I’ve been a Big Brother to Yishai for almost five years as part of the children’s program of Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters (JBBBS). I have had countless positive and rewarding experiences along the way. I have enjoyed watching Yishai grow up from a quizzical 10-year-old kid to a knows-what-he-wants teenager whose voice is now lower than mine and whose shoes get more compliments than anything I own. Our match is not always rainbows and butterflies, but no relationship is. Even though I am supposed to be the mentor, I often find myself learning valuable life lessons along the way.
Being a Big allows me to act like a kid again most of the time. I can put the stress from work behind me when we’re spending time together. Before the pandemic, we would go to the arcade, go bowling, spend time at the trampoline park, carve pumpkins, go to sporting events and throw a ball around in the park next to his house. These are all pastimes that I cherished as a kid and get to relive with Yishai. I get nostalgic every time we play catch because that’s what I used to do with my dad in the backyard for fun. I have some of my fondest memories playing catch and I hope Yishai can experience the same.
As Yishai gets older, we are becoming much more competitive in our activities and he has been challenging me in almost every game we play. I think for my next life lesson, I will teach Yishai to go easy on his elders when playing ski ball, laser tag, bowling or any game, for that matter.
I certainly have some great stories regarding our time together. In fact, I’m surprised he wanted to continue hanging out after our first visit when I accidentally tried to drop him off at a funeral home in the town next to the one he lives in. During our first visit, we threw a football around and then went out for frozen yogurt at a self-serve establishment. This was Yishai’s first time at a self-serve frozen yogurt place and he proceeded to fill up a giant cup with chocolate ice cream and put as many toppings as humanly possible on top. One of our first lessons together: try the frozen yogurt before purchasing, because after a few bites he decided the flavor was just not for him.
When it was time to leave, I put the correct address into my GPS, but added the wrong town. As we were driving, places started to look unfamiliar and eventually my GPS told me, “You have arrived at your destination.” I pulled into the parking lot of the funeral home, parked and looked at Yishai, who was in the backseat, and said, “OK, get out.” Yishai looked uncertain for a split second but then we both broke into laughter and I put the correct address into the GPS and took him home. This was our first visit together! Like I said, it’s not always rainbows! But each visit was better than the last and every time we got in the car to go back to his apartment, I made sure to put the correct address and town into my GPS. Soon Yishai will be driving and I will make sure he does the same.
As Yishai has gotten older, we’ve changed some of our activities. We don’t draw or play kid games anymore, but rather stick to sports, physical activities and competitive games. We talk about world news, current events and shoes quite a bit. I try not to discuss politics because I like to keep our conversations positive, but there are times where our discussions became serious and I’m glad he feels comfortable enough to talk to me about these things. Teenagers have a lot of knowledge these days at their fingertips, but they don’t always know how to decipher it. I’m glad I can help him navigate this web of information to the best of my abilities while not forcing my own views on him.
One of the biggest challenges Yishai and I face during the pandemic is having to be socially distant. Our relationship thrives on doing activities. However, Yishai is currently doing remote learning and in his free time he plays a lot of video games with his friends, so he has some screen burnout. Figuring out things to do in the winter has been difficult. So, we still stay in contact but not quite as much as in the past. Hopefully we can continue to do more outdoor activities once the weather becomes a little nicer.
Sometimes relationships need a challenge in order to grow and that is how I feel about our current situation. My goals with Yishai through our five years together have always been to be a great friend, but after all these years, I feel more like a big brother.
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