The Magic of Mentoring

MentorToday is Thank Your Mentor Day. I am a mentor who would like to thank my mentee. Even though she is a child, she always manages to give more to me than I give to her. Yesterday was no exception.

Last night the temperatures had dipped below freezing. It was dark and I was oh-so-tired when I left work. I didn’t want to go see her, my little mentee, for our regularly scheduled visit. But I couldn’t think of a good excuse that wouldn’t make me sound (and feel) lame so I went, planning to beg off early. On the way to her house I prepared my speech about how it’s really cold and I am very tired today so instead of doing “something”, we’ll just grab a quick bite to eat and have a short visit today.

When I got to her house, her grandmother pulled me aside to tell me that she was very upset. Her dad had stopped by, got in an argument with her grandmother and stormed out without visiting with her like he had promised. She didn’t want to go out with me tonight but her grandmother wanted me to try to get her to go, so I did.

“Hey! Ready Freddy?” I shouted to the figure with a sad face plunked down on the couch.

“I don’t want to go anywhere today. I’m mad and grumpy!” she said.

“Me too!” I replied. “I guess we can be miserable and moody together.”

She gave her grandmother a hard time about putting on her coat, hat, scarf and gloves making each piece as difficult as humanly possible. It took an eternity. I was reminded of when my own daughter was little and it always seemed that at the precise moment I was in a rush to get somewhere, she would fall into her most contrary mood, dragging things out as much as possible and trying my patience the whole time.

“She has homework to do so if you can convince her to do it,” her grandmother said handing me the folder as we headed out the door.

We got into the still cold car which barely had time to heat up on the brief drive from my office to her house. The night started off the same way it always does, with her asking me where we were going.

“Just to get something to eat. Where do you want to eat?” I asked, knowing full well what the answer would be. Every week she negotiates for the same thing – sushi!

“Ummm, how about sushi?” she asked as predicted.

“I was trying to think of some place different to go tonight. Do you have any other ideas?” I prompted.

“What about that restaurant that every one says is bad but we said we are going to try for ourselves one day?” she offered.

“You want to try that restaurant today?” I asked hesitantly.

All the people we knew who had eaten there said the food wasn’t very good. And it was a kind of food I’d never had before. I wouldn’t even know if it was good or bad. Plus, I wasn’t in the mood for something new so I tried to steer her towards the diner. A booth and some comfort food sounded like the right speed for us tonight.

“Not the diner. I want to go to try that other restaurant.”

“But we don’t even know if they have anything you like there,” I countered.

“They probably have salad. I like salad,” she said.

“I’ve never had that kind of food before. I don’t know if they have salad.”

“Well they must have vegetables. Everyone eats vegetables. I like vegetables. I’ll just order vegetables,” she decided as we pulled up to the little house-restaurant in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

“If we go in, we have to stay. Are you sure you want to go in?” I said trying to get her to change her mind.

“Yes. I’m sure,” she said halfway out of the car already.

“Why do you want to go there so badly today?” I asked her.

“I don’t know. I feel brave. I think we should go tonight.”

“Ok,” I said resigning myself to this restaurant. How can you fight brave?

We entered what was the first floor of a very small house that had been converted into a restaurant years ago and clearly had not been updated since. No one was inside. Not one person. Not even an employee.

I looked for a menu to peek at before anyone came to help us in case I wanted to go back on my own edict that once we were in, we were staying, but couldn’t find one anywhere.

An old man came out from the kitchen door, welcomed us and seated us.

“There’s a salad bar,” she said. “That’s good. It’s not so bad in here.”

We looked over the menu discussing choices that I knew little about. She settled on meatloaf because it sounded most like something she recognized. I went with something different so we could try a dish we’d never eaten before.

A salad bar which offers one the opportunity to have as many cucumbers as you want is one of her favorite things. She arrived back at the table with her plate piled high with way more salad than she could ever eat.

I skeptically ordered the homemade soup. It was the best soup I’ve ever had; perfect for a winter’s evening.

We talked a little about what had happened at her house that day between her dad and grandmother. She was mad at her Grandmother for “chasing” her dad away. In the end we decided maybe they both could have handled things better.

The old man came over to check on us.

“I think I made a mistake. I took way too much salad,” she reported to him.

“That’s ok. You can take it home and eat it later,” he said kindly.

In between courses we worked on her homework and tried to narrow down our dessert choice – easily the most difficult part of our weekly visits.

“What about this thing – creepy su zet tee? It’s got chocolate,” she said trying to sound out the pronunciation of this never-before-heard-of dessert.

“It’s crepe, not creepy,” I explained laughing.

“See? This place isn’t so bad. It’s not that nice in here, but the food is really good and the man is nice. Why don’t you think he has more customers?” she asked.

“Maybe because it’s really cold and it’s a Tuesday night. Not a lot of people want to go out for dinner on a night like tonight,” I surmised.

“I wish he had more customers,” she said.

We worked our way through our salads, super soft bread and shared bites of our entrees. She pronounced the meatloaf “good” but not as good as her Grandmothers.

We ordered the chocolate crepe which came with both whipped cream and strawberry sauce on it…a winner for sure.

While we were eating our dessert a woman came through the door.

“Yay! A customer!” said my little mentee.

Two boys and a girl followed. And a man. And then a young couple. And then an old couple. And then two women. Before you knew it the entire place was packed.

“Wow! All my wishes came true!” she said floating on cloud nine.

“What wishes?” I asked.

“That the food would be good here, that he would have lots of customers and that dessert would be good! I think I have magic powers!”

“You sure do,” I said, thinking to myself, “You turned our bad moods into laughter, made us brave enough to try this new place and reminded me of the joys of a good crepe.” Sounds pretty magical to me.