I watched my friend’s profile as she spoke. The subtle way she bowed her head. Her nearly translucent eyelashes blinking away the afternoon sunlight. Her hands silently wrapping and unwrapping a Kleenex.
Comforting and caring for a friend was the easiest thing in the world for Lena. I was moved by her voice, the words she communicated to me and her body language. I noticed her rounded shoulders and the straight auburn hair that fell like a curtain blocking her face dusted only with freckles instead of powder. Her fingers involuntarily tucking loose strands behind her ear. She turned to face me and her eyes held my attention.
“Eleanor,” she said my name as if I wasn’t already captivated. “Listen to me. What my friend told me was that it is okay for kids to be uncomfortable. That it’s okay for them to not always have fun.” I nodded but turned away from her. My eyes searched for her kids on the playset. I focused on their safety to distract me a little from the significance of what she was saying.
Her voice fell into a whisper as she told me her story. “Honestly, it was like something clicked. It was like my friend gave me permission to raise them with the hard stuff. Hard things, you know? The world is going to show them tough things and it’s better for kids to see all the healthy ways their parents dealt with it.” I shifted. I adjusted my sweater and smoothed my pants that didn’t need smoothing. She continued, “Children see and hear everything you say and do and by not hiding the tough stuff, you’re giving them a good example of what real adulting looks like. You can’t only show them a neat house or never being late for work. As a parent, you must show kids the things you don’t get paid for, but how the reward of that service feeds your soul.”
She cared for a sick mother, a dad with dementia and three children under the age of seven. Her hard lessons were an opportunity to sort through family priorities, learn whom she could count on and then it was her mission to share this valuable information with moms who need it. Even though I didn’t believe I could use a pep talk, Lena did. She was right.
Lena’s pep talk came just after I explained to her that our family had returned from helping my mom move from the home she built with Dad. He passed away a few years ago and she decided it was time to relocate into a lower maintenance retirement community. Caring for my mom by emptying attics, scrubbing baseboards and clearing cabinets are not exactly what my pre-teens want to do during their first two summer weeks. I felt bad that we weren’t taking them to the beach or at least a water park. Somehow summer work instead of fun felt like an inadequacy on my part. Like I had let them down rather than celebrating their good grades and the end of another school year. In their mind, cleaning out Gran’s house wasn’t just boring — it was double boring.
Lena spoke again. “Eleanor. When my dad was going through all of that he was, there was one morning I remember so vividly. I marched out of my house and followed the sidewalk to the driveway. I opened my car door to load my youngest in his car seat. Taking him with me was going to be tough, but I needed to help my parents for a few hours. My older two kids were in a Mother’s Day Out program so I knew I had until noon. Brody didn’t feel well. He was so pitiful with his hair matted to his cheek and forehead, and still in stained pajamas from spitting up the cold medicine from the night before. My neighbor spotted us and bolted out of her front door and crossed my lawn. She was wearing her late husband’s faded flannel robe and a beat up pair of Crocs, but she looked like an angel to me.
“Lena, give me that baby,” my neighbor said. “Leave him with me this instant.” She pulled Brody from my tired arms. His limp body went to her and his head found a resting place just underneath her chin. I leaned against the car and watched as she instinctively rocked on her feet. Her expression was so serious. “Go on now and take care of your Dad. This little nugget will be fine. She patted him on the back. I let my tears fall — didn’t even try to stop them.
As I sat beside Lena on the park bench, listening to her relive her story, I found myself not stopping my tears either.
Lena continued, “Rocking my son on her hip, she told me, ‘don’t make yourself crazy with guilt because you can’t always be there for your kids.’ I remember I started shaking my head and then she braced her free hand on my shoulder – AND, AND, look at me, you can’t always be there for your parents either. You are a mom, you’re a daughter, you’re a wife and you’re a friend and I’m trying to be a friend to you right now. You are an amazing mother and it’s okay for your kids to see you care for someone OTHERthan them. It’s good for them. It teaches them an important life lesson about service and responsibilities.”
She had my attention. Lena continued, “That moment in my driveway taught me several things. My neighbor’s kindness changed me. Her caring made me a stronger mother and daughter, a more reliable friend and neighbor. She reminded me to believe in the power of moms and community.
Link to original article published on Chattanooga Moms: