A Mum’s story – How Big Buddy helped extend her village

Mum Angela Smith made a very moving speech at a recent fundraising lunch we thought was too good not to re-share. Here is an abridged version…

Our stories shape us. Some more so than others and so this is me, with an openness and a few nerves, sharing our Big Buddy story with you. And I say ‘our’ story because having a Big Buddy in my son’s life not only impacted my son’s life, but it also has impacted my life, too, in an immeasurable way.

Hi, my name is Angela Smith, and I am Mum to Theo. It takes a village to raise a child and our village was small… with most of my immediate family living outside of Auckland, and having arrived in New Zealand back in 1974, there wasn’t a wider family on hand either. Likewise, on Theo’s paternal side, with his dad having arrived from Fiji on his own when he was in his 30’s, there’s no extended family on that side either, here in New Zealand.

Life as a single mum felt lonely. I never had any ‘me’ time other than when Theo was at school. I often felt cloistered, especially at the weekends. So, I was more than grateful when our village grew with Theo’s Big Buddy stepping into our lives back in June 2010. It meant for me, that I would get some much needed ‘me time’. And for Theo, time out with a Big Buddy. With these regular Big Buddy visits, I could begin to feel like a ‘normal’ human being where for once a week, I could be ‘Angela’ and not ‘mum’ – time where I knew that Theo was in safe hands.

I still remember the day when Martin turned up to our place with a nervous-looking Andy. We knew a little about Andy from a phone call with Martin, just as I presume, that Andy knew a little about us. Yet we sat there looking at one another, not really knowing what to say! At that time, we were strangers about to embark on a pivotal journey in each other’s lives. We all had to trust in the process. And it did take trust. Trusting that your son was ok going out with this stranger that you’d met just the once and, in this instance, a stranger that had never had children himself. Poor Andy, probably himself wondered what he was getting himself into as well! As at that stage, we were eating a vegetarian diet and Theo wasn’t allowed colourings in his food or drinks, so it was a dead giveaway that Theo had twisted Andy’s arm, the time that Theo came back from an outing literally bouncing off the walls. I looked at Andy and said, “What did you give him?” “Fanta.” was the reply!

But before I digress into Theo’s and Andy’s Big Buddy experience, I will fill you in on how Theo and I got to that point… Theo arrived in the world in December 2001 and with him being so young, Theo’s dad did visit him in those early days, but only sporadically. This changed when Theo was around four years old. However, the “every second weekend” visits weren’t very successful for Theo with the schedule being stuck to sometimes and at other times, not. Gaps in contact lengthened, eventually to a year and more. During that extended break, I heard about the Big Buddy organisation and during that time, I would have dearly loved Theo to have been matched up with a Big Buddy, especially at this critical time of his life where a male role model would have been so welcome. Yet for Theo to have a Big Buddy, I knew that permission had to be sought from the father and at that stage, I clearly couldn’t see that permission being given. Almost two years after all contact had ceased, there was a knock at the back door. Theo and I were shocked to see Theo’s dad standing there. He advised us he was moving to the South Island and with that, the door was opened to our Big Buddy journey…

Sometimes the only closure you really need is understanding that you deserve better. As a parent there was a need within me to show my son something different to that of which he had been experiencing with his father. Something that would bring stability in his life and hopefully, something that would rebuild trust and show my son what a healthy relationship with a male was. For me, that glimmer of hope came along under the guise of Big Buddy. And so, in June 2010 when Theo was almost nine, the Big Buddy visits started. There was the visit to the Sky tower, something that Theo had never done. Visits to Subway for that footlong sub! Visits to the movies whenever a new superhero movie got released and, to this day Andy still ribs Theo about making him go to see the Minion movie! They used to visit Woodhill Forest, to go on cycle adventures and Andy’s love of nature has meant that he and Theo have ventured on many a nature walk together. They went to a world cup rugby match and together they painted our back gate at the end of the garden and the garden shed much to our landlord’s surprise!

Andy and Theo both have a good sense of humour and connect that way, and with Theo having suffered from social anxiety, more so these past couple of years, I can see why Theo and Andy were matched. Andy in a way has become like family to us, for many years we spent part of Christmas day together and until recently we would spend time on Andy’s birthday with him and he on Theo’s birthday with us. This has meant the world to me, as other than a birthday text, Theo has never had a birthday card or present from his dad since he was seven.

And so, the generosity and stability of Andy acknowledging Theo at these birthdays and Christmas went beyond the gifts given and showed me that someone else cared enough about my son to acknowledge him. It was never a requirement of Andy to go halves with me in those birthday or Christmas gifts for Theo, those generous measures were offered and gratefully accepted. And with Theo’s birthday being so close to Christmas it meant that he often got something that often doubled up as a present for both occasions and was something of Theo’s choosing – PlayStation and Xbox come to mind, something that I wouldn’t have been able to afford for Theo on my own, and something that kept Theo in touch with his peers.

There has obviously been the emotional support along the way as well, which has been a two-way thing. Theo and I both attended Andy’s Mum’s funeral which I know that Andy was grateful for. And of course, Andy not having had any children of his own, has got to experience ‘those’ teenage years. And likewise, Theo has got to witness the comings and goings of Andy’s life, including meeting some and hearing about the many girlfriends procured from internet dating — which I’m sure has given Theo insight of what not to do when it comes to dating! Thankfully, for all our sakes, Andy now has a steady relationship with a lovely lady. And all three of them went to Waitomo Caves last year and had a great day out.

Now, at what has become their fortnightly catchups, Andy, and Theo chat over lunch from everything that has been gone on in their lives through to current world views – they both continue to shape one another’s lives… Often in life, we look backwards to move forwards and preparing this talk has given us the gift of reflection. Over the past couple of weeks, Theo and I have talked about his Big Buddy experience over the years with Andy and, his experience with Big Buddy, as a wider organisation for what has almost been a journey just shy of ten years.

Being part of the Big Buddy organisation has given Theo a sense of belonging and community and has included days out generously donated by the sponsors such as the race day at Hampton Downs where Theo got to ride in a Ferrari along with other ‘little buddies’, the planting of trees as a group at Long Bay and the water rafting day out.

Today, there is no longer a ‘little buddy’, Theo is a young man, attending his second year of university and to this end, I always say that one day, when Andy is old, that Theo will be the one initiating the visits with Andy and indeed, Theo has affirmed, that he can always see Andy being in his life…

Angela has e-pub/PDF books available on her website that speak to resilience and tackle tough emotions. Her son, Theo illustrated one of the pictures where he talks and illustrates missing his dad. You can purchase these here.

If you’d like to make a donation to Big Buddy and help us continue making a difference click here.

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