The Gifts We Give Each Other.

December 16, 2011

It was exceptionally dreary as we made our way through the fog on our daily pre-dawn commute to school. The weather was grey, the morning was hectic, and I felt like someone was missing in the car, the way you do when you overachieve at miscarriage. The more we stopped and started, inching forward behind miles of tiny red taillights, the bluer I became.

It’s the holidays, Man. A tough season for anyone over the age of 11. And honestly, it seems the more most wonderful times of the year you’ve chalked up through the decades, the further down you can find yourself in the weeks leading up to the happiest season of all. This is all coming from someone who’s obnoxiously Glass Half Full!…This time of year can be brutal. Sure it brings out the best in us, and also the worst. You don’t have to get many feet from your driveway to figure that out. And we were miles from home.

So I turned up the Holly station and challenged Harry to a contest to see who could sing the loudest. (He won. He screams.) And by the time we pulled into his school lot, I had veered back into the direction of normal. We parted ways, and I moved into the day.

But first, I had to stop for coffee.

This is what’s rough about getting out of the house in the sixes. Time is of the essence, and I excel at not making enough time to get it together to prepare the necessary to-go cup before going.  So I stopped in at the giant chain up the street and stood in line. The line is always the feature in this place, it’s the main thing going on, and it winds around every table in the room…tables that no one in her right mind would even attempt to sit in because of all the crappy line people standing over your head in the line. It also creates the perfect environment for eavesdropping.

So I was standing in line, eavesdropping, over this mom and her four-year-old daughter who had crammed themselves around one of these tables. The mother was beautiful, in a seemingly and annoyingly no-effort kind of way, and she was dressed in the area’s mom uniform…fancy workout clothes. The ringlet child next to her was wearing some kind of pink and red fancy dress. It was 8 a.m. They didn’t have any food or beverage on their tiny table. They were just sitting there, waiting for something maybe, and the daughter was begging for a cookie. The mom said, “Sweetheart, no, no cookies, you don’t want cookies. You need to lose some weight.”

And then I stopped breathing.

I didn’t hear anything after that because my senses were no longer working as a team. My body was taken over by that punch-gut feeling you get when the boy you love breaks up with you.  I went through all five stages of grief in 27 seconds.

Then I pulled out my phone. In a desperate attempt to remind myself I wasn’t in some kind of weird dream sequence, I did a version of “OH MY GOD DID YOU JUST HEAR THAT?” to the only other people around, the pixelated people on the electronic device in my hand…

I still wasn’t thinking clearly. I was typing this on Twitter and trying to breathe. I went through all the grief stages again and added on a few more just for fun. And then it was my turn to order. My ears were still numb and I was frankly still a little dazed when I stepped up and ordered a tiny hot chocolate with extra whipping cream. No. Make that two. No. Make that three.

As I waited for the beverages to be properly frothed and for my name to be called, I suddenly sobered up. Crap. Seriously. What the hell was I doing? I was taking eavesdropping to a new and inappropriate level of butting into someone’s life and parenting issues.

But then I realized this wasn’t about them.

It was about me. And my ears. And my blue mood that suddenly went exploding red hot with the utterance of six words. This was about me on about six levels. And it was about all of us…as girls, as mothers, as daughters, as people. Enough. We don’t even realize what we’re doing to each other. We don’t realize what we have. And we don’t realize how fragile, how resilient, and how powerful we all are.

I’d never expect a tiny hot chocolate to fix that. But that’s what I had at my disposal.

I collected my offering and walked over to the tiny table. I told the mom that ‘seeing such a beautiful mother and daughter out this morning made my day. Because it’s so great to see them together out during the holiday season. And what a wonderful thing to get to start the day with such a beautiful little girl. I came in for coffee, but I decided to treat myself to a hot chocolate and I wanted to buy them one too and say Happy Holidays!‘ And my God as I’m typing this now, it just sounds crazy. But in that surreal moment of weirdo dreamland perfectionville nonsense, it all somehow made sense.

And then the mom took the chocolate. It seemed she didn’t know exactly what to say. But then she started to tear up a tiny bit. And she thanked me.

I don’t think she’d had hot chocolate in a very long time.

And her reaction made me remember something. We all have our things. And we’re all missing things. And we should all be easier on ourselves and each other.

Let your heart be light. Just let it be.

Soundtrack: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. 

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  • Reply Marinka December 22, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    all we need is love. and hot chocolate.

  • Reply Emily Guy Birken December 22, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    This is an awesome story. Since I could see myself buying the hot chocolate in a rage and giving the mother a look while I handed it to the little girl or slinking away with my tail between my legs trying to convince myself I didn’t really hear what I’d heard, I’m amazed you were able to come up with a way to gift this cocoa to both of them. It would have been totally beyond my capacity for rational thought.

  • Reply Stacy December 22, 2011 at 8:27 pm

    I experienced all those stages of grief along with you. Reading the mom’s words felt like a punch to the stomach so I cannot imagine hearing them. You did good! I hope this little girl forever remembers when someone called her beautiful! Thank you for sharing.

  • Reply Caro December 22, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    You? Are beautiful. What a wonderful story. This warms my heart.

  • Reply Kolchak & Jodi December 22, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    On behalf of little girls everywhere who never felt beautiful because heir Moms made comments like that and all the grown women out there who feel like they can’t indulge because they need to lose weight, THANK YOU. What a beautiful soul you have I’m not sure i could have addressed the situation in such a classy and thoughtful way. Kudos.

  • Reply Friday Best… « Just a Titch December 23, 2011 at 2:05 am

    […] shared this on Twitter and Facebook, but Laura Mayes is brilliant and lovely, and this story makes me weep. To see something that hurts your heart is hard, but to deal with it gracefully and kindly is a […]

  • Reply Nicole L. December 23, 2011 at 9:14 am

    Thank you for this. I live many hours away from my mother, and for most of the year I try to believe what my husband tells me…that I’m beautiful.
    Christmas comes and my parents come to visit. Within 5 minutes, all the hard work that my husband has done on my confidence has crumbled away.
    I’m not going to do this to myself this year. It really doesn’t matter what she says.
    She has her own issues.
    Thank you for helping me realize that.

  • Reply mariana December 23, 2011 at 10:29 am

    That’s a beautiful story, and what a classy way of handling the situation!!

    Allow me to be devil’s advocate for a second. Did the child need to lose weight, that is, was the child noticeably fat/obese? Were you an enabler? Fat children become fat adults with all the health complications, and the mother might have been trying to keep her child from that kind of harm.

    Okay, devil’s advocate off. I take it the child was a fairly typical child for that age, otherwise you wouldn’t have had that gut reaction. If the child really was in need of losing weight, you probably would have silently agreed with the sentiment (although not the way she said it, which is rather a horrible thing to say to a child–she could have framed it better for sure. That phrase brings up some baggage from my past too).

    • Laura Harrison Mayes
      Reply Laura December 23, 2011 at 10:34 am

      Mariana, yeah, there were no health issues (I asked before the offer) and she didn’t need to lose weight. It’s a valid question. But that wasn’t the issue. For sure.

  • Reply Emma December 23, 2011 at 10:58 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. What an wonderful story.

  • Reply Anastasia December 24, 2011 at 1:03 am

    As a mom with three little girls. I struggle every day to battle my own weight insecurities and to try and make sure my girls don’t grow up with them. This made me tear up. Thank you so much for reminding me to speak up and to not be that kind of mother.

  • Reply Katie December 24, 2011 at 8:18 am

    Thanks for doing this! We all need a tiny hot chocolate with whipped cream every now and then.

  • Reply Nora December 24, 2011 at 11:08 am

    Thank you for such a gentle and caring twist on your message. I confess, after having linked here through The Bloggess’ site, I kinda thought the story was going in a humorous fashion and the hot chocolate would be gleefully dropped with the mother fully realizing her folly after you pointed it out.

    That’s why your entry is so wonderful.

    We all have a choice, every second of every day, and while most of us would *like* to read about the humorous angry twist on someone’s decision and it being pointed out…handling a situation with grace is truly what we all need to be reminded to do, and to give to others. Thank you for your gift. To the mother and daughter, and to your readers! Have a great holiday!

  • Reply sheriji December 24, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    I don’t know how to insert a picture in a comment field, so will link to this on Pinterest, said by J.K. Rowling. You did a beautiful thing. I’m so glad it came out beautifully.

  • Reply Jen G December 24, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    WOW. Awesome story. Awesome deed. I totally would have chickened out.


  • Reply Kathryn December 24, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    Not sure how else to say this but you rock.

  • Reply Julia December 24, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    That was beautiful. Thank you for doing, and thank you for sharing.

  • Reply Nat December 27, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    You made me tear up a little bit as well. Sweet story. And merry Christmas.

  • Reply Katie December 29, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    Wow, good for you! The world needs more people like you! It’s hard to remember, when someone pisses you off, that they might be fighting their own battle that made them act out that way. Bless you for trying to make a bad situation better, and not worse.

  • Reply Lauren December 30, 2011 at 9:25 am

    Holy shit.

    I just read this post because your pal the Bloggess linked to it. And just because of this one post, I am now as loyally devoted a reader to you as I am to Jenny.

    Because this was AMAZING. And I want to give you a hug. This made my crappy morning into a better one. HELLO, EMOTION

  • Reply Tmgray December 30, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    One of those perfect looking mothers used to shop at Gymboree when I worked there. Her daughter was maybe 6 and extremely overweight. The strange thing was that the child ALWAYS had a large bag of candy from the local candy store whenever they came in. The child was happy, bubbly and always trying to share her candy and tell us what wonderful things she knew about. It never failed that the mother would try different outfits on her daughter that invariably didn’t fit. I lost my mind the day she screamed at her child that “she would never look pretty b/c the pretty clothes would never fit a fat, ugly child like her.” She broke that little girl’s spirit that day. I was across the store helping another customer when she said that. I began walking over to the mother to say something. I never got that far b.c our manager saw my face and dragged me into the back room until the mother left. I don’t know what I would have said, but I hope it would have been as beautifully eloquent as you!

  • Reply Shawn December 30, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    I love this story on so so many levels. My friend Cathy Boyd mentioned this on her FB page and then sent your link to me. I own a little chocolate factory. We make small batch cocoa powder (among other things) from scratch and it makes great hot chocolate. Can you give me your address I would like to send you some.

  • Reply Ericca December 31, 2011 at 11:53 am


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    […] who writes Blog con Queso, went ahead and bought both the mum and her daughter a hot chocolate, as well as herself. I […]

  • Reply Isabel January 4, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    I just want to say that this story has made my morning. Your gift of hot chocolate has probably changed the course of that little girl’s self esteem. I am not a mother as yet but when I am I endeavour to never put my self confidence issues on to my children.
    Now I am off to make a hot chocolate!

  • Reply Sandi Blankenship January 9, 2012 at 1:55 am

    Laura, thanks so much for the best blog read of the day. I found you via Kristen at Rage Against The Minivan…. great post!

  • Reply Dawn January 18, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    Simply beautiful. Thanks for sharing and thanks, too, for the reminder.

  • Reply Elizabeth January 21, 2012 at 7:07 am

    Gosh, call me a crazed once divorced, now happily married mother, but my first reaction to the mom’s reaction is she’s in an empty marriage. Or in the midst of getting a divorce. A mom who tears up when someone tells her she’s beautiful and gives her something is a mom who’s husband is missing some vital part – the loving bit. What you did was double good and may have just given her hope the world is a kind place.

  • Reply Missy February 24, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    Hi, i hope you do mind if i share this story on facebook, really nice story.

  • Reply Missy February 24, 2012 at 10:58 pm

    Hi, i hope you don’t mind if i share this story on facebook, really nice story. (wrong one up there)

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  • Reply Lauren of BooPatch May 14, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    as a mother of a 10yo who really needs that next growth spurt to even out his pudgy baby belly right now…I am having a hard time trying to teach him moderation(oh and to learn to eat veggies, the garden idea didn’t work for me either)and still induldge him in desserts occassionally. He’s feeling the stress of being a little on the chubby side from his classmates right now even though hes a very active boy.
    So thank you for a wake up. Thank you for reminding me that I need to try very hard to teach him to love himself and be patient with his body. Thank you for reminding me to buy him a hot chocolate. with extra whipped cream. Thank you for reminding all of us to be a little extra loving.

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