Grocery shopping with my boys in tow can be…well, let’s just say it’s rarely boring. Too often it’s an exercise in frustration and impatience on my part and in melodrama and apparently severe but as yet completely unnoticed (by me) malnourishment on theirs. Seriously. The way my boys ask for every food item that they see makes me wonder if they absorb anything they eat! And they don’t just ask for the crappy junk food; they want it all, fruits and veggies included. I try my best to have my coupons prepared and to stick to my list so that we can be in and out of the store in a reasonable amount of time, but when the boys are with me, we always take just a little bit longer than usual.
Let me put it this way: you know how when you're vacationing with family, that vacation always seems to last one day too long, no matter how many days the vacation is? You almost always wish you’d left the day before when things were still peaceful and rosy? Well, that’s how it is when shopping with the boys. We almost always end up in the store for five minutes too long.
This week’s shopping trip was different, though. Oh, we had all the corrections and reminders that I mentioned above and then some, but if I had insisted that we leave five minutes before or if I had gotten through the store more quickly, then I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to witness my boys being love and charity in action. Those extra five minutes made all of their juggling and farting and running worthwhile.
Because of the large number of coupons I use each week, I frequently tell the shoppers in line behind me that they may have a slightly longer wait than normal. I want to save money, but I don’t want to frustrate the customers who have to wait because of me. I give them the opportunity to find a shorter line, if they want, before they unload their carts. Today, however, I didn’t have as many coupons as usual. So when an older woman in a motorized shopping cart pulled in behind me, I didn’t say anything. I continued unloading my own cart, handing my reusable shopping bags to my older son to give to the bagger. When I was done unloading, though, I caught my son’s eye and quietly mentioned that maybe he could ask the woman behind us if she wanted help.
One of the things I really love about my boys is that they are not bashful folks and don’t really know strangers, if you know what I mean. They are friendly, polite, and fairly quick to say hi to people. Now mind you, this was a worrisome trait in my younger son when at 3yo he hugged a random gentleman in the bathroom at the city’s baseball grounds! But still, it’s especially gratifying to see kids - my kids - being nice. Even when they had to spend their weekends with Ella in the hospital for all those months, my boys found ways to make friends with patients, other parents, nurses, etc. So when I suggested that my older son help the woman in line, he didn’t hesitate. My younger son also jumped right in to help.
Oh my goodness, how thankful that woman was! It turns out that she didn’t have the use of her right arm, so she really did need help unloading her cart. She was very grateful and made sure to tell me how polite my boys were. She even gave them each a dollar for helping her out, a payment they didn’t expect but certainly appreciated!
It has become so easy for me to focus all my energy on correcting my boys, on noticing their missteps and mistakes, and on jumping on their imperfections that I miss out on their everyday awesomeness. It is so easy to become irritated by their childishness that I forget that they are children - my children - who deserve my love, affection, and attention, not my irritation, crabbiness, and indifference. It is so easy to let myself get overwhelmed by the seemingly constant, 25 hours a day, 8 days a week feelings of their need that I forget how proud I am of them and how proud I am because of them. I forget for a moment that one of the most heart-wrenchingly agonizing but proud moments in my life is because of them.
We were all with Ella when she took her last breath. We were all with her, together as a family. Ella was in my arms with my husband sitting next to me and the boys at our sides. The room was still crowded with medical personnel, and the priest was there performing Last Rites. I was aware of all of them, yet it was still so intimate – the five of us still five here on Earth for just a moment more. We sat together for so long, rocking back and forth, mourning, keening over Ella, kissing her sweet forehead, taking turns holding her. We were all broken…just broken.
Doctors and nurses came in to pay their respects, to cry with us and to offer words of condolence. As the doctors and nurses who took care of Ella for most of her life came in to say good-bye not only to our sweet girl but to us, I tried to thank them for all that they did for her, to thank them for all that they tried to do for her. And while they were sobbing and heartbroken, my boys – my beautiful boys – told them over and over again, “Thank you for trying to save my sister. Thank you for trying to save her. Thank you.”
For the rest of my life, I will never forget that moment. I will never forget that even during the absolute worst moment of their young lives and in the depths of a pain that they could never have imagined, my boys took a moment to say thank you. I will never forget that feeling in my heart – the feeling of a heart simultaneously shattering from the most devastating pain a parent could feel and swelling with the pride that comes from seeing your kids do something beyond expectation and beyond extraordinary.
It's so odd to me that of all the emotions that I could feel on that horrible day, pride is among them. It’s the good kind of pride for sure. It's a pride that comes from the realization that my husband and I may have actually had a small role in developing and raising two kids with such great character; that our influence in their lives thus far brought them to this moment with thanks on their lips and gratitude in their hearts; that in a moment that was bigger than any they had ever experienced, their small voices could make such a huge impact and leave such a lasting impression. I’m not sure who else heard my boys or who else remembers their thanksgiving. I hope the nurses and doctors heard it. I really hope they remember it.
What greater tribute could be paid a parent? What greater tribute could this mom receive than to be a witness to that type of love and kindness in action? I complain about the childishness, the bickering, the constant picking. I bemoan the occasional misbehavior in public, the breaking of wind and the cracking of inappropriate jokes. I roll my eyes at the constant “mom mom mom mom mom” neediness, but honestly…I wouldn’t have it any other way because I've also been able to bear witness to their random and their purposeful acts of kindness. I heard them cry out their thanks to nurses and doctors who did all they could to save their beloved little sister. I watched the incredible way they loved sweet Ella, and I see the love they have for us and for each other.
I am the mom of the most awesome baby that ever graced this planet and mother to two boys of such incredible character and heart, two boys who are awesome in their own right. In the grand scheme of things, I can’t think of anything else that makes me prouder.
St. Ella, pray for us!