Never Give Up

A few years ago, I saw this license plate in the parking lot at my local grocery store.

I snapped a picture, because I was having one of “those days.” You know, the ones where you ask yourself, “why am I even trying to do this? I should probably quit. This is never going to work out.” I was desperate enough that day to be taking life advice from a license plate. Never Give Up! 

I laughed at myself while I took the picture. But, it helped. I kept going.

Then, just a few months ago, I was jockeying around my town’s oddly tiny post office parking lot, trying to exit, and in pulled NVRGUP!  I rolled down my window and waved to the driver as she got out. “Hi, Never Give Up!” I yelled to her. “I love your license plate!”

I was tucked into the back of the lot, the last in a line of cars trying to leave, so after she parked she walked over to my window to say hello. She was elegant, dressed for errands in the manner I would dress for an evening event. I shared with her that I’d seen the message years ago and it had perked up an otherwise bad day. I expected her to say something like, “Hey, that’s great, glad to hear it!”

But instead, she thanked me just for noticing the words. This had been her late husband’s license plate choice. “That was him, all the way,” she said to me. “He never gave up on other people. He always thought everyone had good in them, and it was his job to find it and help bring it out.” I said I hadn’t considered that the message being sent was ‘don’t give up on other people.’ “Oh yeah,” she said. “It used to really frustrate me sometimes, to tell you the truth. He always gave people more chances than I would have.” (Then she assured me that he would be okay with me taking it as a sign to not give up on myself, either!)

Every time it came to renew the plate, she wondered if she should keep it, or just go back to the randomly assigned number. I told her my vote would be to never give it up, and she smirked, but the smile faded quickly. “I hope I didn’t make your day sad by telling you my husband died,” she said to me.

I said, “I’m really sorry he’s gone, because it sounds like he was an awesome person. But don’t you think it’s kind of cool that, in a way, he’s still encouraging people?” At this point I was hoping I hadn’t made her sad. But she quickly put me at ease. “I’m so glad you waved to me, because I do love talking about him. I miss him.”

Then she and I spent some time wondering about whether he knew she was having this conversation, whether he in fact orchestrated it. We both chuckled at how little we knew for sure, but also agreed that however it happened, we were glad we’d connected. We hugged through my window, and off she went into the swirling abyss of the mid-day post office.

And off I went to ponder the idea of never giving up on other people, and what that might look like, and where I could improve. Then I went home, scowled at my keyboard, and said to myself for the third time that day: “Never. Give. Up.”

 

 

 

Out & About: Literary Excursions in Central Connecticut

Have you ever wished you could live inside your favorite novel? If you live near or have a chance to visit central Connecticut, your wish just may come true!

Excursion #1: The Storytellers Cottage 

Level: Older kids to Adult

Book Pairing Suggestion: PERSUASION, the last fully complete novel written by Jane Austen. The story of young Englishwoman Anne Elliot and her second chance at love with Navy Captain Frederick Wentworth will set you in the perfect mind frame for visiting this unique space.

Middle Grade Book Pairing Suggestion:  ALL’S FAIRE IN MIDDLE SCHOOL by Victoria Jamieson.  Eleven-year-old Imogen (Impy) has been homeschooled by her parents, who work at a Renaissance Faire. She’s eager to begin her training as a squire, but the complexities of fitting into her new public school friend group are kind of getting in the way!

The Storyteller’s Cottage opened it’s charming doors in October 2017. This uniquely appointed Victorian home is a place where literature truly comes to life. A directional sign adjacent to the front porch points visitors to such memorable locations such as Narnia and The Shire.

From the moment you enter, the Cottage invites you to “immerse yourself in a different time and place…Indulge your passion with like-minded bibliophiles as a member of one of our unique literary societies, or at our charming dramatic events, or in our novel (& inspired) mystery game rooms. We host book clubs, writer’s retreats, author talks, murder mystery dinners, dapper cos-play LARP, 4-D theater productions, and much more.”

 

The Cottage is very welcoming to writers, offering a variety of nooks & crannies to hunker down in when you’re looking to create. (There is a medieval keep room that you access by going behind a moving bookshelf!!) They also host writing retreats, as well as writing workshops for both adults and children. Or, you can join in one of their growing number of book clubs, which include groups such as “The Great British Baking Club” and the “Jane Austen Teacup Lunch Bunch.”

Another fun offering is their Great Scott Escape Rooms. “A variation of the popular ‘Escape Room’ live escape game, the Great Scott! Mystery Rooms offer players a chance to actually become detectives, just like characters in their favorite mystery novels. Bring your team of up to 8 people, and immerse yourself in a classicmystery story. Each of our three game rooms is full of codes, riddles, puzzles, and clues, and you will have one hour to solve the mystery we’ve set for you!”

There is so much going on at the Storyteller’s Cottage! Be sure to visit their website to see many more pictures and get a flavor of the huge number of events offered.

 

Excursion #2:

The Amazing Castle™at the Avon Free Public Library (limited time; traveling exhibit)

Level: Preschool to early elementary school

Book Pairing Suggestion: THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT by Penny Parker Klostermann. This is a fun read-aloud picture book which Kirkus calls “a rollicking and warped Medieval take on the well-worn cumulative rhyme.”

dragon

The Amazing Castle™ is an interactive medieval exhibit on the floor of the Children’s Room at the Avon Library. Kids have free reign of the castle and all its inner-workings. There are lots of opportunities for pretend play, such as cooking in the castle’s stone fireplace. The Amazing Castle™ exhibit was created by the Minnesota Children’s Museum with funding from Curtis and Marjorie Nelson and The Curtis L. Carlson Family Foundation, and will only be at the library until May 12, 2018. So check it out!

 

P.S. Central Connecticut is also home to the Mark Twain House and Museum! Are your bags packed yet?

Tell Me Something Good

Hi! If you’ve visited my blog before, I thank you and appreciate you taking the time to read my little ol’ words. Repeat readers may notice I’ve been working on a new “look.”

The truth is, I’ve been struggling to find a balance between staying informed and acting on the big, important, difficult things going on in the world, while also longing to occasionally rest and sit in some positivity. But when I turn to things that bring me joy, I worry that I’m not paying enough attention to the “right” issues. It’s hard to let yourself feel happy when you know someone else is suffering. (Why work on writing any fiction; what does any of that matter?) But I think I was forgetting a very important fact: sharing light is a great way to drive out darkness.

 

So, I’ve decided to create a space to share stories that say “look – here is something good!” Because while there’s a lotta darkness going on, there is a also a lot of light. And each one of us has the ability to create more light.

To that end, the blog portion of my website  has a new title: Encouraging Words! I’ll use this space mostly to highlight good people, good work, and good things happening in our world. I hope when you visit here you’ll always find some nugget of encouragement that may help your own little light shine brighter, too.

Today I want to tell you about an awesome national program: FAMILY PROMISE. Their mission statement is “to help homeless and low-income families achieve sustainable independence through a community-based response.” Their website shares the staggering statistic that this year in America, 2.5 million children and their parents will experience homelessness. Family Promise supports a “local response to this national crisis, helping families build new lives.” The goal is to identify the ‘newly homeless’ — people who have just fallen or are about to fall through the cracks of any other safety nets, and help them get back to sustainable independence quickly (families are usually in the program about six -eight weeks).

Here’s how it works:

1116 (2)

Photo credit: Family Promise

A network of volunteers from any faith-based community step up to open their physical building one week at a time, on a rotating basis.

“The resources are already there. In the community there are congregations that can provide space in their buildings to serve as temporary homes. Day centers, where families can take showers, receive case management and look for housing and jobs, can be located at a house of worship or agency. There are multiple options for transportation to get families from the host congregations to the day center and back. With volunteers giving their time, making meals, and sharing hospitality, family homelessness is addressed without the creation of expensive shelters. Across the country, people have realized that this innovative approach truly makes a difference for families experiencing homelessness—and more than 180,000 volunteers.”

A friend of a friend has worked hard and can now proudly say that her dream of a functioning Connecticut affiliate of the program is up and running. I’ve been working on a steering committee to help my own faith community explore becoming a Family Promise host. Let me tell you, it’s very encouraging to have something to do about an issue that feels overwhelming. So I’m hopeful we’ll be able to help, even if it’s just a few families at a time.

Just after learning about Family Promise, I got my hands on two ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) of middle grade books which deal with the topic of families that are struggling to find secure and permanent places to live. Reading both of these beautiful novels really helped me understand how important even the smallest act of kindness can be to people who find themselves newly homeless.


JUST UNDER THE CLOUDS (Knopf Books for Young Readers) by Melissa Sarno is coming June 2018.

From the Penguin/Random House website:

An uplifting young reader debut about perseverance against all odds, Marie Miranda Cruz’s debut Everlasting Nora follows the story of a young girl living in the real-life shantytown inside the Philippines’ Manila North Cemetery.

After a family tragedy results in the loss of both father and home, 12-year-old Nora lives with her mother in Manila’s North Cemetery, which is the largest shanty town of its kind in the Philippines today.

When her mother disappears mysteriously one day, Nora is left alone.

With help from her best friend Jojo and the support of his kindhearted grandmother, Nora embarks on a journey riddled with danger in order to find her mom. Along the way she also rediscovers the compassion of the human spirit, the resilience of her community, and everlasting hope in the most unexpected places.

I encourage you to preorder both books for yourself, your kids, or your local town & school library! I’ll be getting a copy of each to donate to Family Promise.

I also encourage you to look around for one thing you can do to help support the homeless in your own community. All over the country, there are many great organizations already in place and doing good work, but they always appreciate fresh volunteers and donations!

Have a good day, light-makers.

Back Up the Truck

A year ago November, a few weeks after the presidential election, my husband and I planned a day to finally turn a downed tree in our yard into fuel for our wood stove.

While he cranked up the chainsaw to cut the tree into manageable chunks, I hooked up the hitch to my car and went off to rent a log splitter. My mind was churning, my spirit was not in this task. The gray day had a raw chill that matched my mood.

I stood in line with the other Saturday DIYers, and felt somehow, as a woman, I had something to prove. Like I needed to make myself bigger than my medium frame. Everyone around me was friendly and/or sleepy, but I felt on guard. I was glad that I “knew the drill” in this male-dominated store.

I took instructions on how to use the splitter, got it attached to the car, and drove home. Once in the driveway, I realized it would be best to back up to the spot where we’d be doing the work. My husband motioned for me to get out of the car so he could take over. I shook my head, no. 

To be fair, he was only going on what he knew — I’d always deferred to him to “drive the big things” (e.g. moving van) and maneuver heavy equipment. He approached me, confused. “I’ll back it up,” he said, opening the car door. I grabbed the handle and pulled the door shut. “It’s okay,” I said. “I can do it.” There was no way I was getting out of that driver’s seat.

It’s not exactly docking a space shuttle, but I was proud that I had (basically) conquered the life skill that is trailer-backing. It was my sister-in-law who had taken the time to teach me. We were towing a small boat around the playground that is Maine, and with the kids in the back of the car, she pulled into a parking lot and patiently walked me through the ins and outs of trailer maneuvering.

I shimmied that log splitter into perfect position, and then set it up and got it running. My husband nodded, hiding a grin, and we got to work. My goal for the day: not to be the one to stop first. Again, this was all coming from me. But I felt like I had something to prove. Like I was representing all women as sweat poured off me, as I kept going, even when I was tired. Even when the pile of logs seemed to be growing rather than shrinking. I kept working.

I will always be for human beings helping each other out, and a man offering to help a woman is not a bad thing! I’m not saying that. I’m saying: let’s be ready to acknowledge and encourage the power someone else may already hold. Friends, let’s dig deep and remember our own strength. Let’s share what we know, teach one another about it, and spread confidence out into the world.

Stop letting other people back up the trailer for you. You can do it!

 

 

Empowering Empathy

I’ve got four special middle grade novels to share with you today!

Novels for young people are unique breed. They are meant to entertain and educate, and some even have the power to foster a life-long passion for the written word. But perhaps most importantly, these stories can have a special role in encouraging a reader’s awareness and acceptance of others.

A good book lets you peek into the window of someone else’s life, and safely ask, “what makes that person behave the way they do?” The answer is often surprising and enlightening. And at its best, empathy empowering.

1) In Elly Swartz’s FINDING PERFECT, readers follow Molly Nathans as her desire for things to be perfect and well-ordered increasingly controls her life, vs. the other way around. We watch with growing concern as her ‘quirks’ become a more obvious and invasive obsessive-compulsive disorder. This is an extremely helpful read for anyone struggling to understand the behavior of OCD, and how ‘out of control’ one can feel…wrapped up with the hopeful message of what may lie on the other side of treatment.

2) Melissa Roske’s KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN  also explores the topic of obsessive-compulsive disorder, this time from the point of view of middle schooler Kat Greene, who watches her mother struggle with increasingly problematic behaviors. The story achingly shows how anxiety can manifest (and take over) in everyday life, and the things we do to deny that it’s happening (to ourselves and others). Readers will take away the message of “keep talking to helpful adults” woven into this compelling story of friendship & growth. 

3) Ellie Terry’s FORGET ME NOT is the story of a girl with Tourette syndrome who starts a new school and tries to hide her quirks. The window into understanding and feeling the unpredictability and frustration that is Tourette Syndrome is wide open as we follow Calliope June’s journey toward self-acceptance. Based in part on the author’s own experiences with TS, this beautiful novel in verse shows the realities and hardships of navigating new friendships, and is buoyed by a rich and realistic cast of supporting characters.

4) INSIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS by Dusti Bowling (yes that’s her real name!) also gives readers an honest look at what it’s like to navigate life with ‘significant’ differences. Main character Aven Green “loves to tell people that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match, or a wildfire in Tanzania, but the truth is she was born without them.” (Goodreads). When she moves to a new town, she is befriended by Connor, a boy who barks and spits because of his Tourette Syndrome. Both Aven and Connor understand what it feels like to not fit in, and more importantly, they both also know how to be a true friend.

I hope that you and/or a child in your life enjoy reading these fantastic new books on the kid lit scene. I’m grateful to the authors  for creating and sharing these lovable, strong, important characters. I know their stories will open minds and hearts.

The End of the Ocean Light

I went into the bookstore last summer to get:

“A blind French girl and a German boy’s paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.”

I walked through the aisles muttering, “Don’t get The Light Between Oceans.” (I’d already listened to that as an audio book.) “Not Between Oceans,” I repeated.

A young couple’s happiness is marred only by their inability to start a family. When a rowboat with a dead man and infant girl mysteriously washes ashore, they consider making a choice with devastating consequences.

I ran into a friend. We talked book clubs and recent favorites. “Oh, The Light Between Oceans is wonderful,” I gushed. And she gushed back, “I just know you will love All the Light We Cannot See.”

Finally it was time to make my purchase. When I got home I started reading. Right away something felt off. I had heard this book was about World War Two, and included a blind girl as a protagonist. But the time period was more modern, and the girl was not there. And that is because in my quest to avoid the light between the oceans, I ended up with:

“An unnamed man returns to his hometown for a funeral and remembers events that began forty years earlier.”

One year later, I’ve at long last gotten to the first book, my original destination. Some journeys are like that. You don’t always go directly where you’d intended to, but along the way you might meet some really great characters.

I do recommend all of these books. Just don’t go into the bookstore and ask for “the blue and black one.”

Save

Save

Poetry Playtime

Because I Wanted Jam

 

I had thought

the gray, overcast morning

would grant me solitude

in the field.

 

But I forgot

how short the season is,

the strawberries being

generous but fleeting —

like a swarm of gnats that

skirts their course as humans approach.

 

And I forgot

how early the young ones rise:

they’ve been up for hours already.

They’re past second breakfast

and have burned through screen time.

 

And they’re all here with me

in the warming field.

Asking is this one ripe

and being told

no not the white tipped ones

 

And being called to over and over

Nina. Nina. Nina come here!

The incessant voice of a mother bird trying to

push the little ones deeper into the nest

on fledging day.

Community Conversation

I have a story to tell you about boots.

A few weeks ago, I was cleaning out my basement and had twice tripped on a pair of size nine men’s work boots. My husband had needed them for a short while when he was the in-flight physician on a Life Flight helicopter service. I was pondering what we’d ever do with these boots (not quite right for hiking, not insulated enough for snow) when I opened my email and saw a message from a friend asking about boots.

There is a new family in my town who have been assisted in their transition from Syria to the U.S. by a committee of generous folks in my faith community. (You may remember me mentioning taking cookies to this family in my musings on Guerrilla Kindness.) I’ve enjoyed getting to know them more through events such as dinner where my family and I enjoyed a traditional Syrian meal. (Best baba ghanoush I’ve ever had, and that’s saying something because I’ve had a lot of baba ghanoush.)

The email was from resettlement committee member saying they had found an employment opportunity for Zeyad (the father), but he needed work boots in order to be on the construction sight (the next day). Specifically, he needed size nine men’s work boots. I know coincidences happen all the time, but this one made my arm hair prickle. I said I’d bring them right over.

When I got to their home, Zeyad and his wife were just sitting down to coffee, and invited me in. It was 2:00 in the afternoon of a spring cleaning day, and yes, I needed coffee! We talked about many things and specifically about the possibility of Ezdahar (mom) starting a catering business and Zeyad’s desire to find steady work. His older boys have been lucky to find good part time jobs, “and the parents just sit and drink coffee,” he joked.

The coffee was dark and rich and amazing. When we parted, they told me, to “come again every time” (meaning anytime), and I said “Sure! I will come every time you’re having coffee.”

The next time I saw Zeyad, he was speaking on a panel regarding the Muslim Ban. The panel was part of an ongoing series of Community Conversations sponsored by the Glastonbury MLK Community Initiative. This is a non-profit group that works to foster the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr., specifically to encourage “an inclusive community” and provide “opportunities to satisfy basic societal needs of belonging and acceptance, through a commitment to listening to all, appreciating differences, celebrating the positive contributions from all of its citizens, and increasing the level of trust, connectedness and civic participation in community.”

They certainly accomplished this goal last Thursday through their panel discussion titled The Muslim Ban: An Examination of the Underlying Factual, Legal, Religious, Humanitarian, Policy, and Economic Considerations. 

The panel was moderated by Dean Alfred Carter, and participants included:

-Rev. Dr. David Grafton, a professor at Hartford Seminary, who spoke about how Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all have scriptural references to “welcoming the stranger.” He explained that faith communities actually have a  compulsion to behave ethically based on these teachings. He also shared a fun and important fact that the word hospitality actually comes from the Greek words philo (love) zenos (the foreigner).

-Dennis Wilson, a caseworker at Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services reminded us that “refugee status” means your family’s lives are in danger. He explained how the “extreme vetting” process can take up to two years, and fewer than 1% of refuges who start the process are eventually resettled into the U.S.  A fun fact he shared was that the rate of entrepreneurship among refugees was studied and seen to be double that of other Americans. Also, refugees routinely contribute back twice to society what it cost to resettle them.

-Dr. Abigail Williamson, professor at Trinity College gave us a great reminder of specific times in history (Anti-Immigration policies go back as far as 1830) when Americans opposed other ‘strangers’ – Catholics, Germans, etc. She pointed out there have always been periodic swings to greater restriction, despite often seamless transitions of immigrants once they get here. A ‘not fun’ fact she shared was how ‘integrating well’ can be bad for immigrants’ health. Families typically come to the U.S. with baseline healthier lifestyles than ours, but by the second generation, their health has typically decreased to our level.

-Anna Cabot, professor at UCONN Law School spoke about the legal issues with the current executive order that blocks immigration from six countries (The “Muslim Ban”).  The two main arguments are that the ban violates due process, and violates first amendment rights regarding religious guidelines. I did not realize that the ban is actually scheduled to go into effect today. But, the legal community has continued to fight it’s implementation with ongoing injunctions.

-Rev. Richard Allen, Pastor at South Church (Glastonbury) spoke about his church’s outreach in helping resettle the Albukaai family from Syria. He pointed out that in getting to know and love this family, “an intellectual text now becomes a personal narrative.” He shared how quickly he became attached to the family, and how loved they are by himself and his parishioners.

-Muhammad Albuakaai & Zeyad Al Abas, fathers of two recently resettled Syrian families, spoke with the aid of an interpreter and shared heartbreaking stories of why they had to leave the country that they loved. Muhammad told of the distress of watching fellow human beings be killed as ‘easily and as often as you would kill a mosquito.’ Zeyad spoke of living with his family in a swath of forest for 15 days as before making their way to a refugee camp in Jordan. He noted that all they wanted in Syria was freedom and democracy, and that speaking out for these two things is what people are being killed for.

Both men also shared their strong desire to become self-sufficient as quickly as possible, and promised not to be a burden on our society. They conveyed deep gratitude for the welcome they had received. When an audience member asked the two fathers what their opinion was on the Muslim Ban, Zeyad responded for both by saying, ‘in Syria, we had been living peacefully for centuries with Christians and Jews. So maybe this is a better question for you here in this country.’

Another audience member asked what we should be/could be doing to help others going forward. It was pointed out that despite what happens with “the ban,” a significant number of refugees will still be barred from entering the U.S. (the number allowed is down from 110,000 to 50, 000). I believe it was Dennis Wilson from IRIS who encouraged us to contact our representatives and mention specific names of people who will now be left behind. Families just like the ones there that night, fathers who shared stories, mothers who cooked treats, and children who ran back and forth and crawled under the table during the program.

At the very end of the evening, four children (three from the Albukaai family and one from the Al Abas family) took over the mic. The three little girls sang what sounded like a playful folk song, while the littlest boy just giggled into the microphone. Their beautiful voices, set against the backdrop of the stories we’d just heard of unrest, fear, homelessness, and despair created a poignant juxtaposition. Four gorgeous, healthy kids – singing and laughing – surrounded by a group of smiling strangers in their new home.

It is a good start.

It Ain’t Easy Being Kind

beingkind

I know that many of you are with me in my quest to infuse Guerrilla Kindness into the world. I hope you’ve been inspired to be part of my mobile irregular force performing small hit-and-run acts of kindness.

But here’s the truth: it can be hard to be kind on purpose.

Exhibit A

My mom had the fantastic (GENIUS) idea of asking family and friends to perform an act of kindness in honor of my sister’s milestone birthday. I was pumped. This was my wheelhouse! This was going to be fun. But, I also knew I had to think of something really special. So…I procrastinated. Then the calendar turned and the countdown was on. One day, I had a long list of errands planned. I was determined that this would be the day for my ‘act of kindness.’ I put on my goody two-shoes and hit the road.

But then.

Well, here’s the story as I told it to my sister.

A Kindness for Jenny

(a comedy in four acts)

 

Act One: Target

umbrella

As I pull into Target to make a return, four fat blobs of rain hit my windshield. I decide to take my umbrella with me. Good thing, as halfway to the front door, the heavens open and drop a giant load of rain all at once. People are running and screeching in the warm, unexpected downpour.

I cue up in line to make my return. The person ahead of me is a mom with three boys. One, a baby, is perched quietly in his car seat. Another, a toddler, is curled in the back of the cart. He is whining and crying in a repetitive moan, the cry of a child who either skipped or skimped their nap. The preschool-aged big brother is trying to soothe the toddler, which makes him scream louder.

The mom hears the thunderous rain on the roof, and turns to see my soaked shorts and shoes. “Oh course,” she says, rolling her eyes. “Of course it just started to rain.”

Her returns are confusing, her receipts are kerfuffled, her kids are restless.

Finally, she finishes up, and I take my place at the counter. Roused from my standing-in-line stupor, a thought occurs: the act of kindness for my sister’s birthday! This mom is the perfect recipient.

I keep my eye on her as I quickly complete my transaction. She is trying to cover the baby and the toddler and her purchases with one small blanket. I ponder offering to get her car for her, but realize that would be weird. I’ll drive them to her car in my car? Also weird. Okay, how about I just walk next to her with my umbrella, at least helping keep a portion of her posse dry?

Finished, I turn to follow her to the door, where she is watching to see if there will be a let up in the rain. But a small crowd has also gathered there, and it’s hard for me to get up to where she is. I’m making my way, when suddenly she grabs her preschooler with one hand, her cart with the other, and bolts. Pushing past people, I race out of the store after her. My extended umbrella held aloft, I call to her that I’d like to help. But the rain is too loud, and she is so darn fast! What is she, a sprinter? I’m chasing her, and getting soaked, because I’m holding my umbrella out in front of me as if I’ll be able to shelter her from five steps behind.

Then, in my haste and distraction, I am saved by another shopper who stops me before I run in front of a car pulling into the lot.

Situation: fail.

Act of kindness has been done to me, not by me!

 

Act Two: Grocery Store

brokenglass

 

A chance to redeem myself. I’m on the lookout for another harried mom. I’ll never forget those days, when everything was made a gajillion times harder by the constant presence of my little charges.

And there, in the dairy aisle, my opportunity: the distinctive CRASH of a glass jar of pasta sauce hitting the hard tile floor, dropped by a toddler. His mom looks around, embarrassed. She is dressed in a security guard uniform. She looks tired. I spring into action.

Me: Let me go get help for you!

Her (already pulling son out of cart): No, that’s ok, there’s always someone from the store right around here.

Me: Let me leave my cart over the mess, and you take your cart and keep shopping!

Her: No, that’s okay, I’m sure it won’t be long.

Reluctantly, I let her get her own help, and watch her leave her cart to mark the mess. I’m thinking maybe she’s just a really chill mom, and honestly didn’t need my help. But, when her son tries to grab a can off the shelf they’re passing and she snaps, “You’ve already made enough of a mess!” I know that she’s human. So, I give her a big smile and move on. But, a big smile? That can’t be my act of kindness! Not for my sister! I give big smiles out every dang day. I will continue my quest.

 

Act Three: Grocery Store Parking Lot

shoppingcart

I had gotten a good spot when I pulled in. The first spot next to the handicapped one. And here now, loading her car next to me, is an elderly woman. Carefully, bag by bag, she is setting her groceries in her back seat. Elderly woman in the handicapped spot. THIS IS IT.

She has one bag left.

Me: Let me help you with that!

Her: Oh, that’s okay, I’m almost done. (Puts last bag in).

Me: I’ll take your cart back for you.

Her: Oh, you don’t need to do that, dear. I can manage.

Me: Really, I’m taking mine back, too. Let me take your cart for you!

Her: Well, how far is it?

Me: It’s just right over there (two cars away).

Her: Well okay, dear, if you’d like.

I return the carts, and get back in my car. No, I think. My special act of kindness for my special sister cannot be that I walked an old lady’s cart 15 feet for her, when she didn’t really even want my help.

I get in my car, grab a piece of paper, and start to write.

 

Act Four: Return to the Grocery Store

noteofencouragment

I’m wandering the aisles, clutching the note I’ve written, which is wrapped around a $20 bill. The note says something like this:

“This small act of kindness is in honor of my sister’s birthday. I saw you in the store, a hard working mama just trying to make a quick stop before dinner. You were so sweet to your son when he dropped the pasta sauce, even though I knew you were annoyed! Those were the hardest days for me, juggling work and small kids. This is for you, to treat yourself. Lunch out, coffee, whatever helps make your day brighter. From, A friend. P.S. Hang in there, bedtime’s coming!”

I finally find her, the pasta sauce mama, just in time. She’s next in line at the checkout. I catch her eye and hand over the note. “This is for you,” I say. “A little surprise. Have a good evening!”

Not knowing what it is yet, she still gives me a huge smile. “And you have a good evening, too!” I quickly leave, feeling so, so good and happy.

I had finally done it. I had captured the feeling my sister gives me and so many people in her life: you are important, you matter, I see you, and I’m here to help.

orangeflower

Being kind isn’t always easy, even when you’re trying. Sort of like how it can be hard to see goodness in the world through all the darkness that exists, too. But it’s there. And we’re here. Just keep doing the little things. After awhile, they’ll start to add up.  One candle does not dim when it lights another. Keep bringing the light, friends.

 

 

Happy Valen”tiny’s” Day

valentinywriting-contest2017

Susanna Leonard Hill is a picture book author who loves to invite other writers out to play. She also loves holidays. (Check out her darling Groundhog Day themed book, Punxatawney Phyllis!) To celebrate Valentine’s Day, Susanna is hosting a Valentiny writing contest (“Valen-tiny because the stories are not very long and are written for little people 🙂.”)

The Contest: write a Valentines story appropriate for children (ages 12 and under) maximum 214 words (get it? 2/14?) in which someone is confused!

I love opportunities like this, because sometimes it’s fun to let go of the ‘work’ of writing and remember what fun there is in the ‘play.’ Here’s my entry!

 

Operator? (213 words)

 

Psst. Jax is giving Pax some candy fish for Valentine’s Day. Pass it on.

Jax is giving Pax a sandy fish for Valentine’s Day. Pass it on.

Jack is giving Pax a squishy fish for Valentine’s Day? Pass it on.

Jack is giving Max a fishy squish for Valentine’s Day. Pass it on.

Jack and Max are going to fish and twitch on Balancing Day? Pass it on.

Jetpacks are going to switch and mix on Ballet Dance Day. Pass it on.

Jet and Pax are doing a special trick for Valley Trance Day. Pass it on.

 Jester Flax is giving a species talk for Valentine’s Day. Pass it on.

Jack is giving Max several purple socks for Valentine’s Day? Pass it on.

 Jax is giving Pax seven people’s snacks for Valentine’s Day. Pass it on.

Jax is giving Pax some peculiar facts for Valentine’s Day. Pass it on.

Jax is giving Pax some spectacular flips for Valentine’s Day. Pass it on.

Jax is giving Pax some cinder block fish for Valentine’s Day. Now, what did you hear?

I heard: Jax is giving Pax some squished black fish for Valentine’s Day. Huh…interesting choice. If I were Jax, I’d give Pax some candy fish. Those are his favorite!

 

Happy Valentine’s Day, whatever you get!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Save