Sunday, August 31, 2008

With a little help from my friends (and also random strangers)

Nothing says “single mother” quite like this scene: a sleepy child in a stroller sitting atop a pile of canned goods, maztoh meal, olive oil and all sorts of sauces. A woman is pushing the stroller with her left hand. With her right, she’s pulling an urban shopping cart piled high with bags of beans, couscous, sun-dried fruits, enough tea for a year, and, at the bottom, a bottle of bourbon.

On top of the cart is a plastic bag, tied to the handle, with the overflow of spices and extracts. It’s nearly 9 pm. The woman is walking with a purpose, and fast (or as fast as she can carrying about 200 lbs for 25 minutes across the city).

My dear friend, the center of my social life (let’s face it, my entire social life), the one who’s apartment we often crash at Friday nights when we don’t feel like making the trek home, then returning for morning services next day—she’s moving.

We’re “doing her a favor” by shopping in her kitchen. With all the love in my heart, I must add that, though my kitchen will now be overflowing with her goodness for the next year, and everything we cook or bake will be seasoned with her spices and love, not to mention her impulses, her pulses and her grains, we haven’t made a dent in her kitchen goods.

I know it takes a village and all that, and I don’t have any family near, but I really wish I had something to offer in return to all the kindnesses. So many people have helped me out lately, and I’m still behind in cleaning, laundry, course prep, my own research. I don’t think I brushed my hair today.

My instinct is not to accept this help. But then I’m doing my child a disservice, because I’d be even more frantic than I currently am.

Sure, I’m taking care of everyone when I take care of myself. When I don’t take care of me, I don’t take very good care of her. This week, too tired to function, I let my girl walk with me home from shopping instead of making her ride in the ergo, except for intersections. Then I carried her on my shoulder to minimize her indignant yelps. Half way across the intersection, she threw herself off my shoulders.

If she’d been a football, it would have been a completed pass—she didn’t touch the ground, though she flipped in the air. I caught her with one arm, my foot caught our cart and the fall snapped it in half, and the elbow of my free hand broke the fall.

Luckily, elbow is a funny word, so saying “Ima got a boo boo on her elbow” eventually made her laugh. The strangers who saw the fall helped squeeze the cart into something pullable, collected my purse, steadied me to stand. They were kind and didn’t yell at me for risking anyone’s life.

So I started classes with a nasty, swollen, green and purple elbow, topped off with a big, dark scab. Of course, it was too tender to wear anything to cover the elbows. I guess students intelligently assume there are certain things you don’t really want to know about the people who give you grades.

I am thinking about what kind of volunteer work I can do for an hour or two the days I have off. Something I can take my daughter to, that requires no advanced planning. But maybe I should just bake someone a pie, write a card, bring someone flowers, talk to someone having a hard time. Something to make me feel better about all this kindness I can’t possibly repay

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