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The Giver

My Role in Life

By Dee Henderson Published about a year ago 7 min read

In my family, growing up, I was always the mediator, the caregiver, the nurturer. Everyone, including my parents, came to me for comfort, minor ailment assistance, or help in communicating with others. I was always a “mini-adult” with very little time or opportunity to simply be a child. As I grew, these roles only grew with me.

My parents divorced when I was 12 years old, fighting over my siblings and I like two dogs who want the same bone. They stole us back and forth from each other for the next year. Meanwhile, I was the de facto parent of the other kids. Not one to complain, I stepped into the role as easily as if I were the actual parent, and did what was necessary for my siblings to make it to school every day and have meals to eat.

Becoming a “parent” at 12 is exhausting. I didn’t have the new-parent-luxury of napping when the baby naps, because my kids were 8, 9, 10, and 15 – yes, one sibling at home was older than me, which made no difference in the amount of care he needed. They all needed me, and I rose to the challenge. Unfortunately for me, my education, social life, and childhood were either very limited or at an end. My childhood was simply gone entirely. I rarely went to school because I needed some time when I could rest. Everyone else went to school; I made sure they went. Because I didn’t attend school much, I didn’t have many friends, and nearly no social activities.

I think I’ve always known who my authentic self is. I’m a Giver. I give of myself until there is little of me left to give. This time in my life was the first time I realized how much I was having to give away, how little there was left for myself, and how little I was given in return for all my selflessness. Still, my siblings needed me, so onward we went.

Finally, there was a day in court, where we could all give our input. My mother’s attorney tricked us by wording his questions in a way that would guarantee the answers he wanted to hear. Once we were inside the courtroom, we were told that we would not be able to speak, since we had already spoken with the attorney. Imagine my siblings’ and my surprise when he stood up and said that we all told him that we wanted to live with our mother. He had never asked us WHO we wanted to live with. The judge granted my mother custody. My father, feeling betrayed by us, left the courtroom hurt and angry. My mother suddenly declared that my father was dangerous, and that she felt that he would try to hurt her for winning. The judge further granted her, with us in tow, a police escort to the bus station, so we could leave immediately.

I was astonished to watch the police swarm ahead of us into the bus station, checking for suspicious or dangerous people – specifically, my father. My father, of whom none of us were afraid, suddenly became someone to fear. My mother told us that he would be chasing after us, and that we would need to watch for him very carefully, because he was going to hurt her, and we mustn’t let him. In our youth, our confusion about the day’s events, and our vulnerability at this moment, we stumbled along behind her, boarding a bus with none of our belongings, and no idea what scary thing was going to happen next. I herded the other children in front of me, making sure that everyone was accounted for. I patted the shoulder of each of my siblings as they moved in front of me, to let them know that I was there, and that they were going to be okay. They looked so frightened, and my heart hurt for them, knowing there was little I could do for them right then.

Standing near the door of the bus was one of my older brothers, who we had not seen in a couple of years, as he had moved in with a girlfriend before our parents split up. This threw me further into disorientation. This particular brother and I had a poor history with one another, and I’d had no idea that he was going to join us. Once we were on the bus, my two youngest brothers sat on one side of the aisle, and my sister and I sat on the other. The little boys held onto each other. I gathered my sister close to me, and we all just sat there, still in shock. My two older brothers sat behind my sister and I, while our mother sat behind the little boys, with her new baby girl.

The bus began to move, and my younger siblings all looked at me for guidance and support. My sister whimpered and snuggled closer to me. I looked over at the little boys and quietly told them to go ahead and let themselves fall asleep, as it would help the time to pass more quickly. They nodded at me and held to each other tighter. I turned my attention back to my sister and quieted her, patting her on the back. I let her put her head on me, and urged her to relax enough to sleep. I stared ahead, trying to think through everything that had happened, and what I was going to do to keep the children safe now. I had no idea what we were heading into, or even where exactly our destination was. The bus moved on, taking us farther from everything we knew, across the country to an unknown place.

For days, we rode on bus after bus. The younger children clung to me at every stop and bus change. Our mother was preoccupied with the baby, and didn’t seem to notice that the children were scared and nervous. I comforted them and gave them distractions to while away the long hours. By the time we reached our new home, the children followed me like shadows, barely speaking. They were afraid and emotional, looking to me constantly, to make sure I was still there.

I had no time to worry about what the future held. I had three little ones who needed every bit of my attention and energy. I saw to their needs and kept them calm and occupied. At our new home, we went to the rooms we were told were ours, and took a look. As soon as I sat down on my bed, my three charges came to me and climbed up onto the bed. I lay down and pulled them close. We fell asleep that way, with each of them touching me, finally feeling they could rest, nestled close to me and one another. I was there, and they were comforted.

Life would never be the same. Even though it wasn’t a situation that I caused, my mother resented my siblings’ dependence on me. She told me that I was only a child, and that I needed to send them to her for the things they had become dependent on me for. We tried it her way, but our mother had a new husband and a new baby, and had little time or patience for her other children. Her husband was harsh and unkind to those of us who were not his own children. The children began coming to me in secret, knowing that I would be there for them.

In this way, I became the Secret Giver. The children felt ignored and pushed aside by our mother, and I couldn’t allow them to feel like there was no one there for them. In secret, I continued to be their rock. I also had to help take care of the new baby, and was expected to take part in age-appropriate church activities. I could feel myself being stretched thinner and thinner. Being young and inexperienced myself, I had no idea how to replenish my own stores of energy and compassion.

My relationship with my mother went from strained to contentious. She expected me to be her right hand, and her confidante, but to send the children to her for comfort and advice. It wasn’t working – at least not in favor of the children. They felt that our mother had no time for them, and that she cared only for the baby. They continued to come to me in secret. As the Giver, I continued to do what I could for them, as much as was tolerated openly, and more in secret.

Everyone, sometimes especially the Givers, have an end to what they can give. This situation came to an end when I became physically ill. I had given all I could give, and more. My authentic self was depleted, and my physical self felt the effects. In time, I regained most of my health, and I learned a valuable lesson: there is only so much I can give to others before I must take time for myself. Over the course of my life, I have also learned to take small amounts of myself before I have nothing left to give. I have learned that I can be the Giver I have always been, as is my nature, and also be able to say no when I need to, without losing my authenticity.


About the Creator

Dee Henderson

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