This post is another in a series I’m writing about the relationships I’ve formed during three mission experiences in Belize. To read more in this series, you may click here.
Allison is three. I think she’s the youngest one I’ve connected with in Belize; my connection to her probably developed because of her closeness in age to my own little girl. She is Jessica’s little sister, and when I met her in November of 2010 she was hanging out by herself as the older kids were involved in kids’ activities sponsored by our team.
I grabbed a contained of PlayDoh (which, apparently, is a language that transcends culture, much like bubbles are). Within minutes, Allison and I were buddies and I made ball after ball after ball with the PlayDoh. Every time I’d make one, she’d grab it and add it to her pile, chanting, “Pelota! Pelota! Pelota! Mas pelotas!” (You may not know – and I myself had forgotten until that day – that “ball” in Spanish is “pelota.” I promise…I haven’t forgotten that again. Because she is not old enough to go to school, Allison doesn’t speak any English; she has been good for my Spanish vocabulary.)
Soon a crowd had developed around us, with the older kids more fascinated by the PlayDoh in general than by my incredible skill at making pelotas. The crowd dispersed…and Allison remained. Allison and her pile of pelotas.
On this past trip, I didn’t see much of Allison. Early in the week I saw her during village outreach and passed along one of my daughter’s toys I had brought. I didn’t see her again until our Easter worship gathering, when she showed up with Jessica and the other children from Arizona village.
As I waited for church to start, I looked over and saw Allison sitting by herself a couple of seats over from me. She was leaning on the back of a chair, covering her face and crying in the same way my daughter does when her surroundings are a little too much for her.
I scooted over and knelt down to her level, asking her what was wrong. All she would say was, “Quiero mi mama.” She wanted her mama, who had not come with them to church that morning. The mama in me jumped into action. I had been away from my own sweet girl for nearly a week by that point, so I was more than willing to love on a little one who reminded me of her in so many ways. I had lots of hugs to catch up on.
Even though Allison knew me, she was hesitant to come to me. I told her as gently as I could that her mama wasn’t there…her mama had stayed at home…no, honey, we can’t go get her…come here, sweetheart. I whispered into her ear how I realized, of course, that I am not her mom, but that I am A mom and I have a little girl her age. I scrolled back through the pictures on my camera and showed her a picture of my Jennifer, and soon, Allison trusted me enough to let me be a stand-in.
She snuggled up to me for awhile, letting me carry her around the tabernacle where we were worshiping. She sat in my lap for a little while, too, and then – once she was comfortable again – she ran off to be with the other kids.
After church that day, we were hosting an Easter dinner and Easter egg hunt and all sorts of fun stuff for the kids of our sister church. If PlayDoh and bubbles speak loudly in any culture, Easter eggs are no different. Our team had quite the challenge ahead of us as we tried to hold off the Belizean kids from hunting for eggs until the appropriate time. As we all acted as security for all of the brightly colored plastic eggs, I saw Jessica sitting on one of the picnic tables with a cold compress on her head. She had cut her head while playing and was going to have to sit out the events of the day. Allison, concerned about her sister and afraid to go off by herself, sat by her side.
I took both Jessica and Allison inside to get them out of the sun, and we sat there until Jessica’s head was feeling better. As we sat together, I got them something to eat and pulled a pen and paper out of my bag. Allison, much like my three year old here at home, is easily entertained by scribbling and writing, and we spent some time drawing elaborate pictures of people and scenes. Jessica just watched……something in me thinks that maybe she appreciated someone taking time with her little sister. Another part of me thinks she was just grateful to be out of the sun…and another part of me thinks she probably was just bummed that she was missing out on the fun. (We got both Jessica and Allison some eggs and other treats and prizes. Actually, I think they got the best deal since they didn’t have to scramble around in the heat for their prizes.)
We had a sweet time together, Allison and me. She reminded me so much of my daughter. While she made me long more and more for my little girl, the ache in my heart for Jennifer was eased some by spending time with another little one. I was amazed, as I have been every time before, by how similar three year olds are to each other. Their lives are very different, but as it turns out, their development and interests are still pretty much the same. PlayDoh. Easter eggs. Pencil and paper.
Little Allison has taught me a lot. Yes, my functional Spanish vocabulary is better because of her, but I think my awareness of the world is better, too. As I shared before, I am not a “kids person.” Relating to children is not a strength that I can boast. It never has been, regardless of where I happen to be. What I have learned because of Allison, though, is that 1)a little attention goes a long way, 2)a mother’s spirit translates well, and 3)children are children, even though their worlds may be very different.
I can’t wait to see Allison again when I go back to Belize. I know I’ll be amazed at how she has grown and changed, but in the meantime, I can see a shadow of her within my own home as I spend time with Jennifer. Very different…but still very much the same.
(Note: Those of you who know my family may be confused by my reference to Jennifer. As my girl gets a little older, I’m giving her a pseudonym anytime I reference her in my online space. When I asked her what name she would want if she could have any name in the world, she said Jennifer. So Jennifer she shall be! Here, anyway….)