Friday, December 20, 2013

Finding Beauty...and Not the Random, Weird, Floating-Plastic-Bag Kind

I'm one of those moms who feels guilty about working all the time. When I get home from my 10-12 hour day, I'm in no mood for play, or stories, or any other kid-friendly crap. I just want to get through the, be clean, go to bed. Maybe check homework. I make an effort to ask my big girl about her day and hold my little girl for at least five minutes before whisking them through the nightly routine and tucking them into bed. It sucks. It's not that I don't want to do fun stuff with them. Quite the contrary. I am dying to do fun stuff with my kids.

So naturally, this desire to make up for lost time pushes me into doing crazy things. Things I would, in a clear frame of mind, rethink and realize are way outside my capabilities....both from a time/energy and financial standpoint. 

What could I possibly do to generate such insanity?

I volunteer.

It's the ultimate, the dreaded, the most foreboding form of self-punishment available. 

I notice sign-up sheets for classroom holiday parties ~ Wow how great would it be to visit my big girl at school?! Sign me up!

I get an email about putting together goody bags ~ Awww goody bags! How cool would it be for me and the big girl to sit around after the little girl goes to bed, pull out the craft supplies, and really wow the kids with awesome goody bags?! Sign me up!

I see a note from Girl Scouts ~ Ooooo I can be as involved as the other moms! Sign me up!

Lofty dreams, made loftier by an intense, consistent yearning to see my kids more. I want to soak up every moment before it's too late. So off trots Jen to sign up for yet another volunteer activity.

And then reality sets in. 

Those classroom sign up sheets mean nothing, I tell you - nothing! I have yet to be chosen as an in-person party helper...but am frequently asked to contribute snacks, plates, water, toys, trinkets, crafts, and anything else that requires a four hundredth trip to Target during the holidays. You know what they should do? Can the "Holiday Party Helpers" sign-up sheet and replace it with a "Money, Supplies, and Shopping Wench" sign up sheet. Let's call it what it is people. Let's just call it what it is.  

That scenic image of me creating cute, Pinterest-inspired goody bags with my big girl? Replace it with the sight of me, at Target (imagine that), grabbing $.99-cent plastic Christmas bags, stuffing them under a box of diapers and who knows what else (I mean really....legit question....who really knows what they bought once they've left Target) and then forgetting about the bags until just last night. No big deal, the party was today. 

Me, last night:

ANYA! Get over here and start stuffin bags, kid!

AARON! Where the hell is the stapler??

This GD stapler is broken!! Why is everything in this house broken!?? Can I not just have one unbroken thing ready for me the moment I need it?? 

OOOOOOOOUCH I just stapled the crap out of my finger! If it starts bleeding on the bags I'm gonna freak out. Nobody has time for bloody bags!


Ahhhh...nice and peaceful. Just Jen and her craft supplies, making homemade goody bags to make up for working so much. Showing her family some love. Livin the dream.

And then there's Girl Scouts. I am, officially, the Field Trip Coordinator. I am awesome at planning stuff and even better at making phone calls. I don't normally get to attend the events I plan because they rarely fall on Saturdays, but that's ok. I'm planning something fun for my big girl. There's fairly little work involved and I feel like I'm helping. Score. 

December's event was a caroling trip to a local nursing home. I was over-the-moon at the idea of my big girl singing to the oldies and I volunteered to come in person and chaperone girls who needed a ride from school. I would take off work, no biggie. I rarely leave early so it wouldn't be a problem.

...except then my day-job's year-end items were pushing me further and further behind. Leaving work early meant setting myself up for a longer day later in the week or, even worse, the loss of a day off around Christmas. But to miss the caroling?? It's caroling - at a nursing home! My big girl had practiced all week and was so excited. I had to make it happen.

So I left work early, leaving a stack of to-dos on my desk and praying my boss had everything he needed for the next couple hours. I drove home like a bat out of hell, worried I wouldn't get there in time, arriving waaaaaay too early and waiting, waiting, waiting for school to let out. The wind was whipping something fierce and when I got out of the car to meet the girls, my "cute, but classy" sweater dress blew up around my hips, fully exposing my rear end, which was luckily covered by a pair of $3.99 Menards leggings. Still embarrassing.

I nabbed the girls and realized I didn't have a snack. I'm the chaperone without a snack. I'm the crap car....the one without yummy food and cool music playing. Luckily my big girl distracted her fellow scout with some insightful conversations about the hideous Hair Cuttery billboard out the car window. I was minutes away from the nursing home, feeling excited and hoping my iPhone battery didn't geek out on me. And then, out of nowhere, this adorable, blonde cop jumped out of her car in the middle of the road, turned to me, and held up the halt sign. I secretly crept closer to her squad car...the girls and I got a good view of what was going on. Someone had accidentally driven off a four-foot road construction ledge (think super thick highway with one lane removed....pretty intense height difference between the intact and removed lanes). The car was balancing precariously with the driver and passengers still inside, its rear end about 45 degrees off the ground. 

WHOA! the girls shouted.

Heh heh heh. Back to being the cool car.

So we waited, traffic backing up, the cop lady running back and forth between her squad car and the ooops car. After a few minutes, I began to realize this chick wasn't going to direct traffic. But she'd told me to stop. Should I go? I had enough clearance. The guy behind me was a hott shot and I could see him getting all jacked up on road rage. The cop didn't look at me. I crept closer. No response from copper. I rolled down my window and started yelling at her...


She walked away, out of hearing range. 

Alrighty! I'm goin for it!

We drove the 50 feet to the nursing home. 

The other chaperones were close behind and everyone piled out of the cars, into the wind and cold, clutching their hats. One of the leaders was trying to take these huge, gigantic paper snowflakes out of her trunk. The wind was literally ripping them from her grasp and finally, after what seemed like an hour, we were able to get the things wrangled through the front door.

The lady I had talked to when arranging the event was nowhere to be found. The girls were gettin fired up, dancing around with the huge snowflakes, being loud and kid-like, essentially making my head hurt. I walked to what I thought was an information desk and introduced myself to the lady sitting behind it. She kinda looked at me funny and for a second, I thought maybe this was a resident just hanging out behind a desk. She gathered her thoughts or whatever and told me the girls could "just come on in." 

Hmm. Ten loud, excited girls with jingle bells and gigantic paper snowflakes. Just "comin on in" to a room filled with people who tend to tip over and have heart palpitations. 

I went to break the news to the scout leader. Then, like the most beautiful dream, the activity director appeared. She saved the day and ushered us in. 

We were surrounded by a few residents, chairs parked, ready for action. The girls were nervous and started to hand out the huge snowflakes. My big girl tried to give her snowflake to an old man and he turned her down flat. "Don't want one," he said. My big girl looked at me, terrified. A lady a few chairs back raised her hand and yoo-hooed..."I want one! Over here dear!" Exhale.

The girls started to sing their songs. I was relieved. Let's get this show on the road, people. I hung off to the side, near the elevator. Good vantage point for taking it all in. 

And that's when it happened.

I stood there, looking at my kid, with her cute new glasses and pink boots, singing loudly to the songs she liked and not-so-loudly to the songs she didn't, glancing up every now and then from her song pages to check out a lady who kept falling asleep. The residents started coming out of nowhere, trucking in from the hallways, wheeling off the elevator, puttering in from the lunchroom. They took calculated movements, careful, slow....but eager. Eager to hear the girls sing - my kid sing. They gently rested their heads back, some closing their eyes, listening. Remembering, I'm sure of it. 

Winters and Christmases of years past, when they could stand on ladders to adjust tree toppers, or nimbly move their fingers over a set of tangled lights. I pictured them dancing with spouses, sons, or daughters on their wedding day. I imagined the old man without a snowflake speeding down the road in a souped-up hot rod, thinking about a girl, dreaming about a new job, feeling free and fast and all of the things he no longer was. 

The peace on their faces as they listened, as they were reminded of days long was absolutely, positively, undeniably, beautiful

The girls sang to the assisting living residents first, but then were given the opportunity to visit the memory center. These were the residents who suffered from Alzheimer's. They had to live behind locked doors so they didn't run out into a world they didn't know or understand anymore. I was nervous at first, always the protective mommy first and foremost, rational human being second.

The activities coordinator explained a few things to the girls...these are normal, wonderful people who just don't remember much anymore. They aren't scary, they just need a little extra help and love. They loved one thing ~ music.

So in the girls went.

They were met by a few confused faces, a few smiling faces, and one incredibly friendly resident who insisted she sit in front. The girls again started signing and this time, I purposely sought the beauty. I scanned the eyes of the residents, looking for signs of recognition, hoping we didn't frighten anyone. 

It was when the girls started singing "Jingle Bells" that the place really picked up. The girls had all eyes on them, full attention their way.

And then, ever so softly, probably one of the most amazing things I've witnessed to date, the residents started to sing. They were singing. My baby girl had the joy, the blessing of singing a song with people who, in any other circumstance, couldn't even remember their names. 

They remembered these songs, though. They remembered the words, the tune, practiced over years and years of holiday gatherings, school choir performances, church services. The songs passed over their lips the same way they had decades ago.....tying them to who they were, who they still are at the very soul of their being, for a few brief, soft moments. Not lost residents. Mothers and sisters, sons and husbands, lovers, friends, soul mates. 

I felt tears sting as I watched them slowly clap along, reciting the words they knew in their still-beating, forgetful hearts. The staff even stopped, watching, smiling at the recognition and happiness that simply saturated the place. 

Breathtaking, heartbreaking beauty.

I left the nursing home with a deep sense of peace and pride. My girl had brought joy to someone that night, however fleeting it was. The stress I'd felt earlier seemed so far away. It was a wonderful moment of clarity and perspective. I knew it would end soon, as life always has a way of giving you short glimpses of beauty amid the chaos. I think perhaps the reason why these moments are so special is because they are so rare. Like little diamonds.

So while you're stressing about holiday plans and money and all the other necessary elements of life, try to take just a minute, just one, to find a little beauty. Sometimes it will catch you off guard, but other times, it simply needs you to look up.

Merry Christmas everyone and much love to you and yours :)


  1. What a beautiful post. What an amazing thing to experience. Thank you for sharing it! Especially the Jennifed way!

    1. Thank you :) It was such an incredible time - it still gives me chills to think about it! Very Christmas-spirit-esque.

  2. My dear, you've captured the true sentiment of those steadfast hearts that yearn to make a difference with our seniors. Your big girl did indeed reach them and clearly in such an impactful way. Bravo!
    "Money, Supplies, and Shopping Wench" - hilarious! Really true and hilarious!