I just got a phone call from Ian’s mom… she is at the bakery right now picking up his cake that was our RAOK #2 this week.
I just had to update because I was so certain that my time at the bakery would be so much better than theirs – that whole giving is better than receiving thing, right? She insisted that the bakery owner call me so she could thank me… the minute she heard my voice I could tell she had those “brimming tears” (and me, too, of course.) She was gracious and lovely and I wished her a very, very happy birthday party weekend.
And y’all, I just know that when she hung up the phone she got one of those awesome hugs!! So yay for us – her time at the bakery WAS almost as good as mine!
But first, do you know what “brimming tears” are? They aren’t sad or mad tears. They aren’t exactly just tears of joy either. They are the tears that happen when you are just completely full. There’s just so much…so much good, so much love, so much gratitude, so much in-this-moment-right-here…that the slightest extra thing, extra hug, extra smile, extra word makes you spill over in the form of tears. Brimming tears.
(They can also happen the other way… so defeated, so anxious, so exhausted, so hopeless that one more little thing – one more spilled cup, one more middle-of-the-night-wake-up, one more mean word… and you spill over that way too. But that’s not the kind I’m talking about today. No, not at all.)
Today I am the mother of a ten-year-old. For those ten years he has been in a tiny, cherry wood urn sitting in an heirloom cabinet in our living room. I can see it from this chair I sit in. It is surrounded by Willow Tree figures. For ten years I have been trying to figure out how to be a mom to my oldest child – simultaneously the easiest and most difficult of my children. He doesn’t talk back. He doesn’t have a perpetually messy room. He requires no laundry, no car pooling and no grocery store lists. But he’s also never reached for my hand. Never laughed so hard that I wondered if he would be able to catch his breath. He’s never snuggled, fresh from a bath, into my lap in order to get to stay up past bedtime. For ten years I’ve been trying to solve this dilemma – what does it look like to parent this oldest child of mine?
Just like parenting my living children, I’ve made some mistakes. But I’ve tried to learn from them…and from other brave moms before me who share these experiences. I’ve never stopped trying to figure it out, trying to get closer to what I think it could be…lots of trial and error about how to keep his memory alive and honor the ways he’s changed me and changed our family. I imagine it’s something I will do for the rest of my life – and I hope I never feel like it’s done. One of the things that does work for us is to spend his birthday inflicting kindness on as many people as we can manage… and today it was pretty splendid.
So here they are… the WWS Random Acts of Kindness to commemorate a decade:
Now that the boys are getting a little older, they throw their ideas into the RAOK bucket when February comes around. This is Whitman about to deliver flowers to the office at his school. He also took flowers to his teachers (and in his backpack when he came home this afternoon there was the cutest thank you note signed by the whole class…too much!)
I should also note that Whitman really wanted to give gift cards to, well, like to everyone. I’m not entirely sure he knows exactly what a gift card is, but he definitely wanted everyone to have one today. This tradition could get pretty expensive if we ever let him be in charge!
Check out this adorable little bakery…serious cuteness in here. This was easily one of my favorites of the day.
I had made arrangements (via email) to anonymously pay for someone’s birthday cake – and out of the three bakeries I contacted only one of them even answered me and then followed up again to let me know that an order had come in that might be what I was looking for. I was so grateful that someone took the time to help out with my little request.
To the lady at the counter: “Hi, I’ve been emailing with someone here about paying for a birthday cake?”
A head poked around the corner from the back, “Oh that’s me. Are you Jennifer?”
“Yes, yes I am.”
“I think I have to hug you.”
And people, she wasn’t joking around. You know how sometimes you get a hug and it’s nice – it’s just a simple, quick hug and it warms you up a bit? And then there’s what happens when people hold onto you for longer than that. And they talk to you while they are loving on you. As this woman who I had known for exactly 1.7 seconds was squeezing me she started saying, “I lost my husband recently and, oh, that was so, so hard. I just can’t imagine a child. This thing you are doing to honor his birthday, it’s just beautiful…beautiful.” (She was still hugging… and I could tell that her brimming tears had started.) We chatted for a minute – she asked about Wheeler and then the lady at the counter took a noticeable breath and headed to the back. My new best friend leaned in and said, “She lost a baby, too…this is probably hard.” I know I don’t have to tell you, but this is where you can cue my brimming tears if you are picturing this like a video in your head. I paid for a cake for a little boy who is celebrating his birthday this weekend – Ian, who likes all things construction related – and requested a picture of the cake when it was finished, if that wasn’t too much trouble. As I was signing the receipt the other woman came back to the counter and she was taking a good hard look at the card I was leaving – this side:
And then I knew why no other bakery had called me back. (You can cue another round of brimming tears for that moment when I got back into my car.) I almost feel sorry for Ian’s parents…I mean, sure, they are in for a nice little surprise when they pick up his cake on Saturday and don’t have to pay for it…but, seriously, I hope somehow they get one of those hugs. I hope they get at least one dose of brimming tears. If not, they won’t get nearly the joy at Meemo’s that I had today. Bakery RAOK Update
These are some of the cards the boys made to send to soldiers who are serving overseas. Thanks to the most awesome nanny in the world, this little project took place on a day when I was working until 9:30pm…and it was lovely to come home to a table full of these cards. We used A Million Thanks as our resource to send the cards out today as RAOK #3. Most of the cards just said “Thank you” or “Thanks for your service” but one, there was just one that had a little something extra (that I hope my brother gets to see…)
Can you see that? “Thank you for everything you do for us.” And then the tiniest little stick guy under our flag pointing what looks like a gun at another little stick guy who is in “som other contry.” Poor little guy in some other country…can you feel patriotic when you don’t even know where you are from?!
(Apologies for some of these photos which were taken with my phone. Let me tell you a little story about my phone. It’s an iPhone, technically. I believe they actually refer to it as an iPhonasaurus. A few weeks ago I was at the end of a session with a client and I grabbed my phone to look at the calendar to schedule his next appointment and he said, “Geez doc, that thing still work? Does it even HAVE a calendar on it?” “No,” I said, “Actually it’s not a calendar, it’s a sundial. But it works just fine. How’s next Wednesday at two clicks past the third quadrant?” Yes, he’s at least a decade younger than I. And yes, many, many clients can not resist the urge to call me “Doc”… not because they think I am one, but because of my last name. OK… so there you go. My phone is old. The camera sucks. Let’s move on.)
Shortly after Christmas one of my favorite souls on this planet posted on Facebook about how the homeless shelter at which she works had not gotten nearly the stuff they needed during the holidays. And that was a particularly bad thing since the holidays are when people tend to do that kind of thing. So I pledged to her that when Wheeler’s birthday came around, we would send a package of whatever she needed most at that time…which is what the boys are helping me do at the post office in that Jurassic photo above. Maybe now a shelter full of men in Seattle can stop sharing nail clippers. Ew.
Time to head to the park for RAOK #s 5 and 6. The weather was so gorgeous today, so these two were just plain fun.
A bin full of dog toys and frisbees at the dog park. Whitman really, really wanted to go around and hand out each of the toys to the dogs and owners that were there. He absolutely couldn’t understand why I was content to just set them out on a bench and leave them.
But, as you can see, he’s really shy like that. (And no, in spite of the last few photos, Linc was not in a bad mood…he’s in an anti-camera phase at the moment, so his cooperation can not be counted on.)
We moved on to the playground. I sure hope that little cutey on the rock wall got to enjoy some of the bubbles we left behind.
The next Act of Kindness would test us all. Our will power, that is.
Here’s Whit reluctantly dropping off the toys and treats for the dogs at the Animal Defense League. Reluctantly because, again, he didn’t understand why he couldn’t just take them into the facility with us and hand them out to each and every dog there. Which I totally get.
We went in and walked around and loved on the animals and, miraculously, we have just as many animals as we had when we got there. (whew!)
Next we headed home for a little break, two more RAOKs and to wait until later so Ron could join us for the last few of the day.
WWS RAOK #8: The boys helped me pick out a child to sponsor on the Compassion International website. We found a little boy who shares Wheeler’s birthday whose name is Angel and lives in Nicaragua. This is part of my on-going effort to raise children who have as broad of a perspective as possible. I mean, let’s face it, if you are born a white male in the USA, you’ve pretty much won the global lottery. I wish, wish, wish for children who learn to be mindful of the larger picture, the planet as a whole…to think of their impact on it and to understand that other people, other humans just like ourselves, are out there living lives quite different than our own. I have hopes that by reaching out to a boy their age we will not only provide some basic necessities to him, but that they will also broaden their world view just a smidge. Baby steps.
Long-time readers might remember this post about little boxes… and so this act will be a familiar one. In March our local chapter of MISS Foundation will be hosting a memorial box painting party and these supplies will be donated to that event, turned into works of art, make their way to a local hospital and eventually into the home of a family who finds themselves on this unwanted journey. These boxes will some day contain very precious and priceless cargo.
And finally…twelve hours after we started…we completed our TENTH RAOK:
What’s movie night without popcorn?? We attached a dozen packages of microwave popcorn to the RedBox in our neighborhood. Fun, right? I hope so… it was a nice way to end a busy, bittersweet, splendid, generous day.
Throughout this day I lost count of the messages and texts and emails coming in from all over the place…my dear, dear friends by whom I am so blessed all sharing how they were remembering Wheeler in their own communities and in their own ways. In Dallas and Houston and Atlanta, Arizona and California there were people paying for Starbucks orders for those in line behind them, donations made to animal rescue organizations, formula and diapers given to a women’s shelter, extra large ice cream bought for an unsuspecting kid, cookies baked and delivered, library fines anonymously paid off, a teacher who recruited her whole class to join in and many others that kept trickling in over the course of the day. I felt giddy at the thought of all this kindness going out into the world with my little boy’s legacy attached to it…I felt über-connected to all of you. I will never be able to thank you enough.
A number of the messages wanted to know, “How are you?” And not like the usual “How’s it going?” but the much more sincere, “No, really, how are you…really?” It’s a question that I very much appreciate and here’s the answer:
I really am quite well. This is a day I have grown to love, love, love. Grown to love. I didn’t start there, for sure. These past few years I have marked the day completely out – no clients, not much work, no obligations – and it’s one of the few times I can do that with very little guilt. The time with the boys is precious – they ask such great questions and embrace the spirit of this endeavor in a way that surprises me and makes me brim (yet again!)
Here, at the decade mark, there is much, much less sadness. Of course I still wish he was here, in our family where he belongs. Of course I wonder things like how tall would he be by now? Would he play sports? Which brother would look more like him? What would his voice sound like? What would he dream of doing with his life? I wonder. But that’s not what parenting this kid looks like – I don’t get to know those things. And I’m making peace with that. Days like today help me do that. All day I felt overwhelmed with gratitude for how his existence has changed me and how much influence he has on our family…I could have burst with it. The impact he has had just wasn’t possible in any other way.
I give a talk at memorial services about the transformation that grief brings and in that speech there is bit of poetry from Gibran. He basically says that he who has not looked on sorrow will never truly look on joy. “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” Wheeler’s brief visit on this planet carved out such a space in me I wasn’t always sure I could endure; but here, here at the ten-year place, I mostly feel astounded at my capacity for joy and gratitude and perspective. What greater gift could a son give a mother?
And that is how I really am. Brimming.
So happy birthday my dear, sweet boy. There remains a hole in our family that is exactly your size…thank you so much for teaching us how to fill it with all the best parts of what we have to offer. You’ve made me a better mother than I could have been without you. I can’t wait to see what it’s like to learn to parent you for the next ten years.
Until then, all my love,
For past years of Memorial RAOKs… go here and here
Yesterday was my oldest son’s ninth birthday and we embarked on nine random acts of kindness as a way to celebrate that day. It’s something we’ve never actually shared with him since he arrived and departed at the same moment. And, as regular readers know, we’ve done different things each year to commemorate his too-short life. Here’s last year’s post. And now for this year’s version…it’s really become one of my very favorite days!
Thanks to all of you who follow and “Like” and comment and show love on Facebook – you know who you are. 🙂 For you, it’s just a recap. Oh, and for more on the whole Kindness-as-a-way-to-remember project, go here.
We started the morning with a note in the mailbox for the mailman:
It was a hand-made thank you note from the boys with a Sonic gift card.
We mailed off a care package to a platoon of soldiers in a remote area of Afghanistan. There’s a great list of things they like to receive at the Adopt-A-Soldier website with plenty of detailed instructions. Also, I got the best service I’ve ever witnessed at the post office when they found out what I was trying to mail…so that was a bonus.
RAK #3: Book Donation
The elementary school in our neighborhood was having a used book drive…easy, breezy choice! I got to clean out the kids’ bookshelves and the library got some new goods!
RAK #4: Animal Defense League
We delivered a bunch of items from their wish list to the facility…and then we walked around and paid a lot of attention to the critters there. What a great facility it seems to be…so clean and well-kept…open access to all the animals and lots of outdoor spaces. We had a great time there and even managed to NOT come home with extra animals (which made Ron very happy.)
RAK #5: Hidden money at the Dollar Store
The boys had a lot of fun doing this one – stealthily sneaking throughout the toy section at the Dollar Store and stashing little envelopes that said “Open Me” which held $1.10 (you know, to cover tax.) 🙂 Lincoln really wanted to stick around and see if we could watch someone find it…which I admit would have been fun.
Seriously, this is one of my favorite programs on the planet. They do amazing, inspiring, heart-wrenching work here…and I hope beyond hope that all the kids I love never need any of their services. But I do feel more peaceful just knowing they are out there doing such important, life-changing things. They also have an online wish list and the boys were delighted to stock up on art supplies and snacks for us to donate to their groups.
The place is littered with teddy bears…every kid who comes to programs there gets one as a comfort buddy. Whit clearly wanted to take that one home. (Which would have been better than a dog from the shelter!)
RAK #7: Flowers and cards and hugs
Several years ago my dad’s aunt spent her last years in an assisted living facility fairly close to our house. It has changed names and ownership several times since then, but we spent a fair amount of time there when Lincoln was very small. And nothing lights up a place like that quite like children, right? So we descended upon their lobby and dining room this afternoon armed with homemade cards, a huge bundle of carnations and endless hugs. If I wouldn’t have been so busy trying to keep Whitman out of trouble, I probably would have teared up several times. It was easily my favorite part of the day.
There are no photos from this RAK…the facility has security measures and I couldn’t manage the bags of stuff we were delivering and a camera all while trying to keep Whit from taking over the place. But I think everyone knows what they need at homeless/transitional housing shelters…big boxes of diapers and laundry detergent and scads of toothbrushes and toothpaste, etc. The volunteers were delighted to see it all. And I had one of the best conversations of the day with the boys as we were leaving…they had been watching the people walk in and out while in the car and Lincoln had plenty of questions about what it means to be “homeless” and he was really trying to wrap his brain around the big boxes of diapers were we delivering. “So whose babies are they? Those babies don’t have a home?” “What’s it like inside? Like an apartment or more like a hotel?” and my favorite, “Do people want to be homeless or does it happen by accident?” Which, of course, has a much more complicated answer than I could really give him…but a great conversation nonetheless.
And finally…. RAK #9: Park Clean-Up Egg Hunt
I had planned to head to a park and do a little cleaning up, but the parks by our house happen to all be very well taken care of, so there wasn’t much to do. I was semi-prepared for that to be the case…and it was almost dark by the time we got there anyway…so, Plan B: an egg hunt!
The flash didn’t make for such a great pic of the boys…but they sure had a blast hiding eggs with their flashlights all over the playground area at the park. And a few quick games of hide-and-seek in the dark might have also occurred. I think if I didn’t have to work in the morning, I’d be tempted to head back out there and watch the kids who get surprised when they show up to play tomorrow!
So there you are…all 9 RAKs in one place.
One of my favorite days concludes…and I feel full and blessed and grateful. So, so many of you shared in this day, participated in RAKs of your own in Wheeler’s honor and I can’t begin to express to you how warm and fuzzy it makes me feel to have his name spoken and written and shared all over the place in the spirit of kindness and selflessness. I have so much peace knowing that, even though his life did not turn out the way I wanted it to at all, that it continues to have meaning and momentum and a legacy of its own. And for that, I thank you – my friends and family and MISSters and readers.
And lastly, good night my dear, sweet birthday boy.
These nine years don’t look like what I expected them to…but I remain humbled by your lessons and gifts and legacy. Your soul continues to be a source of comfort for me and inspiration to others…and I am just as proud of you as I would be were you running down a soccer field or handing me a report card. Thank you for choosing me as your mom – it continues to be one of the greatest honors in my life.
(Did you know that? Seriously, when did that happen?)
I’m wrapping up February with this post about Random Acts Of Kindness (RAOK.) As regular readers know, February is a complicated month in our household…both joy and sorrow mingling throughout the weeks. This year marked the 8th since I delivered our oldest, Wheeler, a full-term stillborn son. We’ve done a variety of things over the years to memorialize his way-too-short life and the impact it has had on us. Balloon releases, birthday cakes, toy donations…the ritual has grown and evolved over the years.
This year I felt compelled to complete eight RAOK throughout the day…and if you follow me on Facebook, then you have already seen these in “real time.” What a wonderful day full of love and support – I was truly overwhelmed at the messages and emails and texts and calls. I’ve always been a fan of Facebook, but this week it went to a whole new level.
So for those of you who asked…here’s the list of the RAOK and a brief recap of the day:
From my FB feed –
RAOK#1 of 8 At the drive-thru: “I’ll have iced tea…and pay for whatever the people behind me ordered.” I love the look on their faces when I say that!
RAOK #2 of 8 Just let two drivers (who obviously couldn’t read the construction signs) in front of me to get on the freeway (much to the dismay of impatient driver behind me.)My husband and I laughed about this later… since I really irritated the guy behind me that probably canceled out one of the good deeds…so it was a good thing it was TWO drivers so it still counted!!
RAOK #3 of 8 Tip for very nice waitress at lunch….times FIVE. — at Tre Trattoria. My mom and I had a lovely lunch together and our waitress was very sweet – made this one a no-brainer. Credit to mom for splitting this one with me!
RAOK #4 of 8 Basket of goodies for the L&D nurses.My mom was also in on this one…picking out and purchasing a ton of gourmet cookies and brownies and cakes to stuff into a basket…and then driving the car around and around the circular drive at the hospital while I ran them upstairs!
RAOK #5 of 8 A gift card for groceries given to a worn out mom walking in with kids trailing….When we went to the store to get the dessert and balloons for our family celebration later, I also grabbed a store gift card and then handed to a mom as she was walking into the store. She looked like she hadn’t slept in too long and the kids with her looked like they would rather be anywhere else. It made me think about this fantastic post on motherhood – quite possibly the best commentary on the job I’ve ever read.
We took a little break here for dinner and birthday cake and a balloon release with the boys – they LOVE candles and singing and even added the “and many more, on channel four, your pants are tore…” just like little brothers should do. Then Lincoln explained that it was time to send the party to heaven, so we needed to let the balloon go. Very sweet.
RAOK #6 of 8 A bag full of quarters left in the laundromat….
Somewhere in here we were at a store and my husband discovered we had a flat tire. Did I mention it was pouring rain?? So Mr. Superhero changed that tire likkety split and cheerfully resumed our RAOK adventure albeit a little bit soggier. T.R.O.O.P.E.R.
RAOK #7 of 8 A big bag of yummy snacks and sweets delivered to our local fire fighters….
RAOK #8 of 8 A free dinner for an unsuspecting solo diner at our local coffee shop. Happy Birthday baby boy!!
All in all it was a very enjoyable way to remember my oldest son and felt very fitting considering what an impact he’s had on our lives and the lives of those around us. I personally loved this new evolution of our ritual and hope to continue it for years to come. (Though, I’m aware by the time he would be graduating from high school it will take a lot more planning and coordinating to fit all the RAOK into one day!)
For more information about the MISS Foundation’s Kindness Project, you can go here. You will find details about the annual project and also downloadable cards for use during your own RAOK adventure. And for a wonderful blog post with more ideas for RAOK…go here. And that blog post spawned this website…which takes the whole idea to another level entirely.
Thanks again to all my friends and family for the support and love…and a special thanks to those of you who also did RAOK this week in honor of Wheeler. I’ll probably never be able to explain how much that means.