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Kid Tested

Can a moment of aid become a meaningful nudge? Can a nudge become a life-changing prospect?

I don't have kids, and have never planned to, but I've always appreciated the glimpses into a potential future afforded when you meet a kid at just that right age when their nascent personality, interests and outlook suggest some greater possibility.

There have been a handful of moments in my own interactions with other people's children — cousins', college friends', work colleagues' — where I've wondered whether it's possible and how it might be done, to maybe provide some resource, be it funds, mentoring, a useful connection or some other form of support, that would result in a meaningful outcome in that particular child's life.

We all do what we can to help out those in need, and gifts and assistance and support for those we care about are not something to be tallied up on a ledger. They're just what you do.

But opening up an avenue of possibility for a kid at the right moment, that seems like something that's not only doable but potentially life-changing, right?

I met K when I was in college. At the memorial luncheon my grandmother.

For Catholics, especially those with large families, funerals and memorials are sometimes large gatherings of kin both immediate and remote. Siblings and cousins who've been regular parts of your life, as well as barely known aunts and uncles and siblings and progeny of distant relatives.

K was, I think, was somewhere between 4 and 6 years old, and she was the daughter of a cousin I barely knew. But at picnics, reunions and memorials in my family, everyone makes the rounds and tries connect the dots. "Oh, so you're Jimmy's daughter? And you're in high school this year? You've really changed since I last saw you."

K was a dynamo. One of the smartest kids I'd ever encountered. Her vocabulary was extensive. She latched on to observations made by the grown-ups and served up her own nuggets of insight. She inquired, politely, about what every person, ritual or object unknown to her. She engaged with everyone in a way that only kids of certain age and insatiable curiousity can.

I remember after the memorial asking my mom who that kid was, and how we were related, and what their family was up to. My mother also observed K's brightness and curiousity. I remember thinking this was a relative I'd love to see more of, and see them become their own person.

More than 20 years later, I got a Facebook friend request from a distant relative who shared my last name and a few threads to cousins I knew. I'd recently connected with some relatives I grew up with but hadn't seen much of in recent years, but those Facebook algorithms are unceasing in their efforts to forge connections, and I was intrigued enough to approve the request and look at their profile. The daughter of a cousin I hadn't seen in years. In her late 20s or early 30s, with kids of her own.

When I asked my mom who I'd just become Facebook friends with, she asked me if I remembered my grandmother's funeral. She traced the lines of connection. It was K's sister.

Through some back-and-forth with my mom and an an aunt, I filled in the gaps. The kid I'd met briefly and been captivated by over a half hour in the 1990s was now a grown-up. She had a tough adolescence and some life-changing moments in her teens and early 20s. She seemed by all accounts to be making good efforts in recent years toward building a life for herself and her own children. But it had undeniably been a difficult span of years, some by virtue of her own bad choices, some by circumstances outside of her control.

K and I are not friends on Facebook. I've never encountered her at any other family events. But I see glimpses through other connections and wonder what had been the pivotal point or additive moments in her young life that had forged a path so different from the one I would have imagined for that bright, hyper-inquisitive kid I met all those years before. I think about what the right influences and opportunities might have done to help shape her growth and interests.

When I meet other people's kids these days, I do more than wonder. I look for that extra moment of engagement, to foster their curiousity or playful pursuit, to encourage them when they step outside of convention and show interest in something new.

And I'm thinking how I might be able, even from some distance, provide some help to a family that might be able to open an avenue to their child when they might need it.

It's a work in progress. But I'm curious about all that potential out there.

Raccoons and parrots and bears, oh my!