Technically, in the biological and legal sense, she's no relation. Meredith, daughter of my dear friend Debbie, was born July 4, 1995 at 25.5 weeks; her identical twin fell victim to twin to twin transfusion. Meredith lives 1000 miles away, but for nearly 15 years, our families celebrated Thanksgiving together. I'm so very grateful to have this grown-up miracle in my life.
My beloved Meredith,
Who could have ever guessed that a baby who weighed less than two pounds could make such a big impression on my life? You slipped into this world three months before you were due, right by yourself (your identical twin went straight to heaven, bypassing Earth altogether). Immediately, though, you found yourself surrounded by love—family, friends, medical staff—and found within your tiny little self, the spirit of a champion. I am so very thankful for you, sweet girl, and I thought it was time I tried to tell you how grateful I am for the gift of YOU.
Thank you baby Meredith, for surviving your shaky beginning. Somewhere in your amazing self, you found the will to thrive. So, after four months in NICU and I-can’t-even-remember-how-many days on the ventilator, you went home. It was only a few weeks later that I got to hold you for the first time. Thank you, tiny one, for smiling at me so readily. I can still recall the feeling I had, holding all five pounds of you (a pound for each month of your life), looking into your beautiful brown eyes. You made me feel like I was the only person in the world. Thank you.
Thank you little girl Meredith, for always being delighted to see me. (You’ve always been so easily delighted.) Thanks for crawling up in my lap, for letting me read to you, for playing games and watching movies with me, for letting me push you on the swings. And as hard as leaving always was, thanks for always holding on so tightly to me, asking me not to leave, begging us to stay longer next time. Oh how I loved every precious moment of those fleeting days.
Thank you middle school Meredith, for being so unexpectedly full of spunk. I know it wasn’t easy. I’m so grateful for the grit in your makeup that kept you moving forward. Middle school is just the worst, isn’t it? I’m so grateful that you survived those difficult times. Thanks for liking me when it was hard even to like yourself. It felt so undeserved and it felt like treasure. It still does.
Thanks high school Meredith, for sticking with it. It is just so very hard . . . being. Especially in high school. But you connected and found friends I’m certain you’ll have for life. Thanks for not giving up on my Meredith during high school. I’m eternally, endlessly grateful.
I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am to have you in my life, but I’m even more grateful that you let me be a part of yours. Thanks for emailing, Facebooking, texting, and SnapChatting with me. Thanks for loving me from far away and for still wanting me to be with you. I’m so very grateful.
You will have nieces and nephews of your own before you can truly know how gratified my heart is that you are a part of my life. So thank you dear girl. Thank you for being Meredith.
I loved you before you were born.
A couple of years ago, I started a Thank You note series. The (lofty and unrealistic for me) goal was that I would write one a week for 50 weeks. Alas, the last one I published in the series came out in September of 2016. I never really quit the series; just got busy writing other things. I'm reviving it for this post--the story of someone whose name topped the list when I started this project.
Have you ever heard the one about how I met my wife? I mean, our union was in no way official because (1) it was illegal back then and (2) we are both happily married to our husbands. But still, she’s the only wife I’ve ever had. This is our story.
It was the first week of November 1998, the end of a very long six months. Jay had started working in Asheville, NC in early May that year; I stayed back in Sanford, NC with our three kids: ages 3 months, 2 years, and not-quite-4 years. The plan was that our Sanford house would sell quickly and we would find an affordable home in Asheville within a month or so. Yep, that was the plan. In reality, it took approximately forever to sell the house; by October, we gave up and rented it so we could close on our house in Asheville.
My memory places our first meeting simultaneous with the moving van’s exit. “I’m Joanna! I live across the street,” she said when I answered the door. “I was so excited when I saw you unloading toys; I think our kids are about the same age!” She was right. As it turns out, her oldest, a girl, is a month younger than my oldest daughter; her son is a month younger than mine.
She was a stay-at-home mom, working part-time, despite having advanced degrees that qualified her for a professional career; same here. There were other similarities—crazy coincidences we learned as we got to know each other. For example, she knew and loved sign language; I’d been raised around deaf children and had communicated with them fluently back in the day. I’d been gleefully addicted to Diet Mountain Dew since its inception; Joanna too. Like me, Joanna graduated from her high school in 1983.
“So where did you go to high school?” I asked her.
“A tiny little private school in Wilmington, NC,” she said. “You wouldn’t have heard of it.”
“It wasn’t Cape Fear Academy was it?” It was the only school I knew of that fit the description.
“Um, YES! How did you guess?”
“Oh my gosh you are kidding! Jay moved to Wilmington in the 11th grade and actually graduated from Cape Fear Academy in 1981!”
Our families shared Super Bowl Sundays, birthday parties, trick-or-treating, Easter Egg Hunts, and always snow days. Oh man, snow days were the best. I recall those days in full color, punctuated with squeals and laughter and sweetened by the smell of fresh baked cookies and steaming hot chocolate. The four big kids--Margaret always thought of “Nana” as her personal playmate—raced out to our backyard hill, streaking down then trudging up to do it all over again and again until they were soaking wet or completely exhausted or both.
Our friendship formed over Power Rangers™ and Powerpuff Girls™, Legos™ and Polly Pockets™, PTO meetings and summer vacation. We talked about parenting and marriage, friendship and family, and where to find the best prices on dinosaur egg instant oatmeal. When it was time for our girls to go to kindergarten, we were delighted that they were in the same class. Two years later, our sons started school—together in that very same room.
“It’s like having a wife!” we often said, appreciating the convenience of having someone to pick up a gallon of milk or drop off library books, watch the kids for just a minute or pick them up from school. But Joanna was much more than a partner in the monotony. When three-year-old Margaret, diagnosed with both the flu and pneumonia, was so terrifyingly ill that I could barely see beyond her rising temperature, Joanna was there. When little grade school Baker experienced yet another classmate making fun of his impeded speech, Joanna’s rage matched my own. When Jay and I rushed 8-year-old Trellace to the emergency room late one night, and during all the days after when she was hospitalized for peritonitis following her appendectomy, Joanna seamlessly filled in the gaps.
For a little more than five years, Joanna and her family lived across the street from us. I have to keep recounting that number because I just can’t believe it was only five years. (Of course, that’s just chronological time; it has never been all that reliable in tracking memories.)
So, here’s to Joanna, my across-the-street wife and one of God’s most extravagant gifts to me. I will forever be grateful for this extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime friendship that has made me a better me.
The first one I remember was Fred Mallory. He was the Minister of Music when my dad was pastor of Benson Baptist. Next came Bill Caudle—the Inimitable Bill Caudle! My dad and Bill Caudle were such a great match during the short time they served together at Five Points Missionary Baptist in Wilson. (The Mitchell and Caudle offspring made some real 70’s childhood magic, too!) There were several after Mr. Caudle whose names have left me; there have been quite a few more since I graduated from college and moved away.
Stan Pylant (now Dr. Stan Pylant) was at First Baptist Oklahoma City when we were there from 1988-1992. Stan was the first music minister I had who was my peer; he and Kirsten married while we were members there. Back then, the choir loft at FBC OKC was just below the eaves (the church has since been renovated); it’s a wonder the choir didn’t experience altitude sickness. Yet if Stan ever had a fear of heights, I never knew it. It certainly didn’t affect his enthusiasm for sacred music, I know that.
When we joined First Baptist Sanford, NC, David Early (d. July 3, 2013), had already been there the better part of two decades. What a presence! When I recall Rev. Early, I recall laughter. He retired a couple of years after we joined the church; we moved a couple of years after that. It’s telling of his ministry though, that although my time with him was brief, 20 years after his retirement, I can still remember his name, his smile, his joy.
When we joined First Baptist of Asheville, we came to know Clark and Karen Sorrells, Minister and Assistant Minister of Music. My kids hardly remember any other music ministers as they were 5, 7, & 9 back in 2004 when we arrived at FBCA. The Sorrells’ leadership in the spiritual formation of my children is incalculable. The standard Clark and Karen set for sacrificial excellence informed their choices far beyond the walls of the church building. Over the years, all three of my children have sung in choirs, performed in musicals, played instruments in ensembles, and journeyed across the country (and beyond) on choir tours led by the Sorrells. My kids went to countless rehearsals learning that every individual matters, every single time even as they learned that no one person can ever accomplish alone what an entire musical group can do together. Clark and Karen have given more to my children than their professional positions would require of them; but, to my knowledge, they’ve never counted the costs. As a result, I cannot measure the return on their investment in my children’s lives. It runs both deep and wide and I am truly grateful.
Though the rest of the family still belongs to FBCA, I’ve moved up the road to First Baptist of Weaverville where each week I am blessed by the gifts of our Director of Music, Jane McCoy. During the school year, she leads our children’s choir: a widely varied group of kids who range from church-born-and-raised to “Church? What’s that?” She transforms this squirmy crew into musicians as I listen from my office down the hall, amazed and humbled by her giftedness and dedication. Later that night, she holds adult choir rehearsal, preparing to add depth and meaning to Sunday’s service. Jane adds such rich variety and holy purpose to our worship that our church, while not the biggest in the area, offers some of the best music to be found. Weekly, I am blessed. Daily, I am thankful.
Of course, there are other church musicians who have blessed my life. People like Allegra Poole, Robert Bresch, Eric Wall, Anna Anderson, Dotty Bowman, Terry Childers, Heather Anderson, David Foster, and more. So many more who have ministered to me through their musical leadership and talents.
So to all of you, thank you. Thank you for giving yourself to church music and thereby to me. You have helped form some of my favorite parts of me. Indeed, I worship as I do, I know God as I do, in great part because of each one of you. Thank you. I have been blessed by your ministry and I am—literally—eternally grateful.
The 50 Thank You Notes project started as a continued celebration of my 50th birthday on 7-22-2015. It's taken a little longer than the year I allotted, so I'm extending my self-induced deadline. We'll just see where this goes, shall we?
When I was in college, I studied in the library in the stacks. If you know me well at all, this may be surprising to you; I am a true extrovert in that I gain energy from people. I write best in coffee shops or other public venues, I like to work out with a partner or in a class, I love being on stage in front of a crowd—the bigger the better. But being in a library, surrounded by books stacked floor to ceiling—well now that’s sanctuary right there.
I couldn’t tell you about my first trip to the library; I’ve been going to libraries since birth I guess, maybe even before that. I can picture clearly the library in my first elementary school and my second. I can visualize the public libraries in almost every town where I’ve lived. Not only that, I can basically draw a map of where the books were in each one. (This is especially impressive, considering the fact that I—not even kidding here—once got lost in Buies Creek, NC.)
Back in my Dr. Seuss days, I envied Rosy and her Red Rhinoceros (I mean, who wouldn’t want one of those?) and sympathized with dear, dear Horton. I wanted desperately to have a party at the top of a tree like the dogs in Go, Dog, Go; but I felt pretty strongly that Sam should have dropped the whole green eggs and ham thing. I never could understand his determination. The dude doesn’t want them; let it go, move on. It’s a wonder Sam didn’t faced harassment charges . . .
But I digress.
When I discovered Johnny Gruelle’s Raggedy Ann and Andy stories, I began a lifelong love of the stories and the dolls, which seemed so real to me after having read about their adventures. Down the shelf a bit, I came upon books by the Swedish author Maj Lindman. She wrote about triplet boys in Snip, Snap, and Snur, and about triplet girls in Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka. (Upon looking back, I see this was not the most believable of scenarios, but then I was reading Raggedy Ann and the Camel with the Wrinkly Knees; so apparently those weren’t my most discerning years.) On the shelf above the Gruelle books, I found L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz series. Having watched the movie all my life, I delighted in what I called the real stories.
By the third grade, I had fallen in love with the Boxcar Children books by Gertrude Chandler Warner; Violet was my favorite and only partly because her name was the same as my favorite color. I went on the Alden children’s adventures right along with them, rooting for them as they solved mysteries and overcame life’s trials. When I finished one book, I would go to the school library in hopes that someone had returned a Boxcar Mystery I hadn’t read. My heart still quickens remembering seeing an available title among the bright colored spines. I’d take it off the shelf, flip to the back and pull out the library card, checking to see who had already read it. Then, after I’d signed the card myself and gotten the return date stamped on the chart inside the back cover, I’d slip it into my book sack, anticipating an afternoon with Violet, Jessie, Henry, and Benny. Such bliss!
I still love fiction and enjoy a good story as much as anyone, but now I read mostly nonfiction, often of the memoir variety. This isn’t a new habit though. I started reading biographies when I ran out of challenging fiction in the school’s collection. By the time I was 10, I could have given you a pretty good overview of the lives of my favorites: Clara Barton, George Washington Carver, Florence Nightingale, Harriet Tubman, or Booker T. Washington. Abraham Lincoln, though, was my hands-down top pick. Back then, I knew the details of his life as well as I knew my multiplication tables.
In every library, there are librarians, stockers, administrative assistants, and cleaning crews . . . at least. This thank you note is for all of you.
For all you have done for me by providing me a magical getaway right in my home town, and for all you’ve done for the world by creating a place to expand the mind and experience, thank you. Thank you for helping me find what I wanted and for putting it back on the shelf when I was done. Thanks for keeping the library clean and organized and for your proactive work to keep the holdings current and relevant. Thanks for staying late and opening early. Thanks for learning a new system of filing and then another one. Thanks for preserving data on film reels and microfiche, in databases and on thumb drives. All that work you do—it makes my life infinitely better. Because of you, the library is my happy place. So thank you—for the countless hours of joy you’ve given me. May it return to you a hundred fold!
I've already written a number of posts about Cameron (some of the most popular on my site actually), but I'm not sure I've ever really let him know how much I appreciate who he is as an individual. Thank you #17*: to Cameron Brown.
Happy Birthday! Can you believe you are 19? And how very cool that Finding Dory came out on your birthday! Pixar & Disney must know what a big movie fan you are. Well, they'd have to; so many of their movies seem to point straight to you!
You're basically Woody, Buzz, Mike, Sully, Merida, Dug, and Dory wrapped into one Cameron. Maybe we should start to call you Wuzikely Merdugry?
Wait! I thought of something better!
Happy Birthday Mr. Incredible! Thanks for being awesome!
In an extended celebration of my 50th birthday on 7-22-2015, I’m writing 50 thank you notes. (Originally I said in 50 weeks. Now I'll just say, over the course of time . . . .) This one is #17. Please click on the tag "50 Thank You Notes" if you would like to read the others.
I started dating my husband in 1985 when I was just 19 years old. I met my future mother-in-law that same year. Her son and I have been married nearly three decades and on April 11, 2016 she celebrated her 80th birthday, a birthday doctors never dreamed she would see. Since the 1960's, she has fought a muscle disease that has transitioned through a number of diagnoses: dermatomyositis, polymyositis, and now muscular dystrophy. Whatever the doctors say, we say she's a miracle. Today's thank you note is to my one and only mother-in-law, Joyce Lawrimore.
A Most Excellent Mother-In-Law
(loosely based on Proverbs 31)
An excellent mother-in-law who can find?
She is far more precious than a screened in porch on a warm summer day.
The heart of her daughter-in-law trusts her, confides in her, and heeds her wisdom.
She supports her daughter-in-law’s vocation, and avocation.
She believes in her daughter-in-law, encourages her, and inspires her.
She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She does not take sides in conflict, but offers support to those whom she loves.
She knows how to apologize. She does not interfere.
(A rare and valuable example she is among mothers-in-law.)
She suffers medical maladies, but does not complain.
She has searched for a cure, found new treatments, and defied the odds.
She is persistent. She is strong. She is resilient.
Her family takes great pride in her.
Her potato salad is the best in the South.
No other mayo but Duke’s is allowed in her cupboard.
Her pecans are roasted to perfection.
Her fresh tomatoes are served free from their peeling.
She adores her grandchildren, but is not biased.
Her grandchildren are the most beautiful, talented, and wonderful children ever born.
She speaks the truth.
She rises while it is yet night, but refrains from judging her late-to-rise daughter-in-law.
She laughs easily, and sees the humor in painted squirrels running through the park.
Toys sing and dance in her living room.
At God’s direction, she donates her electric organ or takes her family to Disney World.
She opens her hand to the poor; and reaches out her hands to the needy.
Strength and dignity are her clothing. (But multiple blankets keep her warm.)
She laughs at the time to come when she will run up heavenly stairs and feast on divine delights.
Her children and her grandchildren rise up and call her blessed;
her daughter-in-law also, praising God for the blessing of a godly mother-in-law.
“Many Mothers-in-Law have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a Mother-in-Law who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Happy Birthday Joyce! I love you and am so grateful for you!
In my life as student and as parent, I’ve been blessed to know a number of outstanding public school principals. Among this elite group, is Oakley Elementary School’s former principal Linda Allison. What I loved most about Linda Allison was that she never put process ahead of pupil. Her compassion for students was matched only by her commitment to their success. Seriously, Ms. Allison should train new principals. She is that good.
When I learned that she was retiring (after I dried my tears), I wrote a story in her honor and later read it at her final faculty meeting. That was about 9-10 years ago. This year, my oldest will graduate from college and my youngest from high school. Their brother is finishing his sophomore year of college. But despite the passage of years, I remain so grateful to Ms. Allison for her leadership, dedication, and just her natural intuition as an educator.
So for this thank you note, I offer the story I wrote for Ms. Allison—the Little Red Hen of Oakley Elementary School. Thank you Linda Allison for setting the bar so high. I count you as one of the great blessings of my life. And so do my little chicks.
Once upon a time there was a little red hen who lived on a teaching farm that existed solely to train young farmers. The chickens on the farm, all one big family, got together and chose the little red hen as the principal of the farm. The little red hen was honored. She found great joy in sharing her life and work with her many brothers and sisters. Together they kept the farm running smoothly.
Unfortunately, the little red hen also had to work with three other animals who thought they owned the whole farm: a turtle named Wright Procedure who moved very slowly; a parrot named Polly Tisshun, who maintained a spotless image, talked a lot, but did very little, and an elephant named Feddy Govment who thought he knew everything, even though he didn’t even live on the same farm as the little red hen.
One day, the little red hen came upon a child and his parents.
“We want our child to have the best education, the best learning environment, and the best playmates the world can offer,” the parents instructed as they hugged the child and got back in their car, “We can’t stand around talking about it though, we have jobs, you know!” The parents drove away, leaving the child with the little red hen.
“Oh my, aren’t you a fine young fellow!” clucked the little red hen as she pulled the tyke under her wing. “Welcome to our farm!”
About that time a few of her brothers and sisters came down the path and she introduced them to the child. “Let’s get busy and teach this child how to feed the animals!” She smiled at the spark in the child’s eyes and in the eyes of the teachers.
But before the other chickens could even respond, Wright Procedure, the turtle who moved very slowly, poked his head out of his shell and said, “Stop everything! Don’t do anything until we get these forms filled out. We’ll need permission from the parents and clearance from the pediatrician. Plus, we’ll need a waiver signed by each of the animals the child will be feeding. Also. . .”
While Wright the turtle droned on, several of the little red hen’s sisters took the child down to the barn and started the lessons. The little red hen, back in the farm office, filled out the necessary paperwork. She called the pediatrician who put her on hold: “Important, urgent issues demand the doctor’s attention!” Once the little red hen had completed the child’s file she went to check on the child’s progress.
“WOW!” she said to her siblings “You have done a great job teaching the child how to feed the animals. I believe we can promote the child to animal grooming.”
“Well, I certainly agree,” cooed Polly Tisshun, the talkative parrot with the spotless image. She smiled to the camera operator who had come along with her. Wouldn’t you agree, Little Red Hen that my program Accelerated Feeders has, well, haha, accelerated this child’s progress?” The camera clicked more pictures as Polly fluttered over and perched herself on the child’s shoulder.
“Well, Polly, I’d be happy to talk to you about that,” said the little red hen, as she motioned Polly off of the child and toward her office. The other chickens stepped in and hurried the child onto the next lesson.
But before the little red hen could leave with Polly, Feddy Govment the elephant who thought he knew everything, lumbered down to the barn. “Has the child mastered animal bathing yet?” he asked, his ears flopping.
“Well, no,” said the little red hen, about to explain that the other chickens were just beginning that phase of the training.
“What’s wrong with those teachers?” Feddy stomped his feet upsetting the animals and causing the teachers to cease training long enough to settle the animals. The child observed, learning, in the process, how to calm animals in the event of a disturbance.
“And anyway,” Feddy shouted, “Look at that kid! He’s not DOING anything! And the teachers are just running around like chick. . .well, like chickens do sometimes.” Feddy looked around, waving his trunk from side to side and looking everywhere except at the little red hen.
The little red hen started to explain. “The child has made remarkable prog. . .”
“Then give him the Animal Grooming Test!” thundered Feddy.
“I have one right here,” said Wright Procedure, the turtle who though he moved very slowly, always managed to find his way into the middle of any activity.
The child did not pass the test and so he had to take the actual course material. The teachers received official reprimands for their negligence and the farm was placed on probation until the child passed the test.
In the midst of the crisis, the little red hen was called away to meet with Wright Procedure the turtle, Polly Tisshun the Parrot, and Feddy Govment the elephant. A committee was formed to study effective teaching of animal grooming and the three friends recommended strategies for school reform that might, in time, bring the farm up to par. Their first recommendation: they would visit the barn immediately following the meeting. As the meeting ended, the little red hen’s cell phone rang.
“The child’s parents are here,” said the chicken on the line. We need you back here at once.”
The little red hen arrived at the barn before Wright, Polly, and Feddy did. (They had, as it turns out, been left behind.) The parents appeared worried, tired, and confused. They had seen the news and gotten the test results for the school.
“Welcome,” The little red hen said to the mom and dad, genuinely happy they'd come. She listened to their concerns, made notes for herself, and responded to their comments. They left, after a quick tour of the barn, saying they felt much better.
Time passed and in what seemed like a moment, the child had completed the requirements for Elementary Barn and it was time for him to move on. The little red hen, gathered friends and family and asked, “Who will help me celebrate this child?”
“I will!” said Wright Procedure, sticking his head out of his shell. He began designing a flow chart so that he could celebrate properly.
“I will!” said Polly Tisshun, wearing her red plume that she saved just for such occasions. “My camera crew is all set up to capture the moment.”
“I will!” said Feddy as he galumphed through the door and tried to take over the room.
“OH NO YOU WILL NOT!” Said the little red hen fluffing herself up to her full height and glaring at Wright, Polly, and Feddy. The little red hen extended her wing and gestured at the teachers who stood between the child and the three intruders.
"We will celebrate this child. We prepared this child. We taught this child We love this child. My brothers and sisters and I will celebrate this child.”
And they did. While Wright Procedure, Polly Tisshun, and Feddy Government looked on, completely befuddled.
In a continued celebration of my 50th birthday on 7-22-2015, I’m writing 50 thank you notes in 50 weeks. This one to Ms. Linda Allison is #15. Please click on the tag "50 Thank You Notes" to read the others.
That night 18 years or so ago, I had just about reached the end of my proverbial rope.
Our children were nearly 4, 2, and 3 months when my husband got a job in a town 4 hours away. He began working there during the week and coming home on the weekends; the kids and I stayed local, trying to sell our house so we could all move to our new city together. Weekdays, I was basically a single parent with three children under four, a part time job, and house that needed to be tidy and ready to show potential buyers at a moment’s notice.
That was hard enough but the 2-year-old, Baker, was chronically sick. He'd been diagnosed with asthma when he was 15 months old and often had week-long bouts of wheezing during which he had multiple breathing treatments every day. Many times, I would be nursing my infant (Margaret), with Baker cuddled up right beside me, holding the nebulizer mask to his face.
One of the most difficult issues I faced with my asthmatic son was that he didn't like to take oral medication. And when I say he didn’t like it, I don’t mean he was mildly disinclined. I mean he would run screaming and crying through the house as if I’d just threatened to remove his tongue. No kidding: there was no oral medication he would abide. Those bubblegum flavored pain relievers that kids beg to take because they are so sweet? No deal. Delsym? The delicious cough syrup that tastes like a gourmet orange sauce you'd add to a fancy desert? He spat it out like poison.
So that night, Baker was in the midst of an asthma crisis for which the pediatrician (who we’d seen earlier that day) prescribed oral steroids. At the time—I hear it’s better now—liquid prednisone tasted about how I suspect motor oil would taste if you added a touch of raspberry flavoring. Getting prednisone in that child required the kind of good cop/bad cop pairing that police officers might use to soften the most unrepentant offenders.
Already (yuck alert!) my boy had been throwing up mucus, massive amounts too. It was vile. I explained to Baker that either he had to take the medicine or we’d have to go to the hospital. (I wasn’t exaggerating.) Much to my surprise and relief, he summoned the intestinal fortitude and swallowed the dose.
Victory! A fleeting one.
A few minutes later, while I carried baby Margaret in her sling as I held Baker, perched on my hip, my boy lost the dose, throwing up at least as much as he had earlier, only this time it was tinged an undeniable raspberry color. He’d aimed for the floor, and mostly made it, except for the 1/4 cup or so that landed in my hair and down my back.
Naturally, his wheezing spiked immediately, as did Margaret’s discomfort and therefore her screaming.
Before I even realized it, Trellace, always the helpful child, went to get something to help clean up the mess. Oh look! There’s a refill jug of soft soap! Let’s use that! You guessed it: while trying to get some soap on a cloth to clean up the mess, my four-year-old spilled the ENTIRE jug of soft soap.
(Pause. Have you ever tried to clean up soap? What do you use? Soap is out. And you can’t use water ‘cause that just makes it worse. A trowel maybe? I’m asking, you see, because I don’t know the answer.)
Somehow, in the midst of that disaster of an evening, I found myself on the phone asking for help. I don’t remember now if the phone rang in a Holy Spirit kind of way or if—perhaps even more miraculously—I found the strength to reach out. I couldn’t tell you.
I just know this. When I asked Becky Garrett for help, she came. I think maybe her teen-aged daughter was with her; I’m not sure. But when she left, my hair and my clothes were vomit free, Trellace was in her pj’s, Baker’s breathing sounded less like whistling (thanks to a successful second attempt with the medication), and Margaret was content. Not a trace of soap remained on my floor, my dishes were clean, and my laundry was folded. The cacophony had quieted; harmony was restored.
That’s Becky. She’s the kind of person who brings peace with her. I think chaos just shuts down when she appears. I don’t know how she does it. No idea. But I know that when I was holding on—barely—to the frayed ends of my rope, Becky arrived, gently took the rope from my hands, and gave me a net instead. She looked just like Jesus.
In a continued celebration of my 50th birthday on 7-22-2015, I’m writing 50 thank you notes in 50 weeks. This is number 14. Click on the tag "50 Thank You Notes" to read the others.
I shop at Trader Joe's for a zillion good reasons: fair prices, great selection of quality foods and hard-to-find items, efficient organization, and cheerful and knowledgeable staff. All that, and their greeting cards are the best I’ve found.
The incident I describe below, though, surpasses all those reasons and gets to a level of humanity that is often lost in today’s commercialism. So this thank you,* number 13, goes out to Trader Joe's: in a field of massive conglomer-marts, you are the real deal.
I was checking out at Trader Joes, when a young man appeared, took my empty grocery bags from the counter beside the cash register, and began bagging my groceries. He didn’t make eye contact, but I knew he’d meant the question for me.
“I absolutely want to hear a fun math fact,” I told him. He quickly glanced up at me then back down at his work.
“Have you ever heard of the Birthday Paradox?”
It sounded familiar, but I couldn’t remember what it was, so I said that I had not.
“Let’s say you had 23 people in a room. There’s a 50% chance that two people in that room will have the same birthday.”
I found that hard to believe. He went on to explain it though, and in the moment it made complete sense to me. (I confess I didn’t retain the knowledge, but that’s on me, not my impromptu teacher.) Turns out the Birthday Paradox is a complex and well known statistics phenomenon that apparently has a number of applications. He explained it to me in the time it took him to bag less than $50 worth of groceries.
“That’s so interesting!” I told him.
“I know.” He responded without surprise and headed towards the next customer who could become his student.
Now, as amazing as this interaction was, it was what happened next that was most noteworthy. While all this was going on, the cashier--a taller than average, clean-cut young man in his twenties I’d guess—went about his own work. He’d finished ringing up my groceries, but waited to give me the total until the Birthday Paradox lesson ended.
I looked up at him, expecting one of two reactions: either an eye roll of irritation, or a patronizing gesture of feigned tolerance. Actually, I didn’t know that’s what I expected until I got something else entirely.
“That guy is a genius,” he said, with not a flicker of pity. “I learn something from him every day.”
Now just let that settle in a moment. The cashier is a handsome, competent, socially adept guy who probably has a lifetime seat at the cool kids table. The bagger has none of that intrinsic privilege and is, I’m just positive, on the autistim spectrum. Yet the cashier used his position to elevate the bagger, and effectively squelched any possibility of judgement or discrimination. Extraordinary.
*In a continued celebration of my 50th birthday on 7-22-2015, I'm writing 50 thank you notes in 50 weeks.
It was, no question, one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me.
We had met years previously at a community center program when our kids were little. I think it was called Tiny Tots? Maybe Toddler Time? I’m not sure.
Anyway, we had a lot in common. Her two kids were the same ages as my older two; we were both stay-at-home moms; and we had a similar sense of humor. I was always glad to see her at Tiny Toddlers where we would exchange stories of runny noses, sibling squabbles, and pet escapades. Soon, our kids went to each other’s birthday parties and enjoyed playdates outside of the monthly Tot Time at the community center.
Surely before we ever had our extracurricular get-togethers, she knew the truth about my . . . well . . . my tendency to underestimate the amount of time it takes me to . . . um . . . get places. I can’t prove it, but I’m sure there were times I wasn’t exactly punctual to Time for Tots; so she had to know that I had this shortcoming.
By the time of the one-of-the-nicest-things-anyone-has-ever-said-to-me comment, our kids were in elementary school, so we’d known each other five or more years. That day, we were supposed to meet at a lake; Lake James, I think.
Oh wait. There’s something else. See one of the many reasons I underestimate the time it takes me to get to my destination, is that I so often get lost. You see, I was born without a sense of direction. It’s a serious disability. No kidding, I even got lost in Buies Creek, NC when I was a student at Campbell University. Now, if you are unfamiliar with Campbell, just know that Buies Creek is every bit as small as it sounds.
Okay, so I had looked at the map—luckily, I can read a map—and I thought I knew where I was going. No, I did. I did know how to get there. The problem was (I so hate to admit this) I . . . um . . . how should I put this? Ok fine, I’ll just blurt it out: I managed to get on the interstate going in the opposite direction and didn’t realize this for a good 15 miles. No, of course I didn’t notice the exit numbers were going down instead of up. I had three children and probably a beagle in my van so I missed that little detail. Whatever.
I did have a cell phone with me—a flip phone with an antenna as I recall—but back then it was so expensive to make calls, I rarely used it. OKAY fine! I’d probably already used up all my free minutes for the month. Sheesh. The point is, I didn’t call my friend until I knew I was going in the right direction and I had a good idea of when I might get there.
By the time I called, I was in a frenzy, on the verge of tears, furious at myself for doing this, again.
“Hi Tamara,” I said when she picked up. “I’m so sorry I’m late. [Insert the long explanation of my untimeliness from above.]”
And that’s when she said it.
“Aileen, I learned a long time ago that you run late. I decided that I value our friendship enough that I wouldn’t let that one little thing get to me. So relax. It’s okay. I’ll be glad to see you when you get here. We’re fine.”
Ahhhhh. Go ahead: take a sip of that tall drink of mercy. Sweet, isn’t it? Refreshing. Life-giving even.
Surely I thanked her then; but at the time, I didn’t know how that moment of grace and forgiveness would inform future relationships in my life. It turns out that since grace was given so abundantly to me, I, in return, am more gracious with others. Grace works that way.
So this thank you note is for you Tamara. Thank you for a comment you probably don’t remember, one you made a decade ago, that continues to bless me to this very day. I will forever appreciate your generous gift of grace. And I promise I will continue to pay it forward!