Sometimes a ride in the car turns into this

When we pulled off the freeway I saw him. He was dressed in a long, brown jacket that reached to his ankles. His grey hair and beard were wet with rain. His sign read, “Hungry. Anything helps. God bless.”

I never carry cash, but sometimes I have extra food. I had nothing. We locked eyes for a moment and I smiled at him. He returned the smile and then his eyes drifted to the backseat.

His look changed to something I couldn’t quite read.

He seemed to shrink and he took a step back.

The light turned green.

He didn’t make eye contact again and I drove off.

For the next few minutes I was lost in thought about this man. Imagined stories swirled around my head and I tried hard not to cry. Thoughts of a family lost fought with images of addiction and mental illness. A human cast aside, either by free will or by circumstance, is something that makes me profoundly sad.

“I bet he knows a lot more than us,” my son says from the back of the car.

“What?” I ask a little startled.

“Did you see that guy with the long jacket?” he asks.

“I did,” his sister says. “Did you see him mom? He was looking at us?”

“Yes,” I say.

“I think he is a wise man,” my boy continues. “He probably sees so much being on the side of the road. We are in our car or house, while he is out in the world seeing stuff.”

I didn’t know what to say.

“I think I know what I want to be when I grow up,” he says.

Please don’t say homeless man, I silently pray.

“I want to sew myself a tunic and then travel all over the world,” he says. “I will find someone to train me in sword fighting. I will help people.”

“Like a knight?” his sister asks.

“Yes, but in real life,” he says. “I don’t know how I will do it, but someone needs to.”

I could have given him a lecture about how ridiculous that plan is. A modern day knight that roams the world fighting bad guys with a sword. It’s absurd.

But I didn’t.

I just let the words hang in the air. I let him imagine himself a force for good in the world.

The rest of the drive was filled with ideas on how that might work. He came up with problems that he might encounter and how he might get around them.

“It won’t be easy,” he said finally. “But nothing is. You have to work hard if you want something.”

Those words made my mommy heart swell with pride.

Those are MY words repeated back, but in a way that makes me think he might be getting it.

Being a parent is complex and I am often overwhelmed and lost.  When I have to tell my kids to turn off their bedroom light or flush the toilet for the 1 billionth time, I think I might lose it. But that stuff doesn’t really matter.

What matters are conversations in the car, wanting to defend people and seeing the good in a homeless man out the window.

That’s the stuff that matters.

And my boy gets it.

One hand and then the next

“Mommy,” she whispers as she gently taps my nose with hers. “Wake up. I need my Pippi braids.”

I open my eyes and look at the clock. 5:30 a.m.

“Go back to sleep,” I say in the nicest way I can muster.

“Mommy,” she whispers again gently running her fingers through my hair. “I need my Pippi braids right now. It’s important.”

I open my eyes and look at her. She is dressed in her new favorite Pippi Longstocking outfit and is holding the hairbrush and four rubber bands in different colors.

“I need more sleep,” I manage. “Just 30 more minutes.”

“OK,” she says with a sigh. I hear the disappointment, but it’s 5:30 a.m.

Thirty minutes later my alarm goes off and she is standing right next to the bed waiting. She is still holding the hairbrush and rubber bands. I’m sure she did not just stand there for 30 minutes waiting. Right? I’m sure she played or something.

I sit up and try to be as pleasant as I can. I spray her hair with detangler, which she had thoughtfully placed next to me in bed. I brush her hair carefully making sure that I don’t pull or hurt her. I use her favorite parting comb, the pink one with the sparkly handle, to gently part her hair into two. I use the pink rubber band on one side and the yellow on the other for pigtails. Then I braid each one.

“Blue rubber band on the pink side and red one on the yellow side,” she says.

When I’m done she skips off and puts all the brushes and spray away.

“Thanks mom,” she says. “See you downstairs.”

After dragging myself through my morning ritual of shower, picking out the lest objectionable of my clothes and running a brush through my hair, I head downstairs.

My girl has made us all breakfast of cereal, toast and juice. Brother is there and dressed too. I think I might be dreaming. They both smile.

“What did you do with my children?” I ask.

They giggle and we eat.

“Today’s the day,” she says.

“For what?” I ask.

“You’ll see,” she says.

I pack lunches and do the morning dishes as they pretend that their bouncy balls are pigs. The pig race gets a little out of hand, but we make it out the door on time.

The ride to school is filled with talk about the pig race and plans for building a more elaborate race track and making prize ribbons when we get home. I tune in and out as I sip my coffee. We drop brother off and head to her school. I look back at her in the mirror and she is beaming.

“What is going on?” I ask her.

“You’ll see,” she says again.

We pull into the school and she is literally bouncing in her seat. She bolts out of the car, grabs my hand and we head straight for the monkey bars.

monkeyShe has been dreaming of making it across the monkey bars for over a year. It was only in the last week that she started really trying. Every day she would just hang on the first bar and then drop. Over and over and over. She never seemed to get tired of it.

We spent hours the previous weekend and several more after school all week with her reaching across a few bars. She could make it about halfway now.

After a few attempts, we developed a cheering agreement. I was not allowed to say anything until she dropped. No clapping or encouragement.

“It makes me nervous when you say something,” she told me.

So I would just watch and nod. When she made it farther than before she would come over and say, “you can cheer now” and I would.

I take my normal standing place at the end of the monkey bars and watch her face. The look of determination was fierce. I was silently beaming with pride. When this girl wants something, she will get it.

Then she took off. It was slow and deliberate. One hand then the next. Her face was filled with concentration. She made it past the halfway part and I had to bite my tongue to not scream out with happiness for her. She kept going. Slow and deliberate. One hand over the next. Finally she made it to the last bar and dropped.

“I did it!” she screamed and ran so fast to me that I almost fell over. The look of pride, excitement and joy was so wonderful that I almost cried. “I knew it would happen today. I just knew it! You can cheer now mom.”

I did. I cheered for this accomplishment and for all those that will come her way. Look out world.