Have you ever asked someone how they are and actually listened to their answer?
Most of us have brief interactions with people each and every day – family members, spouses, children, co-workers, customers, fellow grocery shoppers, or strangers on the street. Our busy schedules and over-committed calendars keep us facing forward, head down, scrolling through our smart phones. Societal pressures have us shuffling from one meeting, appointment or obligation to the next, measuring productivity by checking things off our to-do list.
Saturday evening, in an effort to exhaust my two-year-old and make the bedtime routine a little easier, ahem…I mean spend some quality time with my little man, I took him to the playground. It was a typical outing. He raced over to the “curly” slide while I positioned myself comfortably on the bench nearby (fighting off the urge to reach for my smartphone), assuring that he was safely within my view.
There were only two other children at the park, adorable twin girls in matching pink sandals. My fearless son immediately inserted himself into their game of hide-n-seek, fascinated by their ability to count higher than three. He’s still learning his numbers.
After several minutes, one of the twins decided to take off her shoes and play barefoot in the dirt. From across the park I heard a woman yell, “Please don’t take off your shoes! You already look like a homeless child!” She glanced in my direction to see if I heard. I looked at my son. Red and blue Superman shorts. A green dinosaur hoodie. Miss-matched socks. I could relate.
A laptop and notebook by her side, this mom appeared to be a bit flustered. A few moments later the other twin squealed out in pain. She’d tripped and busted her lip. I approached the mom, handed her some tissues to clean up the blood and asked if her child was OK. She told me her child would be fine; it was nothing a little love and attention couldn’t fix. I liked this woman.
I then asked the mom if she herself was OK. The mom looked at me like I was crazy. I awkwardly repeated myself: “I know having one toddler is hard work, you must have your hands full with two. Your kids seem awesome. How do you do it?”
She looked at me strangely and went on to share that these twins were not actually her children. Their biological mother, a meth and heroin addict, brought the twins to her house when they were only 3 months old and never picked them up. What was supposed to be a night of babysitting ended in court proceedings, foster care and ultimately for her, long-term guardianship.
With no other family to speak of, a single, 20-something, recent college graduate, who had just started her first teaching job, was suddenly left to care for 3-month-old twins.
This supermom – I call her a supermom because that’s really what she is – now takes the twins to work with her each day because she can’t afford childcare. She brings them to the playground so she can grade papers and work on lesson plans for the upcoming week. She also attends supervised visitations with the twins’ addicted biological mother.
I could not believe her story. When I asked why she shared it with me she replied, “Because you asked.”
I gave her my number and told her to call me any time for play dates or chats. I also told her about the Wednesday night support groups KPCC offers for loved ones of those struggling with addiction. How I attend these groups myself, and how the skills I’m learning help me practice self-care and cope with guilt. How I’ve also learned effective ways to communicate and better understand those in my own life who struggle with addiction.
I really hope she comes.
If you need someone to ask “How are you doing?” or could use the skills taught in our support groups, please consider giving us a call. We want to help.