What’s a Handkerchief, Mom?

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image from bandanaman.com

A few days ago, the kids and I took a walk along the lake. We were about one block away from the apartment when Brian started complaining, “Mom, my nose is running. Can we go back now?” I told him he’d be fine and to just keep walking.

When we reached the next block he said, “Mom, I’m really tired, my feet hurt and my nose is running.” Once again, I told him he’d be fine and to just keep walking.

By the time we reached the third block, he whined, “Mom, I’m reeeaaallly cold and my nose is still running!” I gritted my teeth, told him he’d be fine and said emphatically, “Would you please just keep walking!”

Growing more and more irritable, I thought I knew I should have just gone on this walk alone.

Luckily, all of our moods lifted when we turned the corner and started walking toward the sunny trail that runs between Lake Michigan and Lake Shore Drive. We were all distracted and happy by the sights, sounds and smells of springtime in Chicago. The water was a beautiful shade of blue, a nice contrast to the grass, which borders the path and was finally turning green after a long winter. Some of the trees were just starting to bud and there were tons of birds chirping and flying from one tree to the next. There were cyclists, runners and mothers pushing baby strollers buzzing by us. The kids quickly learned the importance of “On your left!” as we made our way further along the trail. Despite the cooler temperatures and a brisk lake breeze, there was a young couple having a picnic at a little table in the middle of the green space between the path and the lake. In addition to the singing and tweeting birds overhead and the relaxing sound of the waves in the background, the LSD (Lake Shore Drive) traffic was whirring by on our right, as it always does morning, noon and night.

In a singsong voice, I exclaimed, “Aaahhh, I love the smell of spring! Can you guys smell the fresh air, the lake?!” I took a deep breath and turned around to look at the kids who were now lined up behind me like three cute little ducklings.

Emma and Kate shrugged their fleece-covered shoulders and mumbled something that sounded like “yes”. When I looked over at Brian for a response, he pouted, “I can’t smell anything.”

I looked a little more closely at him. Whoa…he wasn’t kidding earlier when he said that his nose was running. At this point, he had snot running down the front of his nose all the way down passed his mouth to his chin. It was disgusting. I tried to play it cool because I know how sensitive he is about anything gross anywhere near his body, but I’ve never had a very good poker face.

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My “oh honey, it’s not that bad” look (google images)

In an effort to avoid a meltdown, I frantically searched my jacket pockets for a tissue, but only had the arm of one of his Teen Titans Go! figures and a NoochieRAKs card. I asked his sisters if they had any tissues in their pockets, but other than a few Jolly Rancher wrappers, their pockets were empty. I then started searching the ground for a tissue, a piece of paper or even a leaf…nothing. So, I told him to do exactly what I’ve told him NOT to do in the past when he has a runny nose, “Use your sleeve.”

“But, Mom! I don’t wanna…” he started whining through the glob of snot.

Before he could overthink it, I quickly grabbed his arm and wiped his nose with the back of his fleece jacket. I will not go into any additional gory details, but I will say that even for this veteran babysitter, former pre-school teacher and mom to three – I almost started gagging. As I anticipated, he started throwing a fit, then his sisters were laughing and screaming and I was looking around helplessly for something else to clean up his face and jacket.

At that point, I decided to cut our walk short and turned around on the path. We carefully navigated our way through the cyclists, strollers and runners like a game of Frogger to get to the other side.

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Classic Frogger (google images)

Brian was trailing behind whimpering about his nose and jacket. I knew it was going to be a long walk back to the apartment.

I continued to search the ground for any object that would help our cause and noticed that the couple who was sitting at the little table along the trail was still there and called over to them to see if they had a napkin or Kleenex. She started looking through the Whole Foods bag, he started searching his backpack. Neither of them found one, but then the guy stood up, held up a blue bandana and said, “How about this?”

“Oh, that’s okay.” I said. To which he replied, “It’s clean, here take it.” I explained, “Well, it’s for his nose and I don’t want to get it all dirty and gross…”

He insisted, “Here, you can have it. I have two more in my pocket.”

In my brain, I quickly surveyed the situation…the guy seems normal enough, he did say it’s clean and considering that I was willing to wipe my son’s face with a piece of garbage or a leaf, it does seem like the better alternative. Also, he’s offering to help us and it’s important to accept help sometimes. For me, the hardest part of the #365 kindness project is when people say they don’t need my help or won’t accept a gift from me. It actually feels really crummy.

So, I gratefully accepted the blue bandana from him. It was the same exact style I wore in my hair during high school, the same exact style my father-in-law would pull out of his blazer pocket to aggressively blow his nose, and now I just realized, it’s the same exact style that Noochie’s Dad, Pete, was recently wearing at the Bruce Springsteen concert.

Brian allowed me to gently wipe his nose and we thanked the couple again.

I decided that it was still in our best interest to go back to the apartment and just chill out. While we were walking, I asked the kids, “Wasn’t that so thoughtful of that stranger to give us his handkerchief?” The girls mumbled what sounded like “yes” and Brian asked, “What’s a handkerchief, Mom?”

I told him, among other things, it’s a simple act of kindness.


 

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#105. Cleaned up paper towels that were all over the floor at Subway/rest stop.

#104. Helped lady who was cleaning up garbage at a rest stop.

#103. Gave a nice tip to server at the Cubs game who after she looked at my ID said, “You don’t have any wrinkles or gray hair for 45!” (the sunglasses glasses and baseball cap helped hide them). :0)

#102. Gave money to a homeless man outside Walgreens.

#101. Held the elevator door for someone loading a bunch of construction materials.

#100. Sent a Facebook message to my teachers who have made an impact on my life.

the old yeller & the weekly rak-up

I’m what some people would call, a bit of a yeller.

I yell at my kids to pick up their socks off the sofa. I yell at the dog to get off the sofa. I yell, “What are the cushions doing off the sofa and on the floor?!” I yell that it’s time for “BREAKFAST!” “LUNCH!” and “DIN-NER!” I yell that we’re going to be late for school. I yell that it’s time to be quiet, and I yell that it’s time for bed.

 

Okay, I’ll be honest, I yell A LOT.

 

Sometimes I worry what the mailman thinks of me, but mostly I think he gets it.

 

In my defense, I grew up in a family of yellers. This was how our household functioned. There was always some (self-induced) chaos around us, we were always running late, there were always too many kids in the house, and messes that I, as the oldest, always felt obligated to clean up. My siblings also responded to my yelling, although I’ll admit, maybe it wasn’t the response I was hoping for…sometimes they yelled back…sometimes they slammed a door in my face…sometimes there was a sibling slam-down. But, like I said, at least there was a response.

 

Despite my best efforts, all the best-selling parenting books, and behavioral modification or “star” charts, I continue to yell at my own children. I’ve realized over the years that it’s a hard habit to break.

 

So, earlier this week, I decided to try a different approach.

 

Two of our children started wrestling and typically, I would yell, “Go to the basement!”, “Knock it off!” or “Someone’s gonna get hurt!”. This time, as one of my acts of kindness, I remained silent (which, by the way, was REALLY hard for me).

 

I also discreetly snapped a few photos, which highlight what happened next:
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the beginning (very difficult for me not to yell)
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both end up on the floor (this could get ugly-still keeping mouth shut)
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“Look, Mom, we’re having so much fun!” (okay, difficult to argue with this one) :o)
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big sister bangs little brother’s head on the floor = tears
While I wanted to yell, “SEE, I told you someone would get hurt!”, I continued to keep my mouth shut. I also stopped snapping pictures and quietly observed what happened next…the fighting stopped and Kate checked, really checked, to see if Brian was okay. She comforted her little brother and they decided together to do something else.

 

An unexpected act of kindness for all of us.

 

Maybe this kindness project can teach this old yeller some new tricks. :o)


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#91. Wrote three letters for TWNMLL | The World Needs More Love Letters (moreloveletters.com)
#90. Picked up a loaf of bread that had fallen off the shelf and was just sitting in the middle of the aisle.
#89. Donated to a fund for the Nauti Dolphin delivery man who is going through cancer treatment.
#88. Donated to Amanda Lynn Williams Endowment Fund (McHenry County College).
#87. Gave a little extra tip to the man who delivered our Chinese food.
#86. Stayed out of sibling squabble. (RAK of the Week).

The Money Tree

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the money tree

It was his 8th birthday. I had no idea what to get him. Every single year, I would spend months before his big day wracking my brain trying to figure out what to get him…the perfect gift. I’d think…What’s the latest and greatest toy right now? What will appeal to the boy who has the most sophisticated preferences? How can I outdo last year’s gift and not break the bank? And lastly…What do you get for the kid who has everything?

 

Not that he was spoiled. Well, okay, maybe he was a little spoiled. But who could blame us; Patrick was special. And I’m not just saying that because he’s my nephew or my sister’s first born or because he’s my parents first grandchild. I also don’t mean that he was special because of his big brown eyes, his charming, yet serious personality, his high level of intelligence, or how he was keenly aware of his surroundings and protective of others, particularly when it came to his younger sister, Katie. While he possessed all of those attributes and then some, it was also the remarkable timing of his birth that made him truly exceptional. Born exactly one month to the day after we buried my brother, Brian, Patrick came into the world and unknowingly started to mend our hearts with his unconditional and unwavering love. He was the ultimate gift to our family, so it was only natural that we always felt the need to return that gift (and many others!) to him.

Instead of second guessing myself, I decided to call Patrick, or “Noochie” (my nickname for him) at home, so that I could find out his wish list firsthand. My sister handed the phone to him, “Hey Noochie! I’m calling to see what you’d like for your birthday. Do you have any ideas for me?” I asked this question with an enthusiasm that I could only muster for this kid, especially after a long day at work.

I pictured his sweet face, the receiver placed carefully at his ear and the mouthpiece tucked way under his chin, when I heard his muffled voice, “I dunno.”

“Oh, come on, Noochie. There has to be something that you want for your birthday?” At the same time, I’m thinking, C’mon kid, throw me a bone here!

He was silent for a moment, but I knew he was still on the other line because I could hear his breathing and the faint dinging of letters being turned on Wheel of Fortune in the background. I appreciated that he was giving this some serious thought and braced myself for the pricetag of this gift. He then quietly responded, “I dunno…money, maybe?”

Money. Now why didn’t think of that? From a very early age, my nephew had a bit of an obsession with money. I’m not quite sure where this came from, however, I could relate as I had the same weird preoccupation with money when I was growing up. While I could definitely respect my nephew’s determination to become independently wealthy before the age of ten, I still felt somewhat defeated – Now, how can I make a personal check exciting for a soon-to-be eight-year-old boy?

And just like that, I remembered it: The Money Tree.

When my sister, Julie, turned ten-years-old, she received the most creative and thoughtful birthday gift ever. An incredibly generous and artistic mother of one of her friends made a miniature money tree complete with pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters and paper money affixed to all of the tiny branches and at the base of the tree. I think we counted about $15 dollars on the tree, which was a king’s ransom at the time. It was perfect.

When I realized that I finally had “the” gift for him, I started to giggle uncontrollably and had to get off the phone with him before I accidently spilled the beans. I also needed to get to work on my plan. Because I had noticed that Patrick was becoming increasingly serious for his young age, I decided to add another element to his gift…a whimsical, magical tale to accompany the money tree.

Over the next week, I collected parts of the gift and started to brainstorm the story behind the money tree. I went to Home Depot where I picked up two clay pots, one bag of soil and one packet of seeds. I also stopped at the bank for some coins and bills. Some branches I found in our backyard made the perfect “tree”. I decided to have two pots: one for the sowing of the “magic” seeds and the other for the finished product. The unveiling would have to be carefully coordinated with my family.

That whole week I went on and on about my brilliant idea to my colleagues. They were a little more realistic about this plan. “He’s how old?” “You’re going to tell him you found magic seeds”? “That’ll never work.” While they were skeptical of my idea, the more I talked about my story, the more I started to (sorta) believe it myself, which is half the battle when you’re telling a tall tale.

Finally, the special occasion arrived – it was March 16th, the day before St. Patrick’s Day and a week before his birthday. It was a crisp and sunny Saturday morning and I had arrived a little early, so that Patrick could open “Part One” of his birthday present before we went to his much-anticipated Pinewood Derby. He could hardly contain his excitement as he tore through all the layers of brightly colored tissue paper that had been carefully crafted into triangles and then tucked into the gift bag. He pulled out the last piece of tissue, crumbled it between his hands and stared down at the contents of the bag. Slowly, he looked up at me and said, “You’re giving me a pot for my birthday?” While he tried to hide the disappointment in his voice, it wasn’t easy. After all, Patrick wasn’t quite eight years old yet, so he didn’t have the years of experience behind him on how to gracefully accept the most disappointing gift ever. I looked him in the eyes, smiled and said, “This is not just any pot, Noochie, this one is special. Come over here and let me tell you a story.”

Before he could get too discouraged with the dirt-filled clay pot sitting in front of him, I led him and his little sister to the breakfast table and began the story of the “magic” seeds.

“Okay Noochie, here’s the story. You know how I was in New York for work a couple of weeks ago?” He looked up at the ceiling as he pondered my question. “Yeah, I think so.” “Well,” I continued, “One day, we were able to spend some time in the city and I decided to walk around by myself. I got lost on this tiny little side street in Chinatown….”. I continued by describing a scene that I had probably watched in an old movie at some point.

It was a dark and foggy night in the city, complete with steam billowing up from the sewer grates. All of the shops lining either side of the street were small and dilapidated. I hesitated in front of one the shops, but then decided to go inside. When I walked into the dimly lit storefront, I was hit in the face with the smell of old newspapers and books, incense and day-old fish. In the far corner, an elderly Chinese man with long white beard was sitting all by himself, smoking a pipe and carefully watching my every move. After I browsed around for a bit, I decided to leave, but before I reached the exit sign, he quietly spoke to me, “Miss, may I ask what you are looking for?” I told him that it was a special occasion. It was going to be my nephew’s 8th birthday and I had to find a gift, but not just any gift, the perfect gift. The old man paused for a moment, looked around and whispered, “I think I can help you.” He slowly got up, walked gingerly to the back of the store and came back holding a tiny envelope. The mysterious man explained that in this envelope were special seeds, magic seeds, and that if my nephew was indeed special, truly exceptional, an incredible gift would grow from these seeds. He gave me a short list of instructions and then abruptly ushered me out the door as he needed to close his shop. The next morning when I realized that I forgot pay the man for the seeds, I walked back to the little shop and stopped dead in my tracks. The shop was gone, in its place stood a much larger, brightly lit grocery store…

Patrick and Katie’s eyes were huge. They were captivated by the story, hanging onto every single word. I even added the part about the grocery store at the end because I was gaining so much momentum as they listened intently and asked questions at all the right times. My sister gently reminded us that Patrick needed to get going soon or he’d be late for his big car race; we had to get to work. The three of us quickly and carefully read the brief instructions I had typed up in some obscure font. Patrick gently placed the tiny seeds in the soil and then covered them up with a little dirt he had set aside. After he watered the soil, he needed to leave the pot in a cool, dark area as instructed. He chose the downstairs bathroom and carefully placed it on the floor. We then had to hustle out of the house with two cars; he was in one and I was going to follow in another car.

When the car he was in pulled out of the driveway and the coast was clear, I quickly popped the trunk of my car and pulled out the second pot – The Money Tree. After I successfully made the exchange of the two pots, I jumped into the car and drove to his school’s gym, where we spent the rest of the afternoon watching little wooden cars go down a ramp. Patrick (and I!) could not wait to get home.

Finally, it was time to return to his house for his birthday celebration complete with presents, cake and ice cream. We pulled up to the house and the garage door wasn’t even all the way up before Patrick tried to jump out of the car. Once the car stopped, he bolted for the side door and I was right behind him, he threw open the door to the bathroom, flipped on the light switch and then stood there in disbelief. There, right next to the shower, where he had left the pot of dirt, was the most magnificent two-foot-tall tree. It was covered in rolled up green bills of different denominations and silver coins were hanging from the branches and scattered and on top of the soil. Patrick’s very own money tree. While it wasn’t as perfect as the original, he didn’t know the difference. To him and to me, it was perfect for the perfect occasion.

Treasured Trash and the Weekly RAK-Up

FullSizeRender (7)On Friday afternoon, I was lucky to have a little one-on-one time with our middle child, Kate. One-on-one time with any of our children doesn’t happen very often in our household, so we decided to take full advantage of our alone time together. Because it was unseasonably warm, we chose to spend most of the two hours outside. It’s amazing what a little fresh air, warm sunshine and hoops in the driveway can do for the spirit. After my arms felt like Jell-O from all those awesome hook shots (yea, right), I suggested that we take a break and walk down the road to the duck pond. I wanted to pick up a little trash as a “free” act of kindness for my #365ActsofKindness project. While Kate didn’t want to go initially, I convinced her with the stash of stale Goldfish crackers in the pantry, knowing that she couldn’t resist going as feeding the ducks is one of her favorite activities.

When we walked into the house to grab the Goldfish, our pup, Jane, was waiting at the door with her ears perked up as if she knew exactly where we were going. We couldn’t NOT bring her, although we both strongly considered that option. You see, while Jane’s a super-sweet dog, there is nothing sweet about walking her. She tugs on the leash so hard that you can feel your arm being pulled out of its socket and she goes completely berserk when she sees a squirrel, bird, jogger, or another dog. It’s just not necessarily the way we wanted to spend our special mother-daughter time together. Still, the pathetic look she gave us, complete with a single tear in her eye (okay, slight exaggeration), convinced us that we couldn’t leave without her. We put on her harness and set off for the duck pond. Our loveable Jane only attempted to bite the head off of one squirrel and one other dog. It was a successful walk in our book. :o)

We spent about a half an hour at the pond looking out at the water and feeding the ducks, geese and an occasional seagull. Kate would grab a handful of the tiny Goldfish crackers out of the bag, throw them up into the air and the seagulls would swoop down to try to grab the crackers before they landed in the water. Kate giggled and screamed as the seagulls got a little close for comfort or when she’d see a duck swimming over for the food. The sun was shining at just the right angle…not only did it warm our skin as we stood at the water’s edge, but it also made the surface of the water literally sparkle. I took a deep breath and smelled the warm, earthy soon-to-be spring air. It was the perfect moment. One thing that I love about the duck pond is that while it is beautiful and serene, there’s more depth to it than one would initially realize. If you focus your gaze a little further down the river beyond the tall grasses and gaggle of geese, there is the stark contrast to the quiet beauty where the traffic whizzes by on I95. It’s pretty cool because you get to feel the calm, peaceful feeling of nature, but you don’t feel isolated because you’re reminded of all the other people in the world – commuters, families, truckers – buzzing by at about sixty-five miles per hour on the highway. People. Noise. Reality. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I grew up in a big city, but I like it. For some reason it makes me feel less alone. I always end up imagining the people in the cars and trucks, I do the same thing with airplanes. I stare off and wonder…who’s driving, where they are going, what are they thinking…are they happy or sad?

“Okay…it’s empty!” Kate’s words brought me back from my thoughts as she shook the empty bag of Goldfish at all the wildlife creatures she had now attracted to her. It was time to go home. Just like most perfect moments, it went too quickly and had to come to an end. Our one-on-one time would soon become one-on-three time.

As we walked up to the road from the grassy area of the duck pond, I remembered that I wanted to pick up trash as my 72nd (72nd!) act of kindness. At the edge of the park, there was a gallon-sized Ziploc bag filled with garbage and an empty pack of Marlboros perched on top of it. It was like someone had pulled over, cleaned out the contents of their car, put it in the Ziploc baggie, sealed it, topped it off with the box of cigarettes that wouldn’t fit in the bag and intentionally left it all there. Once again, there was the stark contrast to the beauty of nature, only unlike the traffic whizzing by, the trash that was purposefully left behind really annoyed me. I almost went ahead and picked up the Ziploc bag, but then thought of all the dogs that walk by and what dogs do to mark their territory, and I thought, I might be kind, but even “kind” has its limits. I decided to leave it there. About a foot away from the bag, was a half empty (or was it half full?) Dunkin Donuts plastic cup on the side of the road. I rationalized to myself and Kate that this would work as my “trash”, so I picked it up and carefully held it in between my index finger and thumb. Along the way home, Kate laughed and said, “Oh, that looks so refreshing, Mom, how does it taste?” I pretended to sip it and answered, “It tastes so good, wanna sip?” The moment made even more hilarious when the dirt crusted along the side of the cup moved and we thought there was a bug crawling on it. We were laughing so hard by the time we got home it almost seemed a shame to throw it away…almost.

But, even during that silly moment, I didn’t feel great about leaving all the other trash behind or the lesson I was modeling for my daughter who is a careful, quiet observer. By only picking up the one piece of trash and claiming that I did my act of kindness for the day, I felt like a complete fake. It also made me feel like I was just going through the motions to check something off a list instead of really being mindful of my acts of kindness. The thought of the garbage and my complacency nagged at me the rest of the night.

So, early the next morning, I decided to walk back to the duck pond. This time, instead of stale Goldfish, I grabbed a tall white kitchen garbage bag and my helper-pup, Jane. On my way out, I invited Kate to join us, but she responded that she was really comfy in her bed with her iPad. When I explained to her why I was going back, my old-soul daughter listened, smiled knowingly and went back to playing her game.

When Jane and I arrived at the duck pond, I was sorta surprised, but pleased to see that the Ziploc bag, complete with cigarette box on top of it, was still sitting along the road. I picked it up along with several beer cans scattered around, although I actually didn’t mind that part because it felt like payback for the days long, long ago when my friends and I would drink at the beach or the park and then toss our empties everywhere except the garbage cans. I also picked up other garbage, including filthy Styrofoam containers, broken glass, a crushed diet coke can, old paper and tissue, and I had to carefully step over and through some sticker bushes to get a couple Whole Foods deli containers with old fruit and salads. It was completely disgusting and I had a scratch or two on my legs, but it definitely felt better than just picking up the one Dunkin Donuts cup.

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After I was finished collecting the trash, I walked back home with our helpful pup, Jane. She didn’t even pull on her leash that hard. I was amazed that we filled half the garbage bag with trash that was carelessly cast away by others. The duck pond was cleaner and so was my conscience. What’s that saying about trash, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”? I guess this sorta applies here. While it wasn’t my favorite way to spend a Saturday morning, it wasn’t all bad either. There have been days when I loathe this project sitting over my head, but mostly I am grateful. Very grateful. I hope Kate (and Emma and Brian) notice my gratitude too.

 


 

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#74. Left some scratch off lotto tickets on a couple of cars’ windshields in the parking lot at Goodwill.

#73. Picked up the trash at the duck pond: A Redux. (RAK of the Week)

#72. Picked up trash at the duck pond: the lite version.

#71. Gave Emma Starbucks gift cards to give to others on her birthday. She successfully hid two gift cards in random lockers AND in her dad’s “beauty product” drawer. :o)

#70. Wrote letters to adolescent residents in a mental health facility as suggested by the Random Act of Kindness Organization (RAKtivist)*.

#69. Gave an extra tip to a car wash attendant.

#68. Let someone pull ahead of me in traffic.

*Note about Cards to Inspire: http://cardstoinspire.tumblr.com/post/139438764164/cards-to-inspire-card-drive  Cards To Inspire is doing a card drive for encouraging cards for adolescents who are residents in mental health treatment facilities. The cards will be presented to the adolescents in May in honor of May being mental health month. You’re welcome to contribute!

A big “thank you” to my friend, Colleen King, for the clean-up at the duck pond suggestion. I never realized how much trash accumulates at one of our favorite spots. Do you have any other “free” acts of kindness that you like to do? If so, I’d love to hear all ideas! Thank you!