Little girl (alternatively titled, Assumptions are the worst)

She walked up slowly to the table of cookies and popcorn. Her big brown eyes and unruly curly hair stuck out immediately.

“I want a cookie please,” she said in a tiny voice.

I was behind the table, volunteering at a fundraiser at Ethan’s school. We had turned other kids away who approached us without money, asking for food. I didn’t know this little girl. Had never seen her before.

“Do you have any money?” asked one of the moms working with me.

The little girl, probably 4 or 5 years old, shook her head.

“Then no,” said the other mom and she turned away from the little girl.

“Honey, cookies are 50 cents, but I’ll give you one for a quarter,” I said bending down to her level.

What I said next has haunted me since Friday night. It was exactly the thing I hate hearing. That I dread will be asked of one of my kids someday. An assumption of a “typical” family – a mom, a dad, two kids, white picket fence. But the words just came out.

“Why don’t you go find your mom and your dad?” I asked.

“I don’t have a dad,” she said. “He died. He was really sick and he died. He’s dead now.”

Tears welled up in my eyes. One of the other moms put her arm around my shoulder. “I’m so sorry, honey,” I said.

But by then, she disappeared into the crowd.

I dabbed my eyes, and she came back with 50 cents. I gave her three cookies.

“Do you know her?” I asked all the other mom volunteers. “Have you ever seen her before?”

But no one knew the little girl. (Unusual that no one knew her since this is a small school in a very close-knit church community, and a little girl with a dead daddy would certainly be memorable.)

The tiny little girl, so young but so confident, handled the situation beautifully. She was poised and eloquent. She answered liked it was no big deal, and maybe to her, it wasn’t a big deal. I don’t know her story.

But to me it was a big deal. I wish I knew that little girl. I want to give her a hug. To cry with her mom. To say, “ I get it and I’m so sorry I assumed you had a mom and a dad and I know that it’s hard.”

I haven’t seen the little girl since.

Lesson learned.


On a related note, the mom who assumed that Ethan would be “over” the death of his dad was volunteering at the event also. Early in the evening, she pulled me aside.

“I need to tell you that I’m sorry,” she said.

“For what?” I asked.

“That night at the meeting. That was so STUPID of me to say. Of course Ethan is grieving. I’m sure you are, too. It’s a huge loss for you guys. I feel so bad about saying that. I didn’t mean anything by it. I went home and cried to my husband because it was just wrong to say. It came out SO WRONG. I’m so sorry that I said that,” she said.

And I forgave her.

Thursday Tidbits: Generosity, Crushing, Reflection, Reconnecting

A few completely unrelated, totally random thoughts:

  • Yesterday’s mail included an envelope addressed to Ethan and Lauren. Inside was a ridiculously nice gesture from a college friend (he also practiced the same kind of law that Mike did so they saw each other often “on the circuit”). He sent a beautiful note to the kids about starting the holiday season early with the enclosed gift cards to Toys R Us. Ethan went bonkers – he even graciously offered to “help” Lauren spend her gift card. It was a tremendously nice and completely unexpected surprise. And it should be noted, that this friend is also one-half of the college friends who sent me flowers for Mother’s Day earlier this year. Heart melting.
  • I have a tiny crush on Ethan’s TKD instructor. Not an actionable crush (1. He’s Ethan’s instructor = deal breaker, 2. He’s 10 years younger than I am = WTF am I thinking?), but it definitely makes it more fun to sit through an hour of watching E during practice! In related news, Ethan successfully tested for his yellow belt. He was incredibly nervous and I thought he was going to cry a few times, but he hung in there and nailed it!
  • I’ve been reflecting on my professional life quite a bit since the semester is winding down. I really feel like making this career change was the RIGHT thing to do. The last 15 weeks have been amazing – tough sometimes, challenging sometimes, and often harder than I thought. But I really feel good. – and I think I’m pretty good at it. It also helps that the fall 2013 schedule has been drafted and I’M ON IT (meaning my contract will most likely be renewed)!
  • I reached out to a FB friend who called out my former sister-in-law in a FB post. My SIL is not on FB anymore, has gotten remarried (and changed her name), and left her former job (and the only email address I had for her). I recognized her maiden name in our mutual friend’s post. When SIL divorced Mike’s brother, things got (understandably) weird. But I think about her often and I really miss her. I’ve asked our mutual friend to share my email address with SIL. I hope to connect with her again.

Helping others

One of the first work meetings I attended after my dad died (he died while I was on maternity leave with Lauren) involved a major interoffice brainstorm for a national greeting card company.

We were brainstorming ways grandparents could show their love for their grandkids (via cards and gifts, naturally).

Needless to say, it was a VERY painful day. I spent most of the time hiding out in the bathroom, crying, desperately missing my dad. Because his death happened while I was out of the office, not many people knew about it – and certainly not my colleagues from another office.

I felt bad about not participating, so after it was over, I approached one of the brainstorm leaders. She worked out of another office, and I didn’t know her really well.

I explained, through my tears, why I was absent for the majority of the session (and why I was still crying).

She started tearing up also. She lost her dad about 10 years before, while she was in college. I will never forget what she said to me next.

“This might sound weird, but I honestly believe,” she said, “that I lost my dad while I was so young so that I could help my friends who would lose their parents in the future. It was completely devastating when it happened, but I’ve been able to help others who’ve lost their mom or dad because I’ve been there. It sucks, but I’ve been there.”

Her words really resonated with me.

I remember after Mike’s funeral, on the long drive back home, telling my mom that of all my friends at the funeral, I was probably the only one who could deal with the death of a spouse at this point in our lives. That maybe losing Mike was a way to prepare me for something more, something greater.

I believe everything happens for a reason. I don’t know why so much has been thrust on me and my family over the last few years, but I know that it’s made me a stronger person in some regards. I pray that I don’t have to help anyone through the loss of her/his significant other any time soon, but I’ve learned a lot in the last 10 months. And someday, I’m hope I can use my experience to help others.

I’m thankful for that colleague and her wise words. I think about her words often and I recently shared with her how much her comments meant to me.

Baseball cap

As I was digging through a box of Christmas decorations, I found it. It kind of blended in at first. The red hat against the red Rubbermaid box, next to the red garland and red and white stripped dish.

But it was too faded to be a decoration.

I pushed some stuff out of the way. As soon as my fingers touched it, I knew.

Mike’s “Nebraska Rifle” hat.

He bought that hat while visiting a friend from law school in the Cornhusker State. He wore the hell out of that hat, and 10 years later, it was faded and discolored and O-L-D looking. There was the stain on the back of the hat – from something getting spilled on it when it was left on the kitchen counter one time. There was a small tear on one side – from pulling it free from a barbed wire fence. The front of the hat showed signs of dried sweat – from wearing the hat to mow the yard. It’s a pretty nasty hat.

I sat in the basement, next to the Christmas box, holding the hat. He wore that hat a lot. All the time. He loved baseball caps, but this one… this one was one of his favorites. There were a lot of good times in this hat. Good times from way back.

I put the hat in the box and carried it upstairs.

“Ethan, guess what I found?” I called. “It’s one of Daddy’s favorite hats.”

“Can I have it?” he asked.


Ethan wore the hat around for a while over Thanksgiving break. (He looked so adorable in it!). He has slept with the hat every night since I found it. Every night he cuddles with the old stinky baseball hat and an old shirt – a few of the only things I have of Mike’s.

I’m not sure how it ended up in the Christmas stuff. Maybe the movers found it in the basement of the old house and just stuck it in a box. Maybe Mike stuck it in there for who-knows-what-reason.

But it’s home now. Home with Ethan.