18, No Time to Waste
"NOW, KIDS," VERN TOLD the children the same day I had found an office job near home, "mom is going to have to work, and you will all have to share in responsibilities."
Cindy, in high school, was a responsible teen-ager, and I knew she would do exactly as she was told. Kathi was twelve, and we felt she could help with the care of the boys. Danny would be staying with my mother while I worked. It seemed the only answer for a difficult financial problem.
Kathi had so many friends on the block now and so many things to do, it was increasingly difficult for her to remember all the home chores. I found myself wishing that she could be a little more like Cindy, who was gracious, obedient, and quiet. Kathi was a tomboy who loved to wear her daddy's T-shirts and her blue jeans. Her hair grew long and her bangs seemed permanently embedded in her eyes. Oh, the battles that we fought over hair styles. Pleading, scolding, threatening nothing worked.
"Mom," Kathi approached me one day, "Aileen takes piano lessons, and we could go the same night. Could I?"
"There's nothing I would like better, honey," I told her, "if you promise to practice."
I had always found a deep satisfaction in music sometimes it seemed my only oasis. Nothing would please me more than to have my children learn to play the piano. I also thought that perhaps we could bridge the gap between us at the piano.
I was wrong! Piano lessons were not for Kathi. She loved to play and sing and make her own arrangements, but practicing was quite another thing. Scales and exercises were a bore. I would sit on the bench to help her and we would both end up in tears.
"That isn't right, Kathi," I'd insist. "Now play it over." She would play it over with the same mistake.
"Now listen, this is the way it goes." And I would play the measure for her. "Try it."
"I'm getting tired. I don't want to practice anymore."
"But you have your lesson tonight."
"I know. I'm going to ask if I can play something more popular," Kathi said, and she did.
She brought home the little piece "Tammy," which was so popular at that time, and by the end of the evening was playing it with her own arrangement and flourishes. Poor Mrs. Rubin! She never could understand Kathi. She wanted to teach her how to play the piano, and all Kathi wanted to do was play.
Kathi's adolescent years were punctuated with constant reminders by Vern and me about cleaning her room, trips to the dentist to fit her braces, music lessons, with stormy practice sessions, baby-sitting her younger brothers and those were only a few of the things she tried to avoid.
Where she really wanted to be was at the corner baseball lot, or down the street shooting basketballs, or walking into town with Aileen or Candy, or spending the day in Candy's pool.
We had, out of necessity, moved into a larger home the summer Kathi was thirteen, just a few blocks from her junior high school. All the boys were in school now, and we were depending on the girls for after-school baby-sitting.
"Kathi," Vern would tell her again and again, "come right home after school and watch the boys."
Her dark head nodded in accord. "Sure, daddy."
But there were so many activities attracting her after school, so many places to explore, so many friends to stop and chat with, that often it took her until dinner time to come home.
"I forgot," she would say, her dark eyes all innocence.
By the time dinner was over, dishes done, and homework assignments finished, Kathi was on the phone talking to Sharon or Michele or Nancy about how or where they would meet in the morning, what they would wear, or the latest junior high news. And so it went until the last dregs of night were drawn and Kathi fell into bed.
Kathi's vibrancy vanished in the morning, and getting up was an effort. She was definitely a nocturnal person. She walked through the getting-up process and ate breakfast in a daze, so instructions for the day never seemed to get through at that early hour.
Kathi soon became the neighborhood pet on our new block. She was the baby-sitter and friend to the younger women on the street. They loved her. But it was more than disconcerting to me that her own chores went undone while she helped a neighbor clean up her house or mind her children.
"Vern, you must speak to that girl." She became "that girl" soon after the advent of the television program of the same name. Not only did she resemble the star of the show, but she also had the same exuberant personality. Everyone began calling her "that girl."
Vern had long talks with her in his gentle, understanding way, and she responded to him, promising to keep her room clean, comb her hair, wear her shoes, and come home right after school.
During those stormy years, Vern was always a great help. He and Kathi had a beautiful understanding, and he could reason with her.
"Just leave her alone," he would admonish me. "She'll be all right."
Vern was a strong right arm for Kathi, too, when she began to question the foundations of the faith which she had accepted so fully as a child.
"Dad, how do we know our religion is the right one?" she asked Vern after church one night. Vern took the Bible and sat down at the table with Kathi, patiently outlining verses for her to read and ponder.
"You see," Vern explained, "there was a great gap between God and man because of sin, and there was nothing that could bridge that gap not being good, not trying harder nothing. So, God Himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, came to be that bridge. When we have faith in Him to be Lord of our lives, then God accepts us because of what Jesus did at Calvary for us."
Kathi had more questions as she mingled with teen-agers of other faiths, but Vern, always patient, would help her. She began studying the word of God for herself, and I often found Living Letters next to her bed, with verses underlined in red. She was seeking God and seeking answers.
"But what about all the people who have never heard, dad? What about my friends? Isn't being a good person good enough?"
"That's an old question, Kathi, and a good one," Vern answered. "But we can trust God to do what's right and fair. And it's our responsibility to tell everyone, everywhere about Jesus. In other words, to do what He says to be His witnesses."
One night as I passed Kathi's room, I heard her crying, I opened the door and went in and sat on the edge of her bed.
"What's wrong, honey?"
"It's about God. He just doesn't answer my prayers. I pray and pray and He doesn't answer."
"Ah, but He will, honey." I brushed her long hair from her face and kissed her wet cheek. "Sometimes it takes awhile and we become impatient, but God always answers somehow, some way. I know that from experience."
Kathi was going through the early teen syndrome of finding herself; she was questioning God and questioning herself. It was a phase, I knew, and I was grateful for the moments when she would open up to me and share her problems. She told me about troubles of her friends which weighed upon her. She was deeply concerned for her friends and shouldered their problems as if they were her own.
"You're just too young to cope with everyone's problems, Kathi," I would tell her, but she paid no attention.
Through her struggles, Kathi was finding answers and becoming strong in her faith. She was "tuned in" to God.
Junior high days would soon be over; Kathi was becoming more and more involved with her school friends. For the past few summers she had gone to summer church camps and had been involved with youth activities and meetings in our church. Now that was over.
"I'm not mad at God," she would say. "I just have to have time to think."
The days of turmoil between us were just ahead.
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