savoring every moment.

When I was newly pregnant with our third child, I spent the better part of the day and night on the sofa curled up in the fetal position trying not to get sick. Somehow I had forgotten the morning (ALL DAY!) sickness of my first two pregnancies and realized relatively quickly that although I always wanted FIVE children, this would be our last baby.

This decision was made during the 14th week of my pregnancy.  One night I was back on the sofa, attempting to keep down some saltines and not look up at the TV (Did you ever notice when you’re not feeling well that EVERY single commercial is a close-up shot of a big, bloody steak from Ruby Tuesdays or gigantic platter of greasy nachos from Chili’s?). I took several deep breaths and buried my head in the cushions. I had no idea what our other two children, only two and four years old at the time, were doing upstairs. And, quite frankly, I didn’t care.

Until I heard a door slam. Knocking. And then a scream.

I ran up the stairs and found our four-year-old daughter looking into the keyhole of the bathroom door and frantically pulling on the doorknob. While they were playing, our two-year-old daughter ran into the bathroom, slammed the door and turned the lock. Because she was only two, she couldn’t comprehend that she needed to turn the lock the opposite direction to open the door. At the time, we lived in a house that was nearly 100 years old. All of the original details had been maintained over the years, including the locks which required skeleton keys. We did not have a set of those keys! Panicked, I started looking for anything I could find to try to open the lock.

Luckily, my husband had returned from work at just the right moment. After several failed attempts with other household items, including keys, screwdrivers and even a paperclip, we finally decided he should try to get in through the window. Unfortunately, the window, just like the door, was locked. The only way in was by breaking the glass. He took our extra-tall ladder, propped it up along the front of the house and climbed up to the second story window. I stayed inside the house on the other side of the locked door trying to distract and soothe our little girl with familiar songs and stories. I’ll never forget her screams when the window broke on the other side of the door – she started yelling for me and pulling, pounding and scratching at the door. Even though I knew she was safe, it was the most helpless feeling in the world. I felt so much guilt for leaving them alone. I kept calling her name so that she would stay close to my voice through the door…I was so worried that she would run over the shards of glass when she saw her dad. Thankfully, she stayed right next to the door. He crawled through the window, stepped over the glass, picked her up and unlocked the door.

At the same time, I looked down at my belly and thought, There is no way we are having five children – this baby will complete our family.

FullSizeRender (22)Seven months later, as we drove less than a mile home from the hospital, I sat next to my newborn baby safely belted into his car seat in the backseat of our minivan. This is the last time I will do this drive home from the hospital, I thought sadly. I looked out the window at the changing leaves, smelled the fall air and felt every single bump in the road. I then looked down at him, kissed his little forehead and took in his sweet new baby smell. I was grateful. Our last baby. I will never do this again. I savored the moment. I was both happy and sad.

 

FullSizeRender (21)This week I pulled the last car seat out of our minivan. Our third baby is now an almost 8-year-old child. He’s above average for height and weight and I probably could have removed the seat a while ago. I didn’t tell him that though. :o)

I smiled as I watched him sitting in the car…he looked so old to me. Our last baby. I will savor this moment too.

 

 

ps. After our third baby came home, our 2nd child continued to get into mischief even when I was doing a pretty good job of keeping a very close eye on her. When I asked her why she colored herself green, she answered, “I wanna look like Shrek.”

 


 

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#223. Brian and I tipped a street musician and gave him two YAB “You Are Beautiful” stickers (one to keep, one to give away). : )

#222. Donated to Louisiana Floods/Red Cross efforts.

#221. Picked up garbage out in front of our favorite ice cream shop before it opened.

#220. Gave a donation to a teacher for her school supplies purchases.

#219. Left a small DQ gift card for the next customer.

#218. Gave a little extra tip at a restaurant.

#217. Paid a compliment to a stranger on her sundress (she was totally surprised and her face lit up).

#216. Made a promise to kids’ science teacher that I would purchase a dozen bottles of glue for him for the first day of school.

#215. Paid a compliment to a stranger.

#214. Gave cold water bottles to landscaping crew.

#213. Bought a bag from a friend’s online shop (kindness to self).

#212. Treated two friends to Bad Moms.

#211. Held door for a bunch of people leaving the movie theater.

#210. Started recruiting team Choosing Grace.

#209. Printed out and delivered important paperwork for neighbor.

#208. Made a donation to an important cause.

#207. Listened. While rushing to get a bunch of items checked off my to-do list, stopped to enjoy a nice conversation with one of the workers at Stop and Shop. He shared that he hasn’t had a vacation in years, he is estranged from some of his family members and he feels stuck in his job. After he finished, he said he knew I couldn’t do anything but he was thankful that I just listened.


*I’ve been learning a lot about the concept of savoring in my positive psychology coursework. It’s a really important component of well-being:

It involves an awareness of pleasure along with quite deliberate attempts to focus attention on the sensation at hand and delight in it. In a sense, savoring seeks to extract every nuance and association continued in the complexity of a pleasurable experience.” (Compton & Hoffman, 2013)

the good mess.

This is Jack.

imageWe met Jack one week ago today.

Jack is 90 lbs. of pure LOVE. He is a gentle giant. Jack also has no sense of personal space, as is witnessed by his favorite resting place – a person’s lap.

We found out about Jack when my friend, Lisa, called to say that she just saw a beautiful Golden Retriever at an animal shelter. Jack was surrendered to the shelter by a woman who realized that she couldn’t properly care for him. His large size and extremely high energy level proved to be more than she could handle, so she hesitantly brought him to the shelter (on two separate occasions!) in the hopes that he would find a good home. Even though a second dog wasn’t in our immediate plan, I loaded the kids up in the car and met our friend at the shelter about an hour later. I texted my husband just before we left that we were going “Just to look”.

When we walked into the shelter, Jack’s crate was empty. We looked outside and there he was…with another family! I quickly shifted into “It wasn’t meant to be” mode, but we decided to stay and wait our turn to meet him. The other family left the outdoor area and we stepped inside the pen.

Jack greeted all of us like we were his long lost friends – there were great big bear hugs and sloppy dog kisses. His enthusiasm for life! balls! his tail! was contagious. He exudes the most innocent, energetic LOVE. Even our pup, Jane, who doesn’t get along well with other dogs, must have sensed this when she first met him too. She was surprisingly tolerant of his puppy-energy during their preliminary visit. The animal control staff was amazed at how quickly they got along with one another. They received several applications for Jack, but they felt like our family’s situation seemed like the best fit. After just a couple of visits, we were approved for his adoption and allowed to take him home.

Ever since Jack stepped through our front door just five days ago, it’s been a cRaZy WhiRlwiNd of activity. The floors are a little hairier, our clothes are a little slobberier and the remotes, iPhones, markers and sunglasses have all been moved a little LOT higher.

We’ll have to break him of his overly enthusiastic hugs, chewing of EVERYTHING and his ability to grab things off the counter with ease. He will need to learn how to sit and stay, walk on a leash and not jump at the screen door and/or windows. He has a lot to learn and so do we.

It has been, is and will be a TON of work (did I mention that we’ve only had him FIVE days?).

On the very first day of Jack’s arrival, Brian walked into my room and said,

Our house is a MESS now that Jack’s here! But, Mom, it’s good. It’s good-messy. Like…medium-messy. It’s good.”

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He’s right…it is messy but it IS good.❤️


weekly rak up
#204. Sent a “thank you” note to the shelter with pictures of Jack in the hopes that they would share with his first owner.
#203. Gave a nice tip for great service.
#202. Adopted our sweet Jack from the animal shelter. (RAK of the week)

#201. Donated dog toy to animal shelter.

 

#200. Paid a compliment to a stranger.
#199. Bought supplies for homemade dog toys-kids delivered some to local shelter.
#198. Left a cold bottled water for our mailman.
#197. Left cash and kindness note in vending machine.
#196. Fixed flower pot at a grave site.
#195. Sent a thank you note for a most awesome RAK that someone gave to me.
#194. Delivered Blessing Bag to a homeless man.
#193. Delivered Blessing Bag, water and ice cooler to homeless woman and her friends.
#192. Bought water and ice to accompany “Blessing Bags”.

#191. Bought supplies and started packing “Blessing Bags.

#190. Let lifeguard at pool borrow sweatshirt because it got really cold when sun went down (and she is on shift until 10pm)!

#189. Complimented someone’s hairdo.

#188. Rolled cart in middle of parking lot back to cart “garage”.

church lady.

I am sitting in the middle of the cold hard pew minding my own business when the soloist begins singing the offertory song.

She sounds like an angel, and this particular song brings back so many memories of my childhood in this church, in this very same pew.

I look around me, a few of my friends’ parents and former choir member friends are here. It is all so familiar, yet different too. I look up to the front of the church, notice “AMDG” over the altar, and suddenly I cannot prevent the tears from springing into my eyes.

I don’t want to start crying in church.

I don’t want people to think there’s something wrong with me.

This feeling…it is difficult to put into words. There is sadness, but there is also joy…I guess some would call it a feeling of nostalgia.

I look up to prevent the tears from spilling onto my cheeks and I see this…

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Although there isn’t a caption underneath the image, I think it is the story of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet. I just had a “moment” with this profound story of forgiveness last month: a different kind of sunday school.

How can it be that I’ve been coming to this church for over forty-five years (45 years!) and I somehow never made the connection to this stained glass window? I smile because I feel my friend, Carrie’s presence behind the thin veil.

It’s interesting that this week’s lesson for my Positive Psychology class is also focused on religion, spirituality and its impact on well-being. The researchers have hypothesized that religion impacts mental and physical health because of the following:

  1. Religion provides social support.
  2. Religion supports healthy lifestyles.
  3. Religion promotes personality integration.
  4. Religion promotes generativity and altruism.
  5. Religion provides unique coping strategies.
  6. Religion provides a sense of meaning and purpose.                                                                              ~Compton & Hoffman, Positive Psychology, pg. 233

In addition they note, “Religion can provide hope, offer reasons for unexpected and unwanted stressors, help people place their lives in a larger framework, and create renewed purpose and meaning.” (pg. 233)

I guess I never thought of my religion or spirituality in terms of my well-being, but this morning I understand it. I feel hopeful and grateful.

I am also smiling…my mom and grandma would LOVE that I have become a church lady. :o)


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#187. Bought a Streetwise from a gentleman in the neighborhood.

#186. Cleaned up bathroom (picked up paper towels, wiped down counter) at movie theater bathroom.

#185. My friend, Kim, and I helped turned over a pot that had flipped over on Central Street.
#184. Dropped off goodie bags at the 24th police district
#183. Helped a lady get a straw wrapper off her shoe.
#182.Kite mission (left a kite and kindness note in a bike basket).
#181. Kite mission (left a kite and kindness note at a newspaper stand).
#180. Spread bubble joy at park (left a bubble wand with a kindness note at the park).
#179. Spread bubble joy at park (left a bubble wand with a kindness note at the park).

 

*AMDG means “For the Greater Glory of God” and was one of my mom’s favorite expressions.

the winning ticket

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We are sitting on a bench waiting for the next race, when a bunch of little papers blow past us. Kate looks at me and says, “Should we go and catch them?”

Before I can answer, she and her little brother scurry off after the old racing tickets that have been cast away. The wind is particularly strong this afternoon. There is no way they’ll catch them, is all I think while I watch them sprinting and laughing at the silliness of these fast moving tickets. They run so fast and so far we cannot see them anymore.

I lean over to try to catch a glimpse of them. As I do, I see them skipping back with the tickets in their hands. They don’t even look to see if they were winning or losing tickets. They are just happy that they somehow caught this trash. Kate looks at me and throws them in the garbage can. Her little brother follows her example.

They both come running up to us with big smiles on their faces.

I tell them that I’m proud of them for picking up the trash, for their act of kindness. I then tell them that I need to do some RAKs myself because I’ve really slacked on my own kindness project this week.

Kate looks up at me and says, “Just add ours to your list.”

I respond, “Well, I didn’t do it, so that wouldn’t be fair.”

Without missing a beat, she replies, “Yeah, well, the only reason I thought to pick up that garbage is because of your project, so it’s sorta like you did it, right?”

I like the way this girl thinks. :o)


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#178. Wrote a positive message/review for the nicest Uber driver. We took a very late car and he put on a movie for the kids and was just a very careful and consciousness driver.
#177. “Inspired” kids to pick up trash at Arlington Race Track. : )
#176. Helped a woman get back into workout room to get her keys she left behind.

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.

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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.

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.


 

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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.