Sunday, January 17, 2010

Playing Single Mom

You know how when you go through something, you have a new appreciation and understanding for others who have experienced the same situation? Like women who have undergone a C-section have a specific understanding of that way of birth. Or, how going through major home remodeling gives you a new sympathy for others who are living through the same stress. (I do think that any contractor who administers Valium (or the like) to the homeowners living in and through the home remodeling process would have more going for them. Or, at least administer said medication to the woman of the home. But, I digress.)

While I admit to NOT having a true understanding of what it’s like to be a single mom, I have a renewed appreciation for those who are. This happens to me every January through March, as this is my hard-working husband’s busy season. Literally, he is gone from the home from before 7 in the morning until he walks back in the door anywhere from 9:30 to 11:30 at night, depending on the train schedule. There are many days in a row when the kids don’t even see him. My husband is an accountant and while his "busy season" is unrelated to the April 15th tax deadline, it is related to closing up the books for the corporation’s fiscal year. There are a lot of complicated computations, international accounting stuff, number crunching, reporting and filing stuff with the government. I try so hard to understand all he does, but I don’t (heck, I’m calling it "stuff") and I’m okay with that. I just know he’s gone. A lot. I want to state that I am 100% grateful that my husband has a job. I’m not complaining about his hours; just trying to explain my current situation and thought process.

I would imagine that women whose husbands travel frequently experience this same "playing single mom" thing. Not that it’s some game that I like to play—but I do feel as though I’m in competition to maintain my patience, sanity and happy mommy face. I think of my homeschooling, mother-of-6 friend whose husband has to go out of town for a week at a time, on a regular basis. She plays single mom too. While I know that I have been called to homeschool our own kids, it’s during "busy season" that it can get tough! There aren’t many breaks from the kids and while I know that sounds horrible, I’m just keeping it real. However, I have a light at the end of the tunnel, as does my friend. I know that our family just needs to survive til spring, then it’s "game over" and dad is home for dinner again! And there’s someone else around to help get the kids into bed! And, dinners tend to get a bit more gourmet than mac-and-cheese or pancakes! (Recently, I DID wrap the hotdogs in crescent rolls...points for gourmet efforts?!) When life goes back to normal, I stop entertaining myself in the evenings with mind-numbing TV! (Seriously, a 150 pound tumor?!?!) Single moms don’t have that deadline; they have to hold it together with the mind frame of indefinite.

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been struck by the temporary nature of my situation. Believe me, the temptation is always there to wallow in the details of the day and think dramatic "it’s-never-going-to-end" thoughts. I’ve really focused a lot on the word "temporary" which has brought me encouragement! This won’t last forever, despite my all too frequent exasperation. This focus has led me to think a lot about my single mom friends. They don’t have a set date of when it all gets resolved and life "goes back to normal." I think of my single mom friend with five kids and I’ve been so convicted to really pray for her (and others). During my own seasons of frustration, I have been incredibly encouraged by friends who have said, "I don’t have all the answers, but sometimes life sucks, and I get that and I love you and am praying for you, friend." Single moms especially need to hear that message! A couple months ago, while dealing with some very sick kids for a few weeks, I had a dear friend send me an encouraging note and a gift card to a coffee shop. It was like a little energy drink of instant encouragement….she TOLD me that she cared and she SHOWED me!! I felt revived, in a way. We ALL need encouragement, but how vital it is to a single mom! Affirming words are like being given oxygen—refreshing, calming and restorative to the soul.

As I’ve been doing my short-term single mom stint, I’ve also been working on doing some positive and proactive things for single moms, women whose husbands travel/work long hours or women who need a lift of encouragement. So many of us make dinners for people when there’s a new baby in the family, or when there’s been a death in the family. How about making a dinner for a single-parent family…either invite them over for dinner or drop a meal off at their house. Stop by with a cup of hot coffee and a pan of brownies, and you’ll make that mom’s night! (Use disposable pans to make it really easy.) Want super easy? One time I brought hot chocolate and bread from Panera to a friend who needed encouragement, and I didn’t even go into the house…it was a hug-and-run deal. Easy, and she felt loved! I can guarantee you that a hand written note of encouragement will not be casually tossed aside, but read and savored many times over. Send a Valentine’s Day card to your single mom friend and tell her she’s amazing! Drop a chocolate bar tied in ribbon on the porch or between the doors and you’ll generate lots of smiles. I remember when some of us got together and provided a bag of groceries and diapers for a newly single mom; she was touched beyond words. It’s these acts of thoughtfulness and generosity that mean so much to a tired, and often frustrated and lonely single mom. Of course, these loving gestures can be done for anyone, but I think our friends who are single moms need them! It’s amazing how putting our energy, thoughts and focus on others can change our own mindset and attitude about ourselves! Be someone’s oxygen—their breath of fresh air—this week!

Excuse me now while I clean up the dinner dishes from our grilled cheese, carrot sticks and apple slices so I can focus on the Siamese twin sisters, followed by women who didn’t know they were pregnant. Really.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Free Coffee!

It happened to me on Saturday morning when I least expected it. (Not that I ever "expected" it!) I was the recipient of another person’s thoughtful act of kindness! It felt weird and wonderful and I liked it.

Recently, I had an early morning meeting at Elijah’s, my favorite local coffee shop. I walked up towards the counter and got in line behind a middle-aged woman who had just finished paying for her order. She turned to me with a big smile and as she wished me a "Happy New Year" she handed me a fully punched get-a-free-coffee drink punch card. While my brain registered, "Oh! I’m getting a free drink!" my facial expression and body language showed slightly confused disbelief. She again held the card out towards me and said, "All you owe is a smile." I took the card and smiled…and realized that I kept smiling! There was no effort required to genuinely smile after what had just happened.

As I ordered my coffee, I chatted a bit with this angel of free coffee. She told me that she always gives away her free drink card to whoever is behind her in line. And, she loves doing it. She gets a great feeling from surprising a stranger…not to mention the great feeling the stranger has. My day sure started off well based on the kindness I received! Guess the first thing I told my family about when I got home from the meeting?

What a win-win situation! Getting a hole punched on my coffee punch card is icing on the cake. I am still going into the shop to buy a cup of coffee, punch card or not. So there is really no personal cost to passing along a fully punched card. The only "cost" – the only out-put required – is the mind-frame of purposeful generosity. This is something all of us can, and should, afford! My kids need to see me practicing actions like this so they can learn the fine art of purposeful and creative generosity.

We can not predict the snowball affect of our actions. (Unfortunately, this applies to both positive and negative actions.) I was thrilled and wonderfully surprised by something as small as free coffee…it felt like a gift for "no reason." And who doesn’t like a gift?

Guess what I’m doing with my own punch card once it’s full? You may want to get in line behind me!