My reading buddy

This post isn't about Bubby. It's about a little boy who helped me feel a little less lonesome for my Bubby.

Yesterday was the final day of the summer session of tutoring for the local children's literacy center. This time I'd been assigned as the tutor of a 7-year-old boy I'll call Mickey (no real names of kiddos here).

When Mickey and I first met, he seemed hesitant to be at tutoring. He'd been part of the tutoring program a session or two before, so I figured he probably just wasn't too sure about me. But I plowed ahead, finding a spot on the floor in a far corner of the library to go over the "getting to know you" questions provided by the literacy center.

From those questions I learned that Mickey was an only child, although he had a cousin near his age whom he played with often (and who didn't seem very nice to Mickey). He collected stuffed animals, he loved Legos and was eagerly anticipating a visit to Legoland in California this summer -- a repeat visit, he pointed out -- and that he liked math and hated reading (his words).

And from the day's lesson, laid out by the literacy center, I learned that Mickey was eager to please, despite his initial coolness toward me. As we read the story, at each word he didn't know, he'd look at me and guess, and guess again, and keep guessing until I nudged him to sound it out with me. (Well, to be honest, I pretty much just gave the words away at that point). We struggled through the story, then our first session was over. I wasn't too sure how the next eight weeks would go, as Mickey didn't seem too thrilled about being there.

The next time we met, Mickey opened up a bit more ... and more and more each session. Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, he'd arrive with his mom or his grandpa, always seeming to do a little acrobatic tango with them as they walked through the library and while they signed him in. He didn't cling to them as a timid child may; no, Mickey was just overflowing with affection for his loved ones and couldn't keep it bottled up inside so he'd entangle himself with them in whatever way he could, wrapping himself around their arms and legs, tumbling around them, transferring his love. Mom or Grandpa just continued on with whatever they were doing, as if being Mickey's personal jungle gym was part and parcel of the job. At first I found it annoying and thought it would drive me nuts if he were my kid/grandkid. After getting to know Mickey a little better, I found it endearing.

I found many other things about Mickey endearing, too. He clearly played video games on a regular basis and had all the latest and greatest for computer and game systems, yet he loved our card games of "Go Fish" and "Old Maid" (my way of bribing him to get through the lessons), always devising "best of" matches so the games could continue. He had an unusual sense of humor that, at times, had me laughing out loud ... and most of the time I don't think he even understood why I thought he was so funny. He used words I didn't expect to come from such a young boy, especially one enrolled in a tutoring program. He'd say things like "I'm going to devour these stickers" when handed a sheet to apply the rewards to each of the word flashcards he'd completed, and he'd share the latest on his "archery" skills -- a day camp activity -- as if he'd been a master at the bow for years. When one of his flash cards was the word "goal," upon first reading it he looked up at me and said "Oh, is that kind of like 'Have you reached your goals today?'"

The most interesting exchange we had, though, was one day when I made a mistake on a sentence and said something along the lines of "my bad." He looked at me and said, "If you're bad, do you think you're going to go to heaven?"

"Well, yeah, I'm going to heaven," I told him. "Do you think you're going to heaven?"

"I try to be good most of the time, but I dunno," he said with a shrug.

"Well, you don't have to be good to go to heaven, you just have to believe in Jesus."

"I believe in Jesus AND God," he said.

If I continued the conversation, I worried I'd be treading ground I shouldn't be on. Ya just never know, and I tend to err on the side of caution as I don't want to be seen as one who's prosteletyzing ... especially with a child I barely know, in a setting that would undoubtedly frown on it. But hey, he's the one who brought it up -- and I couldn't contain my curiosity.

"Do you go to church?" I asked nonchalantly.

"Oh no," he said without hesitation. "My schedule is too busy for that. I don't have time."

He's a candid little bugger, that Mickey.

The last day we met, Mickey plopped down in the chair next to me and started swinging his feet. I noticed he had on one grey croc and one black one.

"Two different shoes? Do you realize you have on two different colors?" I asked him, trying to be gentle and not hurt his feelings.

"Oh yeah," he said. "I like to wear two different ones." With most kids I might figure they're just covering up an honest mistake so they don't look silly. Not so with Mickey. I believe he truly does regularly wear one black croc and one grey croc.

A small party was planned for yesterday, the last day of the summer session. I eagerly awaited Mickey's arrival, as I'd found some temporary tattoos for him -- something he'd mentioned several times that he wanted from the store. But when his mom walked through the door, there was no Mickey grappling with her and impeding her walking. Nope, Mickey was visiting a tourist attraction with Grandpa and couldn't make it, but he wanted his mom to bring me a thank you card.

I thanked her for the card and handed her the tattoos for Mickey. And I explained that, despite her and Mickey's request to have me as his tutor for the next round, I wouldn't be continuing with the program he's in as I'd just learned I'd be taking on the coordinator of a tutoring site elsewhere.

His mom and I said our goodbyes, and that was it. An anticlimactic end to my time with that little bundle of goofiness.

So, goodbye, Mickey. I know I shouldn't have favorites, but I gotta admit you definitely were my favorite of the kids I've tutored. Good luck with your next tutor. I hope she, too, laughs out loud at comments you didn't even mean to be funny. And I hope you continue to meet your goals.