a proposal at a gas station

I was in a rush a few days ago.  A never-ending rush of driving kids, placating kids, getting food, picking up clothes/trash/toys/books/mail-we-haven’t opened.  I pulled into a gas station after dropping one of the three kids off at a gymastics class.  The other two were in the car.

Mommy, what are we doing?

Mommy, why are you getting out?

Mommy, I’m hunngrryyy….

Ugh. I’m getting gas. Be right back. Play with your toys.

As I got out of the car, a large black man started to approach me from behind.  “Ma’am, excuse me?”

I steeled myself. Immediately.  I didn’t waver. I steeled myself against this large black man whom I didn’t know at the gas station.

And do you know why I became defensive?  I had read that it was common for people to come to gas stations to steal purses from cars.  To ask for money.  Mostly because the gas stations are located so close to the highway.  Who knows if it’s true or not.  As such, I had made it a habit to lock my car and grab my purse when I was pumping gas.  But my kids were in the car, so my car was open and my purse was in plain sight.   I was in a rush.

“Excuse me, ma’am?”

“Uh-huh.” My response was negligible.  A verbal non-response.

“I’m trying to propose to my girlfriend, Jasmine, on the phone here,” he held up his face-time phone in view of me, “and she has asked that someone witness my proposal.  Will you watch me propose to my girlfriend? I’m going to get on one knee”.  He got on one knee on the concrete right next to my gas pump.

“Jasmine, you are the light of my life.  I can’t imagine living without you, will you marry me?”

I couldn’t hear her response, but I assumed it was yes by the joy on his face.  By that time, my mouth had dropped, I had muttered a congratulations, and my hand had fallen flaccidly off the gas handle.  My eyes wandered between the numbers on the gas tank, his face and his phone.

“Thanks, ma’am. I’m getting married!”  He walked back off to his van.  I watched him walk away from me.  He was a driver for a food company.  He hopped back into his food truck van and went on his way.  I stood there, paralyzed, my eyes drifting back towards the gas tank.

The tank was half filled, but I was filled with a vast void of shame and emptiness inside me.  With a little bit of selfish happiness that I got to experience the proposal of Jasmine and the black man at the gas station.

I looked around.  Did anybody else see what I just saw? No.  No one else was around me.

I got back in the car and sat there for a bit.  My eldest daughter asked me, “mommy, what did that man want?”

“Well, honey, it was the most wonderful thing.  He was proposing to his girlfriend.  Right here at the gas station.  And he wanted me to witness it.”

“What was her name?”

“Jasmine”

“Jasmine, like the PRINCESS?”

“Yes, like the princess.”

I can’t tell you how many times over the past few weeks I’ve thought of those 45 seconds.  About my defensive reaction to a large black man approaching me from behind at a gas station.  About his simple and joyous request for me to witness his marriage proposal.  About my shame, my complete and total emptiness.

hard questions from the little people

The kids and I were in the car.  We pull up next to a stop light.  NPR on the radio.  Quiet girl banter in the backseat of my mini-van.  I’m zoning out.  Thinking about tomorrow’s dinner, or this weekend’s schedule, or something – anything – other than what’s going on outside my car.

From the backseat, A. loudly begs for my attention.  Pulling me away from my afternoon daze.

A: “Mommy, MOMMY! WHY is that man standing on the street with a sign?”

Panhandling

Me: “What?” Noticing for the first time panhandler standing next to our stopped car with a sign asking for money.

Me: “Well, he is asking people for money.”

A: “Why? Does he need money to buy a house?”

Me: “I don’t know. But I’m guessing he needs money to buy food.  Some people don’t have enough money to buy food every day.”

A. thought for a while. A: “Did you have to stand on the side of the street with a sign to get money to buy our house?”

Me: “No.”

A: “Why not?”

A series of thoughts crossed through my head.  Because I grew up in a good community; a good family?  Because I was fortunate enough to get good jobs? Because I worked? Because I saved enough? Because my husband worked? Because interest rates were low? Because we waited until we were 34 to buy our first house?   All of these were part of the answer, but none of them were the correct answer.

Me: “Well, because we were lucky.  And mommy and daddy went to a LOT of school.  That helps when you want to buy a house. ”

A. was unsatisfied with that answer.  She couldn’t understand what school had to do with buying a house.   She couldn’t understand why someone would stand by the side of the road to ask for money.  So I tried to convince her that more school meant a better chance of being able to do whatever you want in your life.  And oftentimes, that meant making more money to be able to afford whatever you want.  That may be a house, or a car, or to be able to travel to different parts of the world.

She relented and went back to singing in the back seat.

But, man, her question was hard.  Her question made me uncomfortable and I didn’t know how best to answer.  I know it’s important, because I remember being her same age.  So it counts.  It matters how I answer.

Her question also made me think that is not only what I say, but what I do.   If I want to raise a child with empathy and compassion, I need to display those acts myself.  Daily.  Even if sometimes it’s hard, or uncomfortable.  So the next time I drive by I promised myself I would bring a granola bar, or a bottle of water for the guy with the sign.

bruised and blessed

A few weeks ago, my family went on vacation to the beach.  We brought all three generations, from the youngest, my son, at 3 months to the oldest, my father, who suffers from Parkinson’s, at 84 years old.  In between all the sandcastles and boardwalk ice cream, was a melding of family, with all the blessings and bruises family brings.  It’s these times that remain etched in our memories when all of us are gone.  The fragments of time, of the very young and the very old doing the ordinary things, are what stay.

That week, I watched my father walk downstairs and quietly ask my 15 year old niece, who pulled her attention away from her i-phone, to help him put on his watch.  I watched her fiddle with it for a while, as he stood there patiently.  He wavered a bit, standing unsteadily, as her nimble young fingers clasped the watch around his slight wrist.

IMG_7765

I listened to the daily giggles in the house from children running, laughing and singing; and I listened more intently when my father spoke quietly about the joy of hearing all the grandchildren in one place.

I watched my nieces race my daughters down the miles of sandy beaches.  I watched older cousins throw the younger ones into the air, and the little ones fall into fits of giggles.   I watched as my daughters clung fearlessly and devotedly to my nieces.  In my nieces, I saw my daughters.  Loving, gentle and kind sisters.

I practiced yoga with my 2 year old daughter and my sister-in-law-turned-yoga instructor.  My 2 year old climbed under my downward dogs and stretched her fingers to the sun.  We glanced at each other upside down, and we sat like frogs.

I struggled to find the words as my 5 year old daughter asked me the most difficult of questions.  “Mama, if we all leave the beach house to go to the beach, who will be here to help grandpa walk around?” and “Mama, why is grandpa old?” Her rawness and simple truth was uncomfortable for me, as I stumbled to find uncomfortable answers.

We provided arms and legs for my father to lean on when he needed it.  My mother walked with him to see the beach.  My brother and sister-in-law walked with him around the block.  And I walked with him to lunch.   We walked and walked and walked.    We helped, we laughed and we rallied.  We are bruised and we are blessed.  We are family, and these are the patchworks of our memories.

what a freaking bummer

Anyone else feeling a little bummed out by the news lately?

One night, while OUTBREAK was flashing across the bottom of my 24 hour CNN nightly newscast, I got to thinking: if the Ebola doesn’t kill me, than the Entrovirus 68 is sure to come my way, or at least come after my kids. And if we LUCKY enough to escape those two rogue viruses, than sure enough – it’s the start of the flu season. And between my two nose-picking-hand-wiping preschoolers, and my husband who flies commercial airlines every other week, I’m sure we are bound to end up with at least a good old flu/stomach bug between the months of October and March. SWEEEET. Bring it on.

And if, but some random act of God, we end up spared Ebola, the Entrovirus, the flu and the stomach bug, well…then there is ISIS. Or ISIL. Or whatever we are calling the WORST-OF-THE-WORST terrorists these days.  I’m pretty sure every time I see a map of the Middle East, that red spider-like-web of ISIL controlled-territory keeps growing bigger and bigger.

And while I’m not sure exactly why I – in particular – should be afraid of this ruthless militant group thousands of miles away, the news and our politicians do an exceptionally good job of making me want to shut my windows and lock my doors in case the ISIL RED-WEB-OF-DEATH spills over the atlantic ocean into my backyard.

And don’t even get me started on the Congressmen who is hypothesizing Hamas terrorists may INFECT THEMSELVES WITH EBOLA and sneak into the US.   WHAT?!?  I think we should just leave the United States right now and head to Canada.  It MUST be safer up there.

And lest we not forget Al Qaeda. Or Afghanistan. Or Ferguson. Or the incompetence of our political leadership (see above quote).  Or the massive fires and droughts in California, or simultaneous hurricanes that just swept over Bermuda and Hawaii.

And SO…this is why I’ve started to mute much of the 24 hr news and decided, for at least a few weeks, to get all my news from the ELLEN show.  Wanna join me?  It will put you in MUCH better spirits.

This is my important news from last week:

I found out about Devon Still, a Football player for the Bengals whose 4-year old daughter has cancer.  When he learned of her diagnosis this summer, Still was granted permission by the Bengals to leave organized team activities and minicamp in June to attend to his daughter.

The Bengals had no choice but to cut him in September. However, the team re-signed him to the practice squad so Still would continue to get a paycheck and health insurance.  

Since then, more than 12,000 of his jerseys have been sold, and fans across the world tweet messages of support with #StillStrong (including the Patriots Cheerleaders who wore his jersey during one of the NFL games).  As a result, the team is donating all $1 million-plus of profit to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.   GAWK.   

And yes, I started crying when I heard this story of FEEL-GOOD-AWESOMENESS-NEWS even in the midst of tragedy.  Humans are good.  Life is good.  People are really good to each other, despite what we hear on the news and often despite what politicians would have us believe.   So for now – and until I get tired of videos of puppies and small children – goodbye, CNN and hello, ELLEN.

on how to teach grace

There are only few things that give me confidence that I’m doing a good job in raising my girls.

Parenting is difficult that way.  It’s not quantifiable.  There is no blueprint for what’s getting better or what’s getting worse.

But every few days, 4-year old A. sits down for a meal that I’ve placed in front of her.  She starts to dig into her food, and then she looks up at me with her big blue eyes.  “Mommy,” she pauses and looks me straight in the eye, “Thank you for making this wonderful dinner. I love you. ”

I mean, gawsh.  You are welcome, kid.  And thanks for being SO FREAKING awesome.  Would you like cake with that dinner?

Teaching grace is a remarkable thing for young children.  In the midst of learning about superhero’s and princesses, numbers and spelling, they learn the importance of displaying every day acts of kindness and respect.

This is A.’s second year in a Montessori school.  One of the hallmarks of the primary year Montessori curriculum is learning what Montessorians call grace and courtesy.   They are taught through planned lessons to be considerate and respectful towards one another.

For young children, learning how to work and play together with others in a peaceful and caring community IS the most critical life skill they can learn.  They learn everyday social customs, such as how to enter a room, not to disturb another’s work, how to ask if you may join in an activity and how to graciously decline an invitation, table manners, and how to offer an apology.  

grace-and-courtesy-montessori

When my daughter shows me grace and courtesy without prompting, I know I’m doing a good job as a parent.  These life lessons are THAT important for our children.  So why is it we place so little importance in adults acting the same way?

The news is riddled with instances of adults acting without concern or care for anyone else.  A little over a week ago, United Airlines Flight 1462 from Newark, New Jersey, to Denver was forced to divert mid-trip because two passengers got into a fight over legroom. Since then, not one but two additional U.S. flights have been forced to make unplanned landings because of similar in-air squabbles.  

I get it.  Airplanes are getting smaller;  travel is getting more stressful and people want their personal space.  Blah, Blah, Blah. I want my space too. Hell, I can’t even go to the bathroom alone anymore without one – or maybe – two small children, and a dog barging in on me.

But what is more important than personal space?  Respect.  In the young child’s Montessori classroom, children do most of their work on rugs they lay out around the floor.  Talk about personal space all over the classroom.  So as soon as they enter the classroom, children are taught to walk around the rugs, to respect their peer’s workspace, and to wait quietly for their turn.

Why then does it seem to adults that civility and manners are old school?   I’m always surprised (and slightly humbled) when my husband bothers to ask for and remembers the name of every person he meets.   I’m also constantly surprised when I introduce myself to other adults who apologize in advance for being bad at names; and will likely forget mine. Let’s be honest.  That’s not forgetful, it’s just rude.

Technology seems to have made things worse.  A few days ago, I was at a salon and a lady actually had her phone on speaker for a good 20 minutes blabbering away while her nails dried.  She had absolutely no concern for the other people around her.  Are we getting more and more rude? Have we forgotten everything we learned as small children?

And if so, how can we be surprised that our young adults are faced with challenges like bullying in our schools? How can we expect them to display acts of kindness when we model no better?

Teaching and practicing grace on a daily basis is a kindness we do for ourselves and our community.  Our children learn this as one of the first lessons they are taught in school.  Hold the door for your peers, shake hands and say good morning, say please and thank you, look people in the eye and wait patiently.  We would do well to remember and practice them as adults.

everyone’s a judge

A few days ago a friend and I were at the pool with the girls when we noticed a mom struggling with her daughter. The girl was 4+ and had the same name as C. so EVERY TIME she said her name, of course, I couldn’t help but whip my head around like someone was on fire.

The mom was desperately trying to get her daughter out of the pool. She had used up all the tools in her proverbial “mom bag”.  She had yelled at her, pulled her out, threatened her and – the little girl was unfazed. The older C. was obstinately playing in the pool and wasn’t going anywhere, no matter what her mother said.   In fact, every time her mother lunged at her to grab her, the little girl giggled and ran to the other side of the pool.

Pool-mom: “If you don’t get out in one minute, no books tonight.”  Giggles. “If you don’t get out right now, I’m GOING TO TELL YOUR FATHER.” Giggles, swim, swim.  “If you don’t get out right this second we are NEVER COMING BACK TO THIS POOL EVER AGAIN.”  Giggles, giggles, swim, swim.

Ugh. My heart ached for this mother.  I’ve been there. I feel you. I SEE you. I KNOW you.  I AM you.

C. and A. are both children who – at one age or another – would have run off with a perfectly good stranger if it meant that they could have stayed at the playground for a few more minutes.  Threats bounced right off of them.  For C. they still have no effect.  Most times I have to pick her up, throw her over my shoulder kicking and screaming as we leave the playground, only to push her into her car-seat so she doesn’t squirm out and try to run back to the playground.

This is EXHAUSTING and embarrassing.  Some days I just want to give up; give in.  Throw everything into one huge crap pile and say “YOU WIN!”  Stay in the pool, for all I care!  I’m going home to have a margarita and watch a movie.

So pool-mom I didn’t say anything to you that day, but I looked at you with sympathetic eyes (I tried to make them as sympathetic as possible) as if to say, I KNOW you.  We have BEEN there. Us parents have ALL been there and felt judged as a bad parent and a terrible person.

And as we walked away from the pool that day, my friend said: “Did you see that mom? She didn’t have control of that little girl at all. And that little girl was older than your kids.”  Her judgement of the pool-mom sat on me like a wet blanket.  My friend had forgotten what it was like to be pool-mom.

Don’t get me wrong, my friend is AWESOME.  She is also like majority of people out there that often find it too easy to cast judgement.

I do it too.  I judge the way people look.  The way they treat their bodies.  The choices they make, and sometimes even the things they say.  WE ALL play judge and jury.

But as a parent, who has struggled with managing my own insecurities about being good enough for my kids, I impeach us to put down our gavels and exercise bit more empathy.  That mom who can’t stop her kid from screaming in the airplane? Offer her some help.  The dad who can’t get his kids to be quiet at dinner? Offer him a smile.  Remember how hard it is to raise kids to be adults with value; and how important it is too.

It’s so easy to judge.  Our capacity to offer up compassion for other people is bound only by our imagination to realize that we are all trying our best and we have all been there, in one form or another.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments below.