the rest stop

image
google images

My favorite Act of Kindness this week took place at a rest stop (of all places!).

Emma, Kate and I walked into a busy Ohio restroom and the two of them headed for the only two empty stalls. I walked over to the sinks to wait.

A half a second later, Kate walked out and said she wasn’t going because the door wouldn’t lock. I told her I’d hold the door for her. As we walked over to the stall a woman in a BIG hurry rushed into the restroom. She made a beeline for the stall and then quickly realized it wouldn’t lock. I noticed (recognized) the look of panic in her eyes (we have ALL been there!) and asked her, “Would you like me to hold the door for you?” She responded, “Oh my God, yes, thank you!”

So, I stood outside the door holding onto it like we had to do in our grammar school bathrooms when the locks were broken. She called out, “Okay, I’m all done!” And we both giggled like grammar school girls and I opened the door. She thanked me over and over again for holding the door for her.

She had no idea I was grateful that a complete stranger would place her trust in me and that my daughters could witness that kind of trust between two strangers – a free and simple act of kindness.

When it was my turn, Emma held the door for me. :o)


weekly rak up

#175. Cleaned up some trash in workout room.

#174. Bought ice cream treats for police officers.

#173. Held the bathroom door (lock was broken) for a stranger at a rest stop. (RAK of the Week)

#172. Left a “You Are Beautiful” sticker at a rest stop.

#171. Donated dog food to animal shelter.

#170. Hauled a bunch of carts into Target when they were all out (it’s a lot harder than it looks!).

What’s a Handkerchief, Mom?

bandanaman
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.

image
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.

frogger
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.


 

IMG_4524

#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.

Uber Kindness and The Weekly RAK-Up

uber-logo

“Thank you for listening, Boss. You are a good mother…I can tell. Your kids are lucky. Thank you so much for listening.”
Today, during an early morning uber ride, I met a driver with an interesting story. Born in India, he was one of eight children, left school after the 7th grade and started working to help support his family. When he moved to the United States many years ago, he continued to work, taking odd jobs along the way.
Thirty-eight years ago, he and his wife bought a home in Rogers Park (my old ‘hood!) and started a family. They had two children – a boy and a girl. Throughout their lives, he taught them many life lessons; like how to earn and save money, that they needed to respect their parents (he gave them a tour of a juvenile detention facility to make his point), and the importance of education. His children both excelled, graduated from college and are successful in their professional endeavors. He has two grandchildren, who bring him more joy than he could even begin to describe, however, his smile told the entire story.
In three months, he turns 68-years-old and will retire from his full-time job. He will travel to India, and when he returns, he’ll go back to his part-time uber gig. He enjoys meeting people and hearing their stories.
I know this will sound like an easy or obvious act of kindness, but it’s one that I often forget about…listening. Truly listening to a person tell his story, without interruption, thinking about the next thing to say and without judgement. Because I did this, I learned many valuable life lessons, received the highest compliment and connected with someone who loves his family as much as I love mine.
We can really learn so much about each other when we really listen.
IMG_3429
#57. Listened (without interruption) to a man’s life story.
#56. Helped a woman whose carry-on was stuck in the overhead bin.
#55. Left a “kindness”note in a bathroom stall at LaGuardia.
#53. Gave a little extra tip for great service at a restaurant.
#52. Brought dinner to a friend who just had a baby.
#51. Gave chocolate to a conductor who was having a bad day.
#50. Woke up a sleeping passenger when his cell phone fell onto the floor of the train. He was SO appreciative!
#49. Put garbage can lid back on trash can (instead of walking by it).

The Weekly RAK-Up

image

The RAK of the Week:

#34. Wrote a Letter for Hope…

A few months ago my friend, Julie D., introduced me to the letter writing campaign, TWNMLL: The World Needs More Love Letters, when she chose this organization for her NoochieRAKs or Noochie Random Acts of Kindness.

If you know Julie D. (or “Sis” as I call her because my mom fell in love with and basically adopted her the first time she met her), it is no surprise to you that she would find this incredible global social movement that connects people with one another. Not only does it connect people, but it fosters feelings of love, support and inspiration during a time when a person may be feeling unloved, unsupported and uninspired.

We have all been there.

So, Julie D. signed up to become one of the letter writers and then she posted about this thoughtful act of kindness. With her act, she not only mailed off letters of encouragement to people in need, she unknowingly encouraged me to sign up for this letter writing campaign as well.

Last week, I received an email with the subject: “Screw the blues…we’ve got letter requests!” in my inbox. I was excited to receive this letter writing assignment because I had missed the deadline on the last one. In the email were brief profiles of five individuals who are currently going through a difficult time. Each one of these people has a story. They also have a loved one who knew about TWNMLL and secretly signed up to have hundreds of love letters bundled up and sent to their loved ones’ doors.

The backgrounds of these individuals vary a great deal…there is an Iraq veteran who is having a difficult time adjusting to life back home, a mother who served as a caretaker for her daughter who had leukemia and now for her husband who has cancer, an 18-year-old woman who had recently lost both of her parents, and a woman who had to make an adoption plan for her baby and is struggling with being separated from her child. Her name is Hope…

Upon reading these profiles, I gathered up all of my letter writing supplies and sat down at my desk. I wasn’t quite sure where to start because all of the stories were so compelling. I decided to start with Hope, not only because I love her name and its meaning, but also because I am close to a few people who have been adopted, including my husband. I have always felt such deep admiration and gratitude toward the women who have had to make that most ultimate selfless sacrifice for their children. So…that’s where I started.

I was surprised that while I had never met any of these individuals, the words came easily. I really wanted to connect very personally with each one of these people. While their stories and backgrounds were all so different, there were many similarities. When I was writing these letters, I kept thinking about their stories, their pain, how alone in the world each one must feel…

Would these letters help ease their pain, even for just a little bit? What could I say to help them? Would they be able to receive and read all of these letters yet or was their suffering just too unbearable right now? I had so many questions that would be left unanswered.

After I finished writing the letters, I put them in envelopes, sealed, addressed and stamped them and then put them in the mailbox. While it was such a small task, I felt a great sense of accomplishment that I haven’t felt in a very long time. I really cannot describe it, other than this way…if you could say many of the things you’ve wanted to say to a person you’ve lost, only you get to say it to a living, suffering person who could possibly still have Hope…isn’t that an incredible gift? I’m probably not making much sense here, but that’s how it felt. There was also something to saying these words to complete strangers. Sometimes it’s easier to share our innermost thoughts and secrets with those we’ll never meet.

Sis, thank you for choosing grace on behalf of my nephew, Patrick/”Noochie”. By including me, you helped me channel my pain into something that is hopefully helping others. I’m pretty sure my mom “adopted” you for a reason. :o)

If anyone else would like to learn more about this letter writing campaign, you can visit moreloveletters.com to read all about the founder’s story and sign up to receive letter writing assignments.

And now…here’s the Weekly Round-Up (or RAK Up!) of the other Acts of Kindness from the week:

#37. Struck up a brief conversation with a stranger about the weather (neither of us was wearing coats in February!) and wished him a good day.

#36. Left a lotto scratch-off ticket in a journal at Home Goods.

#35. Found pennies and other coins for kids’ Penny Challenge at school.

#34. Letter writing for those who can use encouragement (see RAK of the Week).

#33. Wrote and mailed thank you notes.

#32. Baked and delivered chocolate chip cookies for our neighbor and her caregiver.

#31. Left scratch-off tickets at the gas pump.

I am always looking for new and creative ways to complete random and not-so-random acts of kindness. If you have any ideas or know of someone who could use a little kindness in his/her life, please let me know…I have 328 more acts of kindness to go!!

 

The Writers’ Workshop

image

Last night I attended my first-ever writers’ workshop. I initially signed up for the group because I was looking for guidance with telling my story – whether I should continue writing my blog or possibly look into writing a longer version of the story that I’ve been trying to tell for the past couple of years.

This was the first “class” I’ve taken since grad school and I was nervous, but excited to get started. I arrived a few minutes early with my backpack, a notebook and pen and a few short writing samples. If there was a front row, I would have been sitting there too. I was ready to take in as much as possible.

We dove right in by going around the table to introduce ourselves and talk a little about our writing experience and topics. I have to admit, that at that moment, I literally felt like bolting for the door. I realized I was sitting among some seriously accomplished writers; there were published authors in mystery and food writing and a former New York Daily News celebrity news columnist and parenting blogger. While completely intimidated at first, these women immediately put me at ease. In just two hours, they embraced me and my story with so much warmth, compassion and support – I definitely felt like I was in the right place at the right time.

Because I am still trying to figure out where I want to go with my work and writings about suicide awareness, research and prevention and my kindness campaign, they helped me generate ideas about how, when and where I should start. The instructor gave each of us an assignment for the week ahead, which should help keep me motivated and focused.

In addition to some research and putting together a timeline, one of the other writers suggested that I set a weekly goal for my blog. I am taking her excellent suggestion and will provide a weekly recap of the acts of kindness I accomplished over the week for my #365ActsofKindness project.

I know it’ll take a while for my story to take shape. I think I am closing in on some ideas, but telling my story involves uncovering some very painful memories and it will take time. I know that there’s a reason my life crossed with and was profoundly affected by the lives and suicides of my brother, Brian, my step-father, John, and my nephew, Patrick. I want to know why I felt so connected to each of these three sensitive, gentle and highly intelligent people when they were living and why I still feel such a connection to them now. It is because of them that I feel such an urgency to embrace life, even on my worst days, and help others.

So, just like my first writing class, I am nervous, but excited about starting this process. As one of the other writers said, “There aren’t any grades or tests, so you don’t have to worry!”. I am constantly reminding myself how lucky I am to be surrounded by such supportive people.

If you give your neighbor a plate of cookies…

 

image
If you give your neighbor a plate of cookies,
You might be a little surprised when another cute and sweet neighbor unexpectedly delivers a plate of cookies to your house just a half an hour later.

If you leave a few scratch-off lottery tickets at a couple of gas pumps,
You might scratch your own head when you receive a bunch of scratch-off tickets at your own front door later that same night.

If you leave a few different gift cards in discreet places around town with notes that say “You Matter” and “You Are Loved”,
You might have to wipe away tears of joy when you receive a basket full of gift cards with a card that simply says, “Thank you”.

If you make a donation to an important cause,
You probably wouldn’t expect to find a $20 bill in your wallet just moments after you hit “submit payment” (especially because you never have cash!).

If you leave a “You Are Beautiful” sticker and Starbucks card on an airplane in the hopes that it’ll calm another passenger’s anxiety,
You might not expect that at the very moment you taped the card to the safety instruction manual, your father would send a text offering to buy you a Starbucks and soothe your own sad and anxious heart.

If you lost one of life’s most precious gifts,
You would never, ever imagine that this same gift could keep giving.

Ah, Noochie.

 

Note: This piece is (sorta) inspired by the children’s book, “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” by Laura Numeroff and written in honor of my nephew, Patrick “Noochie” Berg.

The Power of a Post and 30 Acts

image

The day started at 3:00am with a tap on my shoulder and a weepy “Mom, my tummy hurts.” The dreaded wake-up call came from our eldest child, who we thought might escape the terrible stomach bug that has plagued our family the whole week. Unfortunately, she didn’t escape it, and the rest of the morning was a somewhat chaotic blur of tears, towels, blankets, dry heaves (me), ginger ale, laundry and “the bucket”.

It was a difficult way to start the day.

And then a little bit later this morning, I received this Facebook message:

“Yesterday, I went to POSH nail salon in Southport, CT. It is my place for pedicures! I asked if they could possibly make a donation to Donate Life CT – Gala as a silent auction item. They generously gave me 4 gift certificates and an added bonus for a total of 5 gift certificates. They said a kind person had given this extra and it was from Noochieraks!!! I am a huge pay it forward kind of gal and actually belong to a Random Acts of Mail Kindness, letter writing group. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Know that your gesture is making a difference and the world is a better place because of your kindness!”

Terrie, the thoughtful woman who posted this message didn’t know that I went to the nail salon a couple of weeks ago and intentionally chose a person to receive the gift card after I left. She also didn’t know that that same woman must have paid it forward or donated the gift card back to the salon. In addition, Terrie had no idea that I went into the nail salon on that day, my mom’s birthday, because I wanted honor my mom (and Noochie and the 365 acts of kindness challenge). Lastly, she didn’t know that I woke up this morning with a sick child and felt tired, sad and defeated.

So, without any knowledge of the above, Terrie simply posted a comment. And…with her kind words, she completely turned my day around and my daughters who were not feeling well at all, also smiled when I read the message to them.

I know this may sound like a stretch, but in many ways, it felt like a gift from my mom, like she was telling me, “Stay strong, you’ll get through this, I’m always here.”

You just never know the ripple effects of one simple act of kindness. 

 

…And speaking of acts of kindness, I’ve completed THIRTY so far. Here’s what I’ve been up to since “The First Fifteen”:

#30. Sent a cookie bouquet to friends who just lost their beloved pup of 15 1/2 years.

#29. Brought dinner to a special family.

#28. Waved at a stranger who was waiting on the corner for a bus. Thought he’d think either:
a. This woman is hitting on me, or
b. This woman is crazy, or
c. This crazy woman is hitting on me.
Regardless, he smiled and waved back. :o)(correct answer: B)

#27. Left a couple snow brushes/ice scrapers next to snow-covered cars during the blizzard.

#26. Made a small donation to the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation. When I said I would donate, the gentleman sounded so relieved/surprised/appreciative and said, “Are you sure?!”…wish I could have donated more.

#25. Donated gently used coats and snow pants that I was holding onto for sentimental reason to Goodwill.

#24. Made a small donation to an important cause for my cousin’s daughter.

#23. Became an Eucharistic Minister at our Parish.

#22. Ding Dong Donut: Dropped off a box on donuts at my neighbors and ran. :o) (Full disclosure: it was buy one get one free offer from Entenmann’s)

#21. Put post-it notes with inspirational messages on random cars outside the Melting Pot in Darien. Brian helped too!

#20. Mailed a card to a friend I haven’t seen in a while.

#19. Sent a funny picture to a friend.

#18. Bought a manicure for someone (on my mom’s birthday).

#17. Sent an encouraging note to someone.

#16. Didn’t honk (or swear!) when someone cut me off in traffic. Sometimes silence is the best act of kindness. :o)