Monday, May 12, 2014

Pretending to be a Mom

When I was 23 years old, I arrived in Dallas, Texas to start my first "real" job after college--a job with pay, benefits, and responsibilities. My job was running the food pantry at our non-profit organization, but with that also came an introduction to a wonderful church family. What doesn't necessarily come as any surprise, as I got involved with the church, I interacted with the kids.

I've always liked kids. For some reason, kids have always been intriguing and precious to me. Growing up, I would take the babies off the parents hands after church and play with them until the parents were ready to leave. I played with dolls until I was in 4th grade. I started babysitting at an early age. I started a small business of teaching kids piano lessons when I was in high school. Parents have always entrusted me with their kids and I've always felt this innate connection with them for some reason.

I always assumed I would have children. In fact, ask my mom...I had a complete wedding planned out and just knew by the age of 21 I would have my 2.5 kids (thank God that didn't happen! Twenty-one?! What was I thinking???). Life didn't turn out the way I had planned (does it ever??). However, as is always the case, what I didn't plan, but what God and the Greater Universe had planned for my life has been just as good...and most days, I think, much better.

While running the food pantry at 23, I interacted with the kids at church. I also moved into running our summer program and soon became the Director of Education, a perfectly suited role for what I didn't even realize was in my future. Yet, I never had kids.

Over the last nearly 20 years that I have interacted with kids, so many of them have allowed me to push them (figuratively, of course), give them advice, scold them, reprimand them, get so upset with them I couldn't see straight, do all kinds of things that parents do and so many things that parents shouldn't (like drive off and leave them to walk home because I was so mad at their actions...though, I *did* go back and get them after allowing them to panic for a while) and yet time after time, they continued coming back. My own mother commented to a friend of mine years ago after hearing me rant and scold our entire summer program of kids, "I don't know why these kids like her!" I have to laugh and wonder the same thing sometimes.

But they do. They call (most of them only when they want something...sound familiar parents??). They text Happy Mother's Day messages. They invite me to their graduations, confirmations, baby showers, weddings, and teacher appreciation days. They appease me and let me take lots of photos of them. They listen to my "life lessons" and often even remember them. They give me credit for helping them with things that I already know they could have done without me.

I know today is about mothers. It's about thanking our mothers. I appreciate my mother for setting the example of how to take people in and how to treat people. I thank her for opening up our house so many times to countless preachers, mission groups, baby showers, wedding showers, pool parties, sleepovers, and whatever else...and always providing home cooked meals and family dinners. And, yes, I did send her a card, donate to her favorite charity, and thank her for that.

But today I can't help but be grateful and even emotional for so many kids out there who have graciously allowed me to be their mother...even when they already had their own mom and family...and I thank their parents for allowing me to play a mom role, too. Not only that, both kids and parents/families often welcomed me in as a natural addition to their own family. For a person who loves to be in control and was pretty darn sure she had her whole life mapped out, complete with husband and kids, the non-biological kids in my life make me feel pretty special. They've made me laugh; they've made me cry (tears of pain and tears of joy)...yet every moment has been worth it.

So, today, I say THANK YOU. Tiffany, Gary, Slick, Whitney, Krista, Bre'Anna, Ruth, Maia, Sita, Pratiksha, Sarada, Aarati, Sharif, Monique, Nazareth, Gustavo, Fabiola, Karina, Leidy, Samantha, Deja, Beju, Janet, Tameshia, JC, Javier, Guillermo, Nalleli, Celia, Lucila, Lizbeth de S., Lizbeth F., Cristian, Candace, Carisse, Jessica, Maria, Phul Maya, Dezaree', Vanessa, Nathan, Deyanira, DaQwalon, Katrina, Lewanna, Lemone, Jordan, Anabeli, Monica, Alan, Juan Antonio, Juan Pablo, Bryce, Brandy, Star, Tara, Daniela, Reneishia, Ashley, Jessica, Robert, Kashia, Ravyn, Twasanna, Erika, Rocio, Jazz, D'andra, Alondra, Juana, Ana, Johnas, Bubba, Moo Meh, Eh Kaw, Jorge, Bidhya, Neema, Kieva, Jordy, Gabriel, America, Nguyen, Shatavies, Tracey, Erica, Tyree, Pook, Quinton, Lilia, Jazmine, Juan, Yuri, Htee Shee, Veronica, Belem, Massa, Sunita, Bryan, Sui, Joseph, Julia, Cocoa, ShaSha, Fredrick, Adrian, ...and, oh my goodness, so many more! I know I've left off many. Feel free to reprimand me if your name isn't on the list. I've tried to remember as many of you as I could. Plus, there are so many parents I could mention who have allowed me to be in the lives of their children as well: Imtiaz and Aisha, Sheri and Mark, Juany, Stacey, Georgia, Ama Fay, Griselda, Jessica, ...and so many more than I can't name off the top of my head.

The things you do...the people you've become...make me proud every single day. Thank you for allowing me to pretend to be a mother all of these years and enjoy those moments with you. I am forever grateful.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Thank a Teacher

I'm getting ready to head to Tasby Middle School for their very first "She Matters" conference for their middle school girls.

It's Saturday. The conference starts at 9:00. As a speaker, I know I need to be there by about 8:30 to make sure all of my stuff works and that everything is set up. I'm dragging my feet thinking, It's Saturday! I'll get there as late as possible. Ms. Small has assured me that she'll be there by 8:00 in case any of us want to arrive that early to get set up.

A week from Friday, there will be another event at Tasby. They're going to have their very first Career Day. Since it's their first year, they are starting small...with just the 8th graders. Ms. Childers, the librarian, is in charge of that one. She is recruiting doctors, nurses, scientists, and I can't remember the other fields, to speak to the kids in a hopefully engaging way. She has struggled to get people to commit. Many are "too busy." She keeps working...making phone calls, sending emails, asking for more contacts. Yet, with all of that, the other thing she is trying to do is to get someone to sponsor goodie bags for the speakers so she can thank them for coming. (the school doesn't have the funds to pay for thank you gifts)

As I thought about my lethargy on a Saturday morning, it then dawned on me... this makes for a 6-day work week for Ms. Small. Not only has she worked 40 hours/week teaching kids, for the last month or so, she's been also planning this conference for the girls. And it's not only Ms. Small who will be at the school today. Many other teachers will arrive (as they do every Saturday to teach Saturday school) to complete their 6-day work week.

I thought about how I've hesitated when Ms. Childers asks me to speak on Fridays (which is usually my day off) and how she's so gracious and apologetic when she really needs a speaker and has to ask me despite knowing it's my day off. Yet, she's the one going above and beyond to plan this out for our children...yes, OUR children...OUR future leaders.

Not only should I not be complaining, I should be taking Ms. Small and Ms. Childers thank you gifts for working so hard to provide OUR children with a vision for their future instead of expecting them to thank me.

If you're ever asked to speak at a school, I would encourage you to prepare well, make it engaging and enjoyable...and be sure to thank the teachers who invited you. Maybe even take them a gift card or something. They deserve it. They're working hard to make the world a better place for all of us.

P.S. And if any of you are interested in speaking...about your career, your pathway to college, your experiences growing up, let me know. I'll pass the information on to some teachers who just might want to utilize your experience one of these days.