Not every child comes from a stable home, one free of violence and addiction. Not every child receives the one-on-one special “I see you” attention they desperately need, with a soft place to fall.
Such children are fortunate, indeed, if someone steps up to show they are loved for who they are, not in spite of it. Someone who not only listens, but hears, and sees them as individuals with their own strengths and gifts.
Enter those special people who do that. They might be Big Brother’s participants, Children’s Aid Society volunteers, church leaders, camp counsellors, neighbours, therapists or hospital volunteers. Most of us have no trouble bringing to mind a special person who made us feel important.
Mine was Aunt Fern, my dad’s youngest sister. She’s the one who really “knows” me, the one who treats me like I’m the most important person in her life, the one I can count on to laugh with me or commiserate with me, who is always in my corner no matter what.
I have fond memories of her — 17 years my elder — playing skip with my sister and I. She would drop by after a day of teaching, happily turning the rope in a dress suit with matching earrings, necklace and bag.
Each year, just before school started, she’d take me to help set up her classroom. I clearly remember colour-by-number sheets of birds she asked me to do, “to see which ones her students might like.”
As an adult, I can just imagine how much “help” I was. But to this day, opening up a classroom for the year is my favourite thing to do.
She would bring me to the farm for weekends. She gave me courage to enter a hen house and reach under fierce red hens to get their eggs; she went with me if I had to venture into the creepy old cellar to get something for Grandma; she introduced me to baby chicks in spring; she taught me how to pick apples and find the barn kittens.
She gave me a ring she always had on her finger, one she received from her Aunt Selena at age 16.
And when I was grown and living in Toronto I would show up at her door at 2 a.m. I was certain of a gentle smile, a pillow and blanket, a comfortable couch, and an unjudging ear in the morning — if I wanted to talk.
I hope you had your own Aunt Fern as you grew up, because every child needs one.
Marg Johnson is a retired Certified Child & Youth Worker who worked with behaviour children as an educational assistant for 15 years at the York Catholic District School Board.