Saturday, June 25, 2011

The End of an Era

For Siobhan...

Yesterday we said good-bye to my niece, Siobhan, who has been living with us for the past ten months. She arrived last August, suddenly displaced from the boarding school home she'd lived in for the past six years, thrust into a new school in a new country with a family she barely knew. She was brave...for a while, but once the novelty had worn off she became homesick and lonely. She isolated and withdrew from our family. She became invisible - only invisible people don't leave dishes in the sink or wake up twenty minutes before it's time to go to school. She was never a bad kid, never defiant or disrespectful - I don't even think she ever intentionally did things to aggravate me. It was more passive - an unwillingness to participate in her life, in our family, and eventually that became unacceptable.

The last time I wrote about Siobhan my buddy Jim expected the entry to end with a homicide and a hidden corpse. I was frustrated, sad, guilty that I might not being doing a good enough job as Siobhan's part-time parent, and I had to vent somewhere. Eventually, when things came to a head, I talked to Siobhan about it up in Tahoe over our spring break. I suggested she might do well to go home for while, see what she was missing so much, spend time with mom and dad and friends, and if she wanted to, come back next February for her last semester of school. I needed a break, Carrie needed a break, and I believe Siobhan needed to feel like she could go home.

When spring break ended and we returned home, Siobhan was a completely different person. She seemed happy, comfortable in her skin, more like the teenager I imagined she would become. She did her chores, said please and thank you, helped out with Amari, kept her bedroom door open, and quickly became a part of our family. At school her social calendar suddenly filled up, she went to prom, and I'm pretty sure she even started studying for her SAT and AP exams. It was as complete a one-eighty as a temporary, part-time parent could hope for. Even Carrie said, "If she were like this all the time, I'd beg her to stay."

By the end of May I knew I would miss Siobhan. Not because she emptied the dishwasher every night, but because I was proud her - proud of her courage for coming here, proud of her ability to overcome the emotional and psychological challenges of such an enormous change, and proud of her willingness to do what it took to right the course when she strayed away.

I spent my entire childhood bouncing back and forth between India and America. It became a part of who I was have two separate lives. I had friends and family on both sides of the world, and eventually saying good-bye just became "See ya later." I never really missed things for very long, because they would eventually be right in front of me again. For Siobhan, this was different. Everything she knew and loved, the family of friends she'd cultivated over years, was swept out from under her. She was given unappealing choices and made a decision based on family politics and perhaps the perceived lesser of two evils. I imagine she missed everything and didn't know what to do with all of those feelings.

I learned a lot from having her here. I learned that I'm probably difficult to live with in some ways. I've learned to pick my battles and think carefully before responding. I've learned to ask open-ended questions, lest I get very closed-ended answers. I've learned that feeling like an asshole is an unavoidable experience in parenting. I've learned that it takes more than patience to inspire change. And most importantly, I've learned that I definitely need another fifteen years to get these lessons down before Amari is Siobhan's age.

All in all, I'm glad she came. When I asked her yesterday what she'd learned about herself in the last year, she gave me a very typical Siobhan answer, "I've learned lots of things." Even open-ended questions don't get you very far sometimes.

Happy travels, Siobhan. I hope you'll stay in touch and believe us when we say you're welcome to come back.

1 comment:

  1. As a teacher of adolescents I learned the same lessons. "Pick your battles" is a big one. You did good I'm proud of you!