Monday, June 29, 2015

This Moment Brought to You by Shelby Offrink

Photography by Kerry Lake
Do you see the little boy wearing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sweatshirt?  That's 4-year old Jack.  Underneath that sweatshirt is a beautiful button up shirt in muted shades of gray, green, yellow and blue- a shirt carefully chosen by me to coordinate with the rest of our outfits for family picture day.  That morning, Jack wriggled and writhed around our bed as we attempted to get him in that shirt.  As a compromise I told him we could go to his closet and pick out a different dress shirt.  It wouldn't be as perfect, but I could let that go.  When presented with two options for alternative dress shirts, he wanted nothing to do with either of them.  Instead, he reached into his closet and pulled that sweatshirt off of the hook and said "I want this.  I want my turtle sweatshirt."  When faced with this dilemma, every parent has to sigh a deep sigh and ask "Is the juice worth the squeeze?"  But for me, the answer was pretty simple.  For over a year now, the answer has been so very simple.  "Ok baby," I said. "You can be a turtle for our family pictures."  And later, when he wanted to hold his Avenger's sticker book in every shot, he found no protest with me.  Because, dear friends, when given the choice to have a smiling turtle in your photos or a crying gentleman, you pick the turtle.  You choose to let your child's heart sing for a little while.  I want a family photo that freezes us in this moment in our lives, this amazing period of joy and frustration.  Our house is on the market, we've had unexpected car repairs and illnesses to address, and our children are little balls of chaos and unfettered energy.  Life is very complicated, but it's also a tremendous gift.  Life is a tremendous gift.  And that's why the moment you see captured in that photo, and so many more have been brought to you by Shelby Offrink.

I met Shelby in the offices of our HR department at work.  She had come in to talk to someone and somehow we struck up a conversation about farming, organic vegetables and food labels- because clearly that's what happens in HR offices in case you didn't know; we like to solve all the world's problems in this line of work.  Shelby was brilliant and I love being around brilliant people who can teach me things.  I was leading a training program called SEEK- Stryker Employees Exchanging Knowledge that sponsored all sorts of guest speakers to come in and do "lunch and learn" style classes on a variety of different topics.  I asked Shelby if she'd like to do a course on food labeling and what it all meant.  Shelby put together a class called "Organic and Grass Fed and Cage Free, Oh My!" that was filled with her perfectly sarcastic sense of humor.  She opened up her presentation by saying "There is a lot of label generated confusion when you walk into the grocery store. Today I am going to probably confuse you a little more (pause)  (laughter).  But the goal is that by the end, you are a little more educated about what this stuff means to us and to our environment."

Shelby and I stayed in touch over the years, making plans to get lunch together when we could.  She was the only person who would go eat sushi with me at lunch.  Funny side note- she always gave me the tomatoes off of her salad because her amazing palette couldn't handle a non-organic, store bought tomato.  The girl truly walked the walk in all that she was passionate about.  I saw her briefly after she moved back to Michigan shortly after the birth of her second daughter.  We had a sushi date on the calendar that was canceled after she got a diagnosis that the back pain that she had attributed to sciatica was actually an incredibly rare and incurable form of cancer -  stage 3 glioblastoma of the spine.  Shelby fought with every fiber of her being.  The cancer spread to her brain and still she fought.  Her husband Ben's Hodgkin's Lymphoma which had been in remission came back and they fought together.

I watched Shelby's story unfold over the past year and a half.  I would read updates about her setbacks, her little victories, and her indomitable spirit.  I considered the little things that caused me frustration throughout my day- messy kids, cars that broke down, deadlines, bills to pay, and the litany of inconsequential distractions we all slog through over the course of a week or month or year.  I began to think about how desperately Shelby and Ben would love a child's ear infection to be the worst part of their day.  How they would long to only worry about paying for a minor car repair.  I thought of those things and I got nervous.  I got nervous that I was wasting precious time with my babies and husband worrying about trivial nonsense.  I was losing my children, not literally, but it was growing harder and harder to see them  through the noise and the fighting and battles of will.  So I bought a ring.

A fundraiser for Shelby came out in the early months of her fight.  Beautiful beaded rings whose colors were selected by her and made by an artist who donates portions of her proceeds to fund cancer research.  When the ring came in the mail I wore it every day.  The sight of it reminded me to take in a deep breath of the life-giving air that surrounded me and to feel grateful.  I wasn't always perfect at it, but I have paused in gratitude more in the past year and a half than I ever have in my entire life.

Jack and I, both wearing our Superhero rings
Shelby passed away last night, and now her positive, beautiful energy is scattered everywhere.  It certainly lives in me.  The family photo at the top of this blog post was taken yesterday morning, Shelby's last morning on earth, in the form that we all knew and loved her.  The smile on the face of my son belongs to Shelby Offrink, Ben Offrink and their daughters Maeve and Hazel.  Their story, their bravery, and their love were the only things that made me pause that beautiful Sunday morning, look my son right in his pleading brown eyes and say, "Ok, baby.  You can be a turtle for our family pictures."  I will forever look at his face in this photo, his joyful, jubilant (and yes, victorious) face and say a silent prayer to my friend Shelby thanking her for that smile.  

I asked our wonderful photographer Kerry to capture us as we are at this time in our lives; who we are in this moment.  I know now that what she captured was the legacy of Shelby Offrink in my life.  What I hope to share with anyone reading this is to carry on Shelby's legacy in every moment you pause to reflect about how grateful you are for this life; this messy, complicated, beautiful life.  In those moments when you let your 4 year olds leave the house looking like turtles or princesses or wizards because it makes their hearts sing, do that for Shelby and dedicate the ensuing smiles and laughs to her spirit.

Our family photo captured us in this moment and in this moment we have nothing but gratitude.

If you are able, please consider a donation to a trust that has been set up in Ben and Shelby's daughters' names-

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Mile 2

Two days after turning two,
we stood with cowbells clanging
at Mile 13 of the half marathon, 
waiting for Aunt Rosie and Haji to stride into view.

The sun came out in all her glory,
streaking gold and red through your hair,
as you clung to Momo's shoulder
while the racers passed you by.

Everyone you saw today
had two voices in their heads.
One voice said stop
and one voice said go.

At Mile 13 of a half marathon,
the go voices were louder.
The go voices were stronger.
The go voices have won.

And there in the crowd,
in an electric green shirt,
Aunt Rosie appeared, 
with her friend by her side.

Later that morning, she would recall,
how the course was tough,
how she told him to go on without her,
how he stayed by her side.

Sweet Will, you are two miles into
a very long race.
In the marathon called life,
the stop and go voices will never go away.

In celebration of Mile Marker 2,
I wish for the go voice to win and the race to be long.
For the courage to keep going
when the stop voice gets louder.

When the finish line approaches
and you reflect on every mile,
may the people you told to press on
hold your hand to the end.

Sweet Will, this race is tough,
but look over there behind the orange plastic gate!
There we are, with cowbells in hand,
clanging the stop right out of your head.

Press on, sweet baby, there are miles ahead.
You have air in your lungs and sun in your hair,
and a dance in your step that will carry you far.
May this always be so...may you always say go.

Will, Aunt Rosie, and  Haji at the finish line, May 3rd, 2015

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Times Before

This one's for Kat. 

Hi Boys~

I don't often use this blog to write to you directly, but this week has been a tough one for your mom and I thought I'd send your future selves this letter so that when the time comes...if the time comes that you need to read it, it's here.

Last week, in the wee small hours of Saturday February 7, I wrote a blog entry about the death of my friend Adam.  And then I published it on Facebook and in three days, almost 6,500 people had read it.  It was a mixture of grief for the loss of Adam and grief for what Adam's passing meant for me that kept me awake tapping out words onto this computer while your dad snored slept next to me.  And there's a comfort in knowing that my thoughts and feelings about him are shared by so many people.

Boys, the reason I'm writing you this letter is that I realized something this week and it's a lesson that I want to pass along to you...

Sometimes opening up old wounds helps new ones to heal.

Jack, when you were born, it had been 8 months since I set foot onstage.  I was more than ready to give it up, I was happy to give it up and I packed up every sad feeling about missing theatre and missing my theatre friends and tucked them away deep down inside so I never had to have the slightest twinge of guilt for missing them.  For 5 years now those feelings lay hidden away through your obstinate toddler years, through the birth of Will, through your curious preschool years and now Will's obstinate toddler years.  All tucked away, all unexamined.  Every time I missed theatre or friends, I let that wound scar up.

And then Adam Carter died. 

And the floodgates opened.

And that tiny box of feelings exploded in one gray and dreary Friday afternoon when I read that he was gone.  I sat in our room just crying and crying while your dad put his arm around me.  So that night, I stayed up typing a love letter to Adam in an attempt to help me understand all that he had meant to me.

There's a question that parents get asked from time to time by other parents and it's some variation of this:

"I can't even remember what I did before I had children!  Do you even remember what life was like before them?"

I want to smile, nod and reply, "Yes, actually.  Yes I do remember.  I had one hell of a fun, full and rewarding life.  I had adventures, I performed in plays
, I went to parties, I made bad choices.  I had one hell of a ride.  I can recall every wandering around downtown, late night movie, sleeping in til noon, actually reading books minute.  I remember"

If you're reading this and you're 16, you're probably going to yell at me, "Jesus mom, did you even WANT us?!"  And I'll say, "Yes dumbass and watch your mouth!!" 

Because I did then, I do now, and I forever will want you.  Feeling grateful for the life you have now doesn't mean that you should forget the life you had.  I think it was a mistake for me to do just that.  I forgot about it for too long until the death of a friend snapped me back to consciousness.  It doesn't make me a terrible mother because I had a wonderful life before you came.

So on Saturday morning when I posted my blog, it was after opening up a very old wound.  I had to come to terms with the fact that for 5 years, I have gotten in my own way when it comes to maintaining connections to the people in my past.  Theatre? I was happy to give it up. The commitment to a rehearsal schedule is grueling and it would only allow me to see you boys for an hour or so every night and I love that time we have together.  But friendships?  Oh boys...friendships aren't grueling.  Friendships don't take up hours upon hours every week.  When the theatre went, so did the friendships.  And for that, I am truly sorry.  I think I can be a better mom to you if I keep some bits and pieces of my life before you.  Your lives would certainly be enhanced by the colorful cast of characters that would start filtering through our house again.  I mean look at this picture:

And I'm sending you this letter because someday, I hope, you'll be dads.  If you work outside of the home, your life is going to be divided into several categories- Spouse, Dad, Employee, Self, and Friend.  Your kids will devour so much of your time and if you did it right, you'll be ready to have your time devoured.  Work?  Well my darlings, work will take everything you give it.  Work will never tell you to back off or slow down, so you'll have to know when to raise your hand and say "Enough.  I can't do more."  Your spouses will hopefully feature somewhere prominently in your lives, more before kids, less after.  Find time to do special things just the two of you.  I'll come babysit, I promise.  Whatever little scraps are left will be for time spent with friends and time spent alone.  When your babies are little, you'll want that time alone.  Alone with your thoughts, alone for a nap, alone for video games (if you are anything at all like your dad).  You'll want some time in the day when people aren't begging for your attention.  And that will be important time.  If you've done the math (and you will if you're anything at all like your dad), you'll see that not much time has been reserved for your important role of Friend.

And on the day Adam Carter died, I had to examine what kind of friend I had become.  An old wound opened.  I went back through years of messages exchanged.  So very many talks about coffees never drunk together, books never talked about together, movies never seen together.  We all exchange these pleasantries with friends so many times over the course of a life.  They're the glue that holds us together in between the times we actually see each other.  But you have to actually see each other.  And not "Facebook" see each other (will that even be a thing by the time you read this?? Probably not, so insert "artificial intelligence robotic friendship machine" instead).  I loved seeing Adam, why didn't I see him more?  I think I got in my own way too many times.  I think I need to change some things.

An exchange of messages from the spring of 2013 caught my eye.  I was 7 months pregnant with Will and I had fallen asleep and missed Adam's goodbye party downtown.

Please forgive a tired, pregnant lady for falling asleep at 8 on Friday and missing your farewell party. I would have loved to see you and find a fantastic YouTube video on my phone to share with you for old times' sake. I wish you nothing but every single bit of happiness and success in GR- another sleepy West MI town to take by storm! It's good to know that 131 runs both ways and that I'll see your perfectly coiffed head visiting all the old theatre haunts in town. Until then, keep those cheekbones magnificent, those shoes polished and pointy and lots of confidence in yourself and all that you are capable of! xo
Lots of love! Nancy

Nanc, no need to apologize. I will do all of those things, and you enjoy being the great mom you are! I will be back for the Improv Fest...and you never know when I might just pop up.
Looooooove to you and yours. ~O.F.

Boys, I think I'm finally taking Adam's advice to be the great mom I know I am. I think I can open up that box of memories I buried so long ago and examine them a bit. I can find ways to embrace who I am while remembering who I was, free of regret or sadness. And guess what little loves? Opening up that old wound has helped heal this new one. I have reconnected with friends from my past and we have laughed and shared memories of those sweet, sweet days.
So listen to your old mom boys. Carve out a little bit of time for your friends. Talk about old times and share inside jokes. Adam told me that I'd never know when he might pop up and that was true. I'd find him like a lucky penny around town and it would be the highlight of my day. And if you think there will always be time to get that coffee or go see that movie, I can tell you that I have learned the hard way this week that sometimes time runs out.

If you're wondering what O.F. means, it means "October Friend". Adam and I became friends in October and vowed that no matter what, come October we'd find each other. Adam, I promise that when October blusters into town, I will find you again. I'll find a dappled sunlit piece of pumpkin patch and I know you'll be there.
And boys, you'll be right there with me. Because I love my life now, but it's time to open up the drapes and let a little bit of me back into the room.


Saturday, February 7, 2015

Farewell Peter

February 6, 2015,   

Adam F. Carter, every time I was around you I felt like Wendy must have felt seeing Peter Pan fly into her window. You are youth and life and adventure and when I think of my life in Kalamazoo theatre, you are everywhere. From leaning against the gold spray painted poles of T's Bar to giggling as quietly as possible in the basement of 246 while a donut-binging crowd enjoyed a Late Night, you were everywhere. I feel like someone just told me that Peter Pan died. Because it's not possible. He's second star to the right and straight on til morning. And so are you. To me at least. You'll never grow old, you will never die. I love you Great Pumpkin. I will miss you.

I met Adam Carter 10 years ago after seeing him perform in the show Psycho Beach Party. He was beautiful, legs for miles and cheekbones that Michaelangelo himself couldn't have carved better.  Adam was my Peter Pan.  He was all of Kalamazoo's Peter Pan.  Everyone felt younger, happier, more energetic and more alive when in his presence.  But he was better than Peter Pan because he was real.  We became instant friends when we performed for two magical years in Trevor's adaptation of It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.  The Great Pumpkin Massacre saw me as Lucy and Adam as the Great Pumpkin, a pumpkin-man serial killer intent on plucking off all of the Peanuts, one by bloody one.  It is no stretch to say that this show became an instant cult classic of the Kalamazoo theatre scene.  It wouldn't have been without Adam.

Adam was in a galaxy all his own.  He was the sun and so many of us were happy to orbit around him for a little while.  The magic of my friendship with Adam was that he made me feel like the sun.  I'd go weeks or months without seeing him, especially once I stopped performing, but when he'd see me across a room, he would stop, grab his heart, and come clip-clopping across the floor in his fantastic shoes with arms outstretched to embrace me.  As I type those words, tears stream down my face.  Oh that we were always so free with our affection for one another like Adam was.  How beautiful this world would be if we made everyone feel like the sun when they came into a room.  He could have swooped me up and flown me to Neverland and I would have gone.

And after the warm embrace, he would greet you in telegram~

Nancy.  Stop it.  That scarf.  Love.  Amy Poehler's book?  OMG.  Had to put it down.  Loving. So. So. Much. Coffee?  Yes, please.  Kisses.  Love.

But his economy of words was a sharp contrast to the boldness and effervescence of his life.  And because this blog is for my boys to someday understand what their mom took away from her own experiences, there are a few things I want them to learn from my experience in losing him.


I'm so sorry boys, but I've got nothing.

Nothing about this makes sense or seems real.  You see, Adam Carter was my Peter Pan, but I always hoped he would grow up.  I hoped he'd be a fabulous old man draped in caftans and oversized sunglasses with a shock of silver hair swirled up in a pompadour.  But we won't know that Adam.  He is now permanently 31 in our hearts and minds.  Kalamazoo's Marilyn or James Dean, frozen in the bloom of youth.  And somehow the death of him means the death of my youth.   He was the one person who could take me back to those fearless, carefree days of Late Night theatre and 2am Taco Bell feasts eaten while laughing at YouTube videos.  Some huge door has slammed on the life that was before and I don't know who will be able to take me back there again.  I'm Wendy standing next to a dark window.  

He had moved on in so many ways and found so much success.  But there was a North Star quality about him that made him feel steady and constant.  So many of us got married, had babies and stopped performing, but there was Adam, seemingly unchanged (except for his ever-changing hair).  He'd pop up at the Alamo Drafthouse, the Union, Art Hop, the Civic, always looking radiant and always greeting you like the sun had just popped out of a cloud.  As long as Adam was around, so were the memories of those sweet days.

Adam's current Facebook cover photo is of this tree, frozen in the stillness of winter. And I marvel at how fitting it is now that he is permanently frozen in time for all of us.  He will never grow old, he will never die.  His light will outlive his life.  So that is the lesson for my sons.  If there is one thing I want people to say about my boys when they die it's that.  That their light lives on long after they're gone.  

On Thursday February 5th as I was driving the boys to daycare, I was startled to see the full moon looming large and bright at 7:45am.  Within seconds, the moon began a dance with a sea of lavender clouds dipping in and out of view.  The clouds swirled while the moon slowly hid its face.  It was like a can-can dancer whose billowing lilac skirts teased us until the show was over.  The image was magical and wonderful and now I know that Thursday was Adam's last day on earth as we knew him.  And maybe, just maybe, the heavens were readying themselves with a final dress rehearsal for his glorious return.  Adam who is made of stardust now returns to the stars.  And I would expect no less from the heavens than to welcome him in full Moulin Rouge can-can realness.

And it's up there in those lavender clouds drifting silently among the stars that Adam will be waiting for us.  Forever 31 (he would love the chance to ruminate about what kind of clothing a Forever 31 would sell).  And when my time comes, I sort of hope I'm greeted just like this...

Nancy.  LOVE.  Finally.  OMG.  Carousels.  Heaven has carousels.  Could you die?  Wait. You did!  Ha! Hugs.  Kiss-kiss.  Who do you want to meet?  I know everyone.

Second star to the right and straight on 'til  morning.
So many Wendys standing near their windows tonight wishing you'd come back.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

the pine cone, the pebble & the penny

4th in a series of birthday poems to Jack Rigel.  Presented with love.

A pine cone, a pebble and a penny.

These treasures were tucked carefully and deeply 
into the pocket of your coat.
I found them while doing laundry.
Not able to part with them, I puzzled over them, 
smiling to myself as I folded your clothes.
Out of the hundreds of available treasures on your preschool yard, 
these were the prizes you held in safekeeping.

At 4, you are a pine cone, a pebble, and a penny.

You are my little pine cone.
A seedling of a boy.
At certain angles I can see the mighty tree you may become,
yet there are moments when I still see my baby.
You are prickly and complex
wearing the armor of a boy learning to control his emotions
in a world filled with challenges.
So much of who you will become lies hidden
under your spiky little exterior.
But every so often, we see you.
When you protect your brother.
When you marvel at the magic of the stars and the new fallen snow.
When you leap across furniture, lost in your own imagination.
There he is.
Yes, there he is!
There's our boy.

You are my pebble.
An untarnished and unjaded rock of a boy.
You carry within you a wisdom far beyond your handful of years,
yet there is so much you are still discovering.
You glide through life as smoothly and lithely
as a pebble being skipped across a glassy pond
by the skillful hand of a boy on the verge of everything. 
So much of who you will become lies hidden 
among the strata of secrets hiding behind your dark brown eyes. 
But every so often, we see you.
When you rattle off superhero names and secret identities.
When you grab my face in your hands and tell me you love me.
When you wistfully sigh at the end of a wonderful day and proclaim it to be so.
There he is.
Yes there he is!
There's our boy.

You are my lucky penny.
And every day I make wishes for you.
I remember the first time we threw a penny into a fountain.
You were desperate to get it back.
You will learn, what I have learned.
A penny wish, like time, can never be retrieved once it's gone.
All we can hope is that we've used that wish and used our time wisely.
How lucky I am to have carried you, like a lucky penny, for 9 months.
How lucky I am that your soul chose me.
How lucky I feel that we belong to each other.
And like a lucky penny, your worth is far beyond what anyone could possibly see.
I see in you the mighty sequoia and the Grand Canyon
and a life that stretches far into a future
life a javelin I flung into immortality.
It will be years before I toss you into the fountain called life.
And what I'll wish for, I don't yet know.
But when 4 candles are blown out this week,
I will wish...

for you to grow healthy and strong from pine cone to tree
that life doesn't fray your edges too often or too soon
that the worth you place in people and things goes far beyond their face value
for you to always see the world as your treasure box.

I treasure the days when you still fit into my pocket.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Yay for the One Step Closer

The extraordinary is not beyond you. It’s just one small step away. – Julia Immonen
Last weekend, the boys and I sat down to watch a Halloween DVD.  Curious George: A Halloween Boo Fest has been a staple in our house for a year.  And at the risk of sounding like I've crossed over into some sort of mom-zone for which there is no recovery and I'll be doomed to wear high waisted, tapered jeans all my days, I never, ever get sick of watching it.  It's sweet and fun and my boys love it.
We all know that putting in a DVD doesn't mean our movie instantly starts playing.  There is always a delay while we sit through title cards, FBI warnings and anti-piracy pleas.  This all serves to annoy more than delight because we can't even skip or fast forward through them.  But something very special happened when we all sat down to watch that DVD.
The first thing to appear is the Universal image.  A beautiful animation of our planet takes us on a 10 second journey through outer space.  Jack always says "That's our Earth. That's our home" every time he sees it.  Will started clapping and laughing.  He clapped even more when the FBI warning came up (that must be a first) and clapped during the anti-piracy warnings.
To most of us, those annoying frames are tiny things keeping us from enjoying our movie.
To Will, they represent one step closer.
Yay for the one step closer.  Yay for the almost there.  Yay for the farther along now than I was a second ago.
The elections were this week.  My choice for State Senator is currently down by 60 votes.  SIX ZERO.  He hasn't conceded yet and we don't yet know how this will all turn out but I maintain a glimmer of hope.  This country isn't where I want it to be.  We're deadlocked, divided, disenchanted, and disgruntled.
I voted because I had these women cheering me on.  I imagined these beautiful angels surrounding the polling place clapping as each woman walked in.  I saw women of all ages and some with babies and young children.  Those are some of the truest heroes because it's just too easy to use kids as an excuse to not vote.  I imagined all of the thousands of steps, some big, some small that have happened since this photo was taken.  Could these women fathom that their daughters and granddaughters are still fighting some of the same battles around equality?  But if I think about my lesson from Will last weekend, I wonder if they'd be focusing more on all that has happened.  All of the steps closer to equality we are than we were decades ago.
So in their honor, I say yay to the one step closer.  Yay to the people who still take up the good fights.  Yay to a greater awareness I see in each new generation.  I am no delusional Pollyanna who believes we've reached the apex.  A circuit court's ruling that came after the elections this week has me feeling defeated all over again because I want a better world for my sons.
But we have to reflect on how far we've come.  And we can't lose hope.  Cheer for the one step closer, acknowledge the two steps back and try again.
Before you know it, the warnings and titles and preludes are over and the movie can begin. Don't jump out of the theatre during the long wait.  But don't sit there with your popcorn waiting for some magical projectionist to get you where you need to be.  Get up, make a phone call, volunteer, get comfortable being uncomfortable.  Be the change.  Because change is coming my friends.  Change is coming. But in the meantime, I will say...
 Yay for the one step closer.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Most Important Part of My Village

Thanksgiving is just around the corner.  I know, I can't believe it either.  Earlier this year I had the opportunity to present at an early childhood conference on a topic I am quite passionate about- improving communication between working parents and those who care for our children.  I partnered with the Director of our childcare center and we delivered a presentation that sought to build empathy for both groups and relay best practices for communication.  We ended the presentation by reading a thank you note each of us wrote to the other person.  In this season of gratitude, I am sharing this letter on the blog.  I hope it reaches every single person who cares for young children.  Your parents may not always articulate what you mean to them, but I know I speak on behalf of so many.  From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.

Dear Caregiver,

You didn’t see me the other day as I stood outside the door.  As I was leaving that morning, I heard my son crying.  I peered through the glass as I saw him sitting at a table while you, hands gently on his arms, knelt down to look right into his eyes.  As he told you about the problem he had encountered you never lost his gaze.  You talked to him and listened.  To almost anyone else in the world his problem would have been the smallest, most insignificant issue.  Maybe he didn’t get to play with his favorite truck.  Maybe he had trouble sharing.  But you listened as if it was the biggest problem because you know that for him, they’re all big problems.

I held back every motherly instinct to rush in and rescue him.  I didn’t need to.  I have you.

I have you to listen to my children every day about the big problems, the little discoveries and the joyful celebrations.  I have you to hug them when it seems like their tears will never stop falling.  I have you to help us teach them how to be responsible, loving citizens of the world who realize that sharing means twice as much fun, twice as many friends and twice as much happiness.

Each day when I’m at work I am surrounded by photos of my family in colorful frames.  Their smiling faces remind me that the hard work I do provides them with opportunities for a wonderful life.  But it’s hard and I feel guilty for the time when I’m not near them.  And that’s why I’m so grateful I have you.  You have become part of the fabric of their lives.  You are my village and I am so honored that you chose children as your life’s calling.  I don’t know how you do it.  How you smile when I’m sure your head is throbbing, how you listen to the little things like they’re big things all day long.  You deal with the messiest of human beings and you wake up every day to do it all over again.  You are amazing.

And last week, you didn’t see me again.  I came in to pick up my son and peeked around a corner to see you sitting outside of a bathroom stall.  Inside was my precocious, wonderful son trying to use the potty.  And knowing that those things take time, you sat outside reading his favorite book while he giggled.  And I giggled.  Because that is the kind of loving act that only a parent could possibly have the patience for.  But you’re not a parent yet and yet here you are in the very trenches with us.  Thank you for every book, every dance, every song, and every hug.  My children are better people because you’re in their lives.  We are better parents for the information you give us every day.  And the world is a better place because people like you care so much for the very smallest of us.

Thank you so very much,

Love, a Working Parent