 5-6 people, depending on the year. If ever a developer tries to tell you that you MUST HAVE at least 1200 square feet for your home, you can tell them that they’re nuts. We were snug, but we made it work. Dad even built another bedroom.
As we moved in, I noticed we shared a driveway with the people next door. Being naturally very shy, I observed it briefly but had no intention of going over and introducing myself. However, as I had already come-of-age when many kids babysit, Dad asked me to come with him over to the neighbours’ house so he could introduce me. I then met Sharon and Dale Robertson. While I don’t remember much of the conversation other than basic introductions, I remember Sharon being incredibly kind and Dale having a twinkle-eyed smile. And down from the hallway crawled little baby Kaitlyn.
I was smitten.
From then on, if ever Sharon and Dale needed a sitter, I would collect my homework, hop across the driveway, and look after Kaitlyn. One day, Sharon and Dale came to our house and Dale asked me: “Would you like another one?”
Me, in my infinite teenage wisdom, had absolutely no clue about what he was talking about. “Another one what?” I asked. “You know! Another one!”
When I finally clued in, I remember being excited to meet Tyler. I would then have TWO angels to dote upon.
But that was just it: they were ANGELS. Kaitlyn and Tyler both were content, sweet babies. Sometimes they were already in bed when I arrived; other times I put them to bed. But when Sharon and Dale came home and asked how everything went, I remember feeling inside: “Oh just PERFECT! They were PERFECT!!! The never woke up once so I could play with them! Or do finger painting! WAKE UP, you little ANGELS!!!”
Don’t worry. I babysat for a few other families who had hellions for children, so I had my fill of interaction. But I did find it amusing that I would be so frustrated that Kaitlyn would go down so easily. Why babysit when you can’t actually play with the baby? Sigh… those angelic kids. Beware. 😉
Dale and Sharon were certainly there for us, too. We had two Yorkies — BB and Shamese (named by breeders; what can I say? Breeders be crazy). Shamese was a family dog, but stayed close to my mother. BB had long become my dog — my best friend in a very tumultuous world. One day, something awful happened. We couldn’t say for sure, but the vet thought perhaps someone threw something poisonous (intentionally or unintentionally) over our fence, and BB ate it. She went into spasms and seizures. The vet wasn’t sure she’d make it; and even after we brought her home, she was unresponsive. I stayed by her side, dribbled water into her mouth, and when she was awake enough to eat, I mashed kibble up with water and spoon-fed her.
Both my parents worked shift work at the time, and one particular day not long after BB fell ill, Shamese began showing similar symptoms. The three of us kids were at home, and of course we freaked out. I wasn’t old enough to drive. Besides, we were a 1-vehicle family. We couldn’t bear the thought of losing both of our pets! So we called Sharon. Somehow, we managed to get Shamese to the vet and she was spared much of what BB went through. But Sharon was there. I’m so glad Sharon was there.
When I finally reached Grade 12, I had to go through all of the rituals marking the grand final year. This included graduation pictures. Now you need to understand that I wasn’t into make up… or doing my hair… or wearing trendy clothes. I wasn’t that type of kid. But a few days before grad pictures were set to be taken, I kind of thought I might have to do SOMETHING with my hair. Enter: Sharon. She was pleased to offer to curl my hair before I caught the bus the morning of my pictures. So when you manage to get a copy of my high school grad pictures, the nicely done hair is thanks to Sharon.
The Robertsons came to my high school graduation ceremony. My brother worked for Dale at his plumbing company. My little sister also babysat after I moved off to college. We shared games of 21-pickup when we got a basketball hoop; I remember driveway hockey; exchanges of Christmas gifts and cards; and watching Kaitlyn and Tyler grow from little ones into incredible adults.
I don’t know if Sharon and Dale knew just how badly I struggled in my life. Perhaps they did; perhaps not. But I’m not sure I ever told them how much it meant to me to pack up my homework, rent a couple movies, and have a quiet night to myself after the kids were asleep. I felt so grown up, so adult, so taken seriously. I felt like I could take care of myself and others. In a world where I had little control over anything, it was a precious gift to be welcomed into the Robertson family and learn maturity and caregiving, as well as many other things.
Eventually I did leave for college… eventually the Robertsons moved out to a ranch they’d built… eventually my parents moved on to the little house in the woods they now live in. We changed, we parted ways, but our families remained friends. Sharon was always excited to hear about what was going on for me, even if I hadn’t made contact in ages. Soon, we were getting high school pictures of Kaitlyn and Tyler in the mail… then graduation.. and then a wedding.
Last winter I lost both of my bunnies. While not a lifelong sorrow, it was catastrophic to my world. Being single, they were my little family. Having to put them down was gut-wrenching. Who was one of the first people to send beautiful and genuine condolences? Kaitlyn. Her tender heart for animals great and small empathized with my grief, and she made sure that what I was enduring was validated. She cared.
In all the upheavals of life, sometimes we too easily forget the touchpoints. Change is traumatic for me in so many ways. So to look back over 24 years of friendship, I am grateful and blessed to know that the Thomas’ have family friends like the Robertsons. And the amazing thing about such relationships is we continue to grow. That in itself is change, but it’s the kind of change that assures me that there will be more touchpoints, more celebrations, more coffees, more visits, more support, and more love. How often do we find Christ in the ordinary things? In babysitting? Dog-sitting? Shooting hoops? School pictures?
Thank you, Sharon, Dale, Kaityln and Tyler, for the love you’ve shown me and my family over the past two decades. You’ve impacted more than you know — perhaps more than even I know. It was a treasure to be a part of Kaitlyn’s special day on Saturday. Here’s to the next 20 years. 🙂