Monday, June 9, 2014
Lead With A Smile
This last week has been extremely busy getting things in order at the house and running errands....Laundry, rooms cleaned, grocery store, etc..etc.. We have a lot going on with Meagan's upcoming hospital stay and we are officially in summertime which means budgets are tight as I don't work in the summers. We also had an incident with our van as we were driving home where a tractor trailer spun off a piece of its rubber tire shooting it straight back under my van and ripping out the underside putting holes in our exhaust and causing the undercarriage of the van to come apart. Quite honestly, after that incident I was just thankful we were ok and didn't flip the van! But as things settled down I began to realize that this was not what we needed right now with everything else going on. Needless to say, it has been quite stressful in many ways, but as usual, we go with the flow. Weeks like this when the stress level is particularly high, the little things that I would typically ignore or be able to let roll off my back don't always do that. Weeks like this things get to me more...but it's also weeks like this that always somehow give me a glimmer of good as well.
Running several errands in a row is stressful enough when dealing with an extremely limited budget, but with the stress of the car incident, and 5 kids in tow while constantly explaining why we are sticking to the planned shopping list becomes a constant battle (albeit, a good lesson for them). The kids luckily are very used to going places with me, so for them they usually roll right along. But of course, this never precludes the comments we get when we are out. I have addressed this issue in the past, and for some reason, this one particular day last week, it must have been "comment day" and I didn't know it. Everywhere we went, every store we went in to, every person we passed by .... comments flew my direction. Most of them were the ones we always hear ("Woh you have a lot of kids.... awww, you have all girls? I'm so sorry..... will you and your husband be trying for a boy? That's sad you don't have a boy..... Are all these yours?!.... Woh, you have your hands full....etc..") but it is interesting how things have changed now that Meagan is out and about with us in her wheelchair. Days like this, we have started to get comments about that as well. They range from (what I hope is) blissful ignorance ... "Wow, they really have neat strollers these days.. so many gadgets!"... to, what I despise most... the horrible sad face on someone when they see her followed by the pity filled "Oh, I'm so sorry" and everything in between. It's been quite an interesting experience hearing these things, but one day last week I was particularly annoyed.
It had been our normal day of errands. We had literally endured so many comments that day that when someone actually gave us attitude (an obvious eye roll) because it took my 5 kids and me a little longer to cross the street (since there was no ramp for Meagan's wheelchair and I had to slowly bump her down the curb) I was about at my wits end. Even Reilly looked at me after that one and said "Well mom, there's another one! What's that now, about 100?" Ha... I hate that she notices these things, but at the same time, I love it because her sarcasm comes through in a hilarious way.
We made our way to the car and I noticed a woman was just getting in to her car next to us. I stood at the back of our vehicle and motioned for her to go ahead because she was ready and we still had to pile in with the kids, bags and wheelchair. She waved me on, telling me to go ahead and load them up. "That was nice," I thought to myself. I scooted the kids in to the car as fast as I could and removed Meagan from her wheelchair, strapping her quickly in to her carseat. I just put the bags in to the main part of the car and secured the side doors to make my way around to the back to dismantle and load up the wheelchair.
As I took the seat off of the base to put into the car, I noticed the woman finally had looked up again from her drivers seat. She realized everyone was in my car and it was just me at the back now, so after she gave a few glances around, I saw her place her car in reverse and start to back up. I realized again at that time she had been sitting there for several minutes. Even though we had moved "quickly" it still wasn't "quick" and she was still waiting to leave. I started to put the wheelchair in to the back of the car when the woman was just about fully backed out of her parking space. I noticed out of the corner of my eye her car had stopped moving backwards for no obvious reason, so I lifted my head to look why she hadn't driven off just yet.
The woman rolled down her window. She smiled at me and said "I just wanted to tell you that you are doing a great job." I looked at her, obviously taken aback and said "Thank you!" She continued... "I'm sure you hear a lot, and probably not much of it is worth listening to, so I wanted to tell you that I admire you and you're doing a great job with those kids. I just know it. I hope you have a wonderful day." I thanked the lady again, we exchanged smiles, and she drove off.
When I got into the car, suddenly all my worries went away. I stopped worrying we wouldn't get our chores finished, I stopped worrying about our finances, I stopped worrying about Meagan's upcoming hospital stay, and best of all, for the rest of that day, I completely forgot about the other comments we had received that day - for the rest of the day, that lady and her sweet compliment stuck with me. What a nice gift her words had been and I cherished that for the rest of the afternoon.
Fast forward to a few days ago. Mostly everything was ready for Meagan's hospital stay - but we were out of a few essentials (think, toilet paper..etc..) of course. So one quick run to the store was needed. I piled the kids in the car and off we went. Of course their stress levels were also starting to rise because they knew that in a few days Meagan and I wouldn't be home with them every day, and they worry because they don't always fully grasp what is going on. We arrived at the store, got the few items I came for, and made our way to the line with only a few "mom can we get that?" aversions with my usual (and true) statement "no, we don't have money for that."
We jumped in to the line where it looked like the woman was almost finished checking out. After a few minutes I realized it was taking longer than it should have and so I started paying more attention to the cashier. What I saw next really needed no explanation. It was apparent that the woman did not have the money for her food. The cashier was very kindly trying to explain the difference, and it was apparent there was a language barrier between her and the woman customer. Once the woman understood, I saw her going through her grocery bags and pulling out a loaf of bread, bananas, and other items. She would set them on the counter, the cashier would re-ring her bill, and when it still wasn't enough the woman would continue to remove items. The cashier was being very nice and trying to work with the woman but I could immediately sense the stress level of the woman rising. The woman went from not understanding, to blushingly removing items from her bags, to now frazzled and obviously overcome by the situation. The people in line behind us were growing impatient and the cashier now could sense the pressure. She looked up at me and said "I'm so sorry ma'am, this shouldn't take much longer."
Watching this unfold in front of me, my heart and head were having an internal battle. My heart wanted to pay for the woman's groceries... my head wanted to retreat knowing we barely could pay for our own. But it was in that moment that I just kind of "did" before I "thought." I told the cashier I would buy the woman's groceries. The cashier nodded and proceeded to put the woman's goods back into her bags. The woman started to unpack some saying "no, no..." not realizing it was ok. The cashier looked at her and said "It's ok." The woman still not understanding and now on the verge of tears said "no, no.." and started to put her bags back again. The cashier then pointed at me and said "no, it's ok." The woman looked back at me, and started to cry. I could see her looking at my kids, one by one, (who were probably being incredibly silly by this point), and then she came over to me and said "no." I just took her hand and said "It's ok" and smiled at her. I gave the cashier the money for her grocery bill and the woman began to cry. She muttered something which by her outward gestures to me I assume was "thank you" and I helped her load her bags into her cart. I simply gave her the biggest smile I could and told her "God bless" and she turned and walked towards the door. The cashier looked up and smiled at me, and I noticed then tears in her eyes as well.
At that moment, Anna, my ever loving and sweet, albeit really loud middle child spoke up and said "but mom... you said we couldn't get a treat because we had no money for that ... so how did we buy her groceries?" I just looked at Anna and said "Well Anna, sometimes you don't but you just do it anyway." Anna is also my child that needs extremely clear explanations so in response to my short answer, I heard in her bellowing tone (for all to hear of course) "Huh? I don't understand... I thought we didn't have money. How did we pay for that?" At this point, I was actually smiling. Anna's big loud smoky voice and her constant asking of the same question were making me giggle on the inside. Ohhh Anna. I just looked at her and kindly told her I would explain when we got to the car. God always knows how to throw in a little humor in a poignant situation.
As we walked to the car, I couldn't help but think of one of my favorite people (Mother Teresa) and her famous saying of:
"Do not wait for leaders. Do it alone. Person to person."
I thought of the kind lady who had taken a few, well, several minutes of her time to just show me patience, and then on top of that give me a sweet compliment. She did it alone. She took time to build me up, person to person, and changed my day. I then thought of the people waiting in line impatiently while the woman in front of us struggled. I did it alone. I kept it going and showed the woman love, person to person. I thought of how one small action, such as these two events, changed an entire day,possibly more, and now it was now all coming together.
Amid the stress and the worry and the crazy week we had, God was showing me bits of hope. He was showing me how great our fellow humans can be. He was showing me humility and pride all in one package. He was teaching me about the good in people and how we need to pass that on to others. Most importantly, God showed me how we don't get to choose when we pass on that good - we cannot do it only when it is most comfortable for us, but even in difficult times. When we do good for others through struggle, the meaning of giving is so much more - the gift is more genuine and the sacrifice is more real.
We can do so much when we just lend a helping hand, show a bit of emotional solidarity, or take one moment to lighten someone else's load. We never realize how much we can touch someone or make them see a little more hope in life through a small action. We don't have to go around buying people's groceries - but, if the opportunity presents itself, say yes. Even if you really "can't." We don't have to compliment mothers who are out and about, but it's a tough job - take a minute to do so. Even if you don't know what to say. I guarantee these small gestures of kindness will go far beyond what can be imagined!
Meagan goes into surgery around mid-morning today. I know these next 1-2 weeks will be difficult. I feel like this has been a long time coming, though, and am anxious to get it started. So much of these next weeks are out of my hands - I cannot predict surgery, I cannot predict what we will find and I cannot predict if this process will finally produce a solution to all of Meagan's ups and downs and especially her latest struggles. But, I just have to see the good in it all, trust in her excellent doctors, and hope for the best. As we check in with Meagan today I will just do what I can - smile at her. I will smile brightly and try to be a leader..person to person...and let her know it will be ok. A smile is the best way I can help her today... the only way I can. Many times, it is simply a smile that gives us all the courage to step up and be a leader, to see humanity for what it is, and to pass it on, person to person. After all, as Mother Teresa also said, "We shall never know all the good a simple smile can do."