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 Anna December 16, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    I’m so glad you did that, and I’m so glad you shared it with us.

  • Reply Liz December 16, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    Laura – I haven’t been following your blog for very long although I’ve known OF you for ages. But this? This post? Makes you one of the most inspiring, awesome bloggers I’ve ever read. (And considering I do blogger relations for a living, I read A LOT of blogs.)

    You took something so ugly and made it beautiful. Love this story. And thank you – for being you.

  • Reply dan December 16, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    AWESOME! This story is absolutely AWESOME.

  • Reply zan December 16, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    That third hot chocolate you bought? That is why you’re a good person.

  • Reply Becca December 16, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    Thank you Laura. For taking us through this story, for taking action where I would have held my internal rage, and for making this the best moment-of-redemption Christmas Story I’ve read in years.

  • Reply christa December 16, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    I’m so glad you did that. 4 year olds do not need to worry about losing weight – they are still babies! Hopefully you really delivered a message to her mom.

  • Reply Isabel @AlphaMom December 16, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    Bless you for your fearlessness for that girl and your kindness towards that mom.

  • Reply Alice Bradley December 16, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    This is so beautiful, it hurts my heart. But in the best possible way.

  • Reply Mom101 December 16, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    You inspire me Laura. Always. But this takes the cake.

  • Reply Jen December 16, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    Laura. This is such a beautiful post and it made my night. xo

  • Reply Wendi December 16, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    Love that you did that. I’m guessing it was Westlake?

    Happy holidays, Laura.

  • Reply The Other Laura December 16, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    Thanks for sharing this. I was on twitter and cheered loudly when you tweeted you had really done it!

    Bless your courageous heart.

  • Reply Lindsay December 16, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    This post is amazing. “And her reaction made me remember something. We all have things. And we’re all missing things. And we should all be easier on ourselves and each other.” this is spot on. thanks for sharing this story.

  • Reply Kristi December 16, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    Thank you SO much for blogging about this! I don’t remember who it was, but someone retweeted your tweets yesterday and I cheered when you did it, and like you I suddenly asked myself, whoa, isn’t that an invasion? So to read this now, the elegance with which you handled this, well, let’s just say I’m glad there’s no one home to see me bawling my eyes out right now.

    Bless you.

    Merry Christmas.

  • Reply Jenny Staff Johnson December 16, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    I’m not on Twitter as much as I used to be anymore but happened to be on during the first hot chocolate incident and also just now. This is so good, very inspiring. Thanks.

  • Reply Andrea Howe December 16, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    holy shit this is awesome. good for you. And good for the mother for maybe, just for a split second, realizing how far she had fallen and having enough sense to get back up and drink a damned hot chocolate

  • Reply AnEmily December 16, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    Dang you, Laura. You done made me tear up.
    I don’t even know you, but you are a rock star.

  • Reply Lyz December 16, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    I just love this so hard. Not only that you bought three hot chocolates, but that you are so beautifully self aware about why you did it and I just think it takes a wise person to know precisely what to do and say in that moment. And now I’m crying and I want to wake my baby from her nap and make her drink hot cocoa, but she’s 9months old and that’s just crazy. Happy holidays. You are lovely.

  • Reply Amber December 16, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    Wow. This is amazing. You did a very good thing. Thank you!

  • Reply schmutzie December 16, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    Dammit, Mayes, you did me in.

  • Reply Issa December 16, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    I just love this post. I think the way you worded what you said to her makes all the difference in the world. Sometimes, we just all need a bit of kindness.

  • Reply Shelley December 16, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    This made me cry a little. I was often berated by my g-ma for being a chubby child. There were many days I had wished someone could over hear and tell me that I was okay. I think you did a wonderful job at letting that girl know she is perfect as she is… I have no doubt the mom got the message too.

    Never been to your blog before, but I’m hooked!

    Thank you….

  • Reply On Being Judgemental | Catherine Armstrong December 16, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    […] just read this post and started crying at the end. And her reaction made me remember something. We all have things. And […]

  • Reply jkRibbit December 16, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    A friend just posted this link on Facebook and I’m so glad she did. This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  • Reply ats December 16, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    my beautiful friend. xo thank you for this.

  • Reply Jennifer December 16, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    You are my new hero. Way to handle that really heartbreaking situation with grace, love, and forgiveness. I’m going to remember this for a long time.

  • Reply Helen Jane December 16, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    I’m so damn lucky to know you.

  • Reply Kristen December 16, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    As the mom of 3 little girls, this is awesome on so many levels. Well done. Well done.

  • Reply Sharon December 16, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    This is the first time I’ve read your blog – found this link through Twitter. Wow. Just… Wow. In a good way.

    That was beautiful, and now I’m crying. I have a four month old daughter, and I’m terrified of all of the negative messages she’s going to receive, just because she’s a girl. Glad to know there are people out there on our team. Bottoms up on that hot chocolate.

  • Reply @maggiedammit December 16, 2011 at 4:54 pm


    Thank you, Laura.

  • Reply Elizabeth Marie December 16, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    Ah, crap. This made me cry. Beautiful, though.

  • Reply Rachel - A Southern Fairytale December 16, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    I do so adore you, woman.
    This made me tear up. I could not imagine saying such a thing to my beautiful, amazing, gift of a daughter.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  • Reply Adventures In Babywearing December 16, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    beautiful. Thank you for seeing that it her.


  • Reply Gwen Bell December 16, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    Touched by this, Laura. Feeling thankful for the ways you’re able to see.

  • Reply victoria December 16, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    all choked up here. xo

  • Reply Momo Fali December 16, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    Perfection. Just perfection. I don’t know if I would have been able to cool my red-hotness, so extra kudos for staying calm and taking a high road that the mother won’t soon forget.

  • Reply zulma December 16, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    I just saw look…awesome and a very real and honest post….I love it!

  • Reply Jennifer December 16, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    That took so much courage. Thank you. I know it wasn’t me you did it for, but maybe in a way it was. Maybe in a way you did it for all women everywhere that have fought to be perfect and fail so miserably because it is just not achievable. Thank you.

  • Reply Linda @alamodestuff December 16, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    Beautiful gesture. Beautifully written. Thank you.

  • Reply Amy --- Just A Titch December 16, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    This is seriously so amazing and beautiful. I just adore you for this.

  • Reply Janet December 16, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    Sometimes mothers say things like that because they can’t bear to say “I’m sorry honey we don’t have the money for that.” I know. That’s the kind of mother I had. Only her response wasn’t about weight, it was “You don’t want that. I know better.” For years I was angry that she DIDN’T know me better than I knew myself and how dare she claim so. It wasn’t until I understood the REAL reason why we could buy [whatever] and that it embarrassed her. Whether the mother really thought the little girl was overweight, or whether she couldn’t afford it doesn’t matter. Bless you for doing this and for putting a bit of joy into both of their lives.

  • Reply Jo December 16, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    wow. as that mother – and believe me it’s ALL projecting (which you knew) – I love that you did this. share the bravery.

  • Reply Emily December 16, 2011 at 7:12 pm

    Well done. You ended with grace what started in anger. We are all fighting our own hard battle, and it helps to remind ourselves of that as often as possible. As we say in Dublin, good on ya.

  • Reply Jennifer December 16, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    That’s just really beautiful.

  • Reply Cherise December 16, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    Wow. A parent made a choice not to give her child a sugary treat, and you took it upon yourself to negate that? Do you know better than the parent what her child needs? As the parent of one child who’s allergic to milk (and therefore has very limited options in stores) and another who’s hypersensitive to sugar, I choose what to give my kids and when. It’s not “sweet” or “kind” when some stranger tries to push sugary treats on them. It’s rude, and potentially harmful.

    Please think twice before you decide to offer sugar/snacks/cookies/treats to a stranger’s child. A coat to a cold child? An *offer* to buy a healthy lunch to a hungry kid? Sure. But chocolate? No.

    • Laura Harrison Mayes
      Reply Laura December 16, 2011 at 7:55 pm

      Cherise, I hear you. My son is also sensitive to sugar, we have many diabetics in my family, and I know what you’re saying. But I cleared it with the mom before it was offered. And that wasn’t the situation.

  • Reply Sam December 16, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    So sweet!

  • Reply Cherise December 16, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    Did you ask her out of earshot of her child? And thank you for at least doing that much. Still, you undermined her parenting decisions. I’ve had people try to give my kid sweets after I’ve said no, if they hear her begging. All that teaches her is it’s ok to beg/plead/whine until she gets what she wants. If mom says ‘No,’ others must respect that. I have had people offer to me, out of earshot of my child, and they understand when I politely say “no thank you.” But I’ve had others who insisted my child needed whatever treat they were offering, and that mom should be ignored. They think they’re being kind, but they’re serving only themselves, not the child and not the parent.

  • Laura Harrison Mayes
    Reply Laura December 16, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    Cherise, yes, the child did not hear this element of our conversation.

    • Laura Harrison Mayes
      Reply Laura December 16, 2011 at 8:45 pm

      Also, to be clear, this was not a health issue. The child was in no way overweight and had no restrictive health issues. I asked. Sidenote: I worked at the largest Children’s hospital in the US for years, and I’m sensitive about children’s dietary issues. This was not that.

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