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 Amanda December 16, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    Oh my word! I don’t know you but I love you for this!

  • Reply Heather December 16, 2011 at 9:29 pm

    How did you phrase the Q about the restrictive health issuess (in case I need to do this some day instead of spilling a beverage *on* the mother)?

    What did the daughter say when you presented the drinks?

    I think it’s safe to say you put the mom’s relationship with her daughter, and maybe even herself, on another, better path.

    Thank you for that, for all moms and daughters.

    Merry Christmas.

    • Laura Harrison Mayes
      Reply Laura December 17, 2011 at 8:26 am

      Heather, I just said something like, I’d love to give you and your daughter a tiny hot chocolate but I wanted to check if that would be ok and if either of you have allergies or health restrictions. It just sort of tumbled out of my mouth. This was the standard wording we led with at the children’s hospital where I worked for years. Now that I think about it, I’ve done this hundreds of times. It’s more second nature than I realized.

  • Reply Erin December 16, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    I have been searching for that sweet spot between walk-all-over-me passiveness and raging-bitch-on-a-reality-show. To not let things go, to try to right the little wrongs we see every day, but at the same time never forgetting that on the other side of the story is a person just as human.

    This was absolute perfection. Thank you.

  • Reply Leslie December 16, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    Sweet Laura. Just, sweet. So glad you posted this! xo

  • Reply SAWK December 16, 2011 at 10:34 pm

    ohhhhhhh mmyyyyyyy Gggggggoooooooooodddddddd.
    Laura, you’re the man – the WOman.
    Thanks thanks thanks thanks thanks.

  • Reply Jet Harrington December 16, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    The brilliance of this – the deeply kind brilliance – is that you were able to transform your grief into words that the mom could hear and accept, rather than the sadness, disappointment, and soul-searing rage that would certainly not have improved the situation. Thank you so much for sharing this story, and for being who you are. #youdonegood

  • Reply Elizabeth December 17, 2011 at 12:07 am

    This is an unbelievably beautiful story.

  • Reply Amie aka MammaLoves December 17, 2011 at 12:22 am

    Oh yes. Yes! And on so many levels ouch!

    We all need to be nice to each other. Thanks for reminding me.

    And wishing you a lovely holiday. xo

  • Reply Bev December 17, 2011 at 5:44 am

    tears – what a beautiful reminder of compassion

  • Reply Cindy December 17, 2011 at 8:34 am

    I don’t think you could have handled that any better. I remember when I was that little girl. That little chunky girl inside me thanks you for your kindness. You are a beautiful person.

  • Reply Susan Hudson December 17, 2011 at 8:48 am

    Thank you for posting this wonderful story….I have been there, and done nothing but the internal rage. Thank you for showing us all how to take that rage and do something positive and hopefully enlightening for that mother. She needs more hot chocolates, and so does her four year old.

  • Reply sal December 17, 2011 at 11:34 am

    Fabulous x 1 million.

  • Reply Reticula December 17, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    My tears for the day. What a perfect gesture, for all three of your. Sometimes standing in line is the only way to get through those stages to the exact right thing to do and say. Thank you for writing about it.

  • Reply Sherry Carr-Smith December 18, 2011 at 8:41 am

    I’m so glad the mother took the chocolate. I hope she’ll remember you, and it, next time.

  • Reply Miss Britt December 18, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    I so love that you were somehow able to move past wanting to shake that mother and do something that could help bring that mother and daughter closer, a gift that will last long after the strange woman left them.

    So, so beautiful, Laura.

  • Reply Greta eskridge December 18, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    This made me cry.
    For many different reasons.
    For my 3 year old daughter and the obstacles she’ll face and how badly I want to help her leap over them.
    For myself and the way I begrudge my sagging stomach while I sit here nursing my 6 month old son.
    For my 5 and 7 year old boys and the way I tell them to appreciate a girl who is smart and funny and kind and everything else tells them to look first at her body.
    For that little girl.
    For that mom.
    And for the way you turned your anger and frustration into something good.
    This touched me.
    And remindwd me to give grace to others–even when I think they don’t deserve it.
    Thank you.
    Merry Christmas!
    Love from,

  • Reply Carrie December 18, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    Wow. What a way to turn things around.

    And what a way to make me see things a little differently.

    Thank you. What a great thing you did…and then you shared it.

  • Reply Allison Zapata December 18, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    Amazing. First time here…definitely not my last.xo

  • Reply Jennifer December 18, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    I am sitting here in tears. You were so right to do what you did and you took just the right approach too. Bless you and your thoughtfulness, even if it started out as disbelief 🙂

  • Reply Anneliese December 18, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    Beautiful story. I loved the reminder to step outside ourselves and love, despite the way we are feeling (even blue), and hope that we might be able to make a positive impression in someone’s day, or even life. It’s amazing how an outside perspective–a stranger who tells you how blessed you are to be wrangling three unruly children for instance–can change the way you feel about whatever it is your are struggling through. Thank you.

  • Reply maile December 19, 2011 at 7:42 am

    This is so moving. Also, I think you are my favorite writer.

  • Reply Dia December 19, 2011 at 8:02 am

    holy crap Laura Mayes. you’re probably my favorite person in the history of people.

  • Reply kyran December 19, 2011 at 8:32 am

    Thank you for being you. Don’t ever stop. xo

  • Reply Sara Rosso December 19, 2011 at 9:24 am

    There are some obvious ways that this story could have ended, but you really made it perfect: you made your viewpoint be known but you also respected their dignity, too. Brava.

  • Reply Melanie December 19, 2011 at 9:29 am

    Laura, I love this story! I would have choked if I had heard that comment. What you did is so cool! xo

  • Reply Nicole J. December 19, 2011 at 9:31 am

    Thank you for doing an honest thing with respect and love. I don’t think I would have even thought to do it, let alone have the courage to do it. Amazing!

  • Laura Harrison Mayes
    Reply Laura December 19, 2011 at 9:38 am

    Thanks for all the kind words on this. Somehow it was less bizarre in the moment… although still strange. Writing about it made it seem a tiny bit less surreal.

  • Reply Sherri December 19, 2011 at 11:44 am

    I love your soul. That was just awesome, plain and simple. <3

  • Reply barchbo December 19, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    My sister calls this “the double butt-in” where someone eavesdrops, then intervenes on the eavesdropping. (Okay, she only calls it that when I do it.) You, my friend, mastered it and encapsulated all the best of it. I love it! Changing the course of family dynamics and involving chocolate. That is finesse.

    It takes a village to stop and smell the roses while drinking hot chocolate. Rock on!

  • Reply Lindsay Ferrier December 19, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    This is simply the best. Thank you for writing about this, Laura.

  • Reply Claudia December 20, 2011 at 9:22 am

    I just discovered your blog and love it and you already. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Reply Anne R December 21, 2011 at 8:59 am

    I landed on your blog for the very first time today and feel like I just got a secret santa gift! You are amazing and yeah, I think I may love you too!!

  • Reply Ali December 21, 2011 at 9:38 am

    YOU are the change we need this world! WOOT for you!

  • Reply Mya Maternity December 21, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    Wow, good for you for doing that. I can’t believe she told her daughter that. There needs to be more people in the world like you.

  • Reply ananamoose December 22, 2011 at 1:26 am

    Wow..I have to say that I do agree with your perception of the holidays as you get older. It does get more depressing as you get older and you often have to work harder to find the joy in it. It does help to bring joy to others which I try my hardest to do to offset the humbugs that creep up on me.

    That being said, what you did was amazing. I probably would have done something similar (in fact, I think I have). Thank you for what you did. I hope it leaves some kind of impact on the mom and the little girl.

  • Reply Kokonight December 22, 2011 at 2:08 am

    Your reaction is pure gold <3 LOVE <3

  • Reply Genevieve December 22, 2011 at 2:25 am

    I love this! A perfect way to take anger and turn it into something good. It would have been very inappropriate to angrily tell the mother off in front of the child. This way you were able to butt in and change their day in a positive manner.

  • Reply Skippy December 22, 2011 at 5:44 am

    I strongly disagree with your decision. You had a six-word look into another family’s life and decided that it was your prerogative to overrule the mother. That is unfathomable to me.

    I’m not sure; your post reflects an instant disdain for the mother based upon her “beauty” and the clothes that she was wearing – are you assuming that she was discouraging her daughter from eating a cookie at 8 in the morning because she wanted her daughter to have body-image issues?
    You realize that the weight loss might have been health-related? She may have looked at all the people with obesity-related problems and decided that she wanted start her daughter off on the right path early, or at least not handicap her by giving her an unhealthy diet as a child. Maybe the mother struggles with obesity herself and doesn’t want that for her daughter. Heck, weight-loss may have even been doctor’s orders.

    She may have “teared up” and “thanked you” because you reminded her that every time she goes into public, people stand around judging her on everything from her appearance to what she does or doesn’t feed her children and she wanted nothing more than for her public humiliation to end.

    • Laura Harrison Mayes
      Reply Laura December 22, 2011 at 8:51 am

      Skippy, I hear what you’re saying and assure you this was not the case. I talked to the mother before it was offered. And after, more extensively. There were no health issues. She was not overweight. She was 4. I worked at the country’s largest children’s hospital for years and I’m sensitive to children’s dietary restrictions, esp involving sugar.And I agree about the importance of not judging, especially things you don’t know. That was the point of the piece. Happy holidays.

  • Reply Michele December 22, 2011 at 7:34 am

    You. Are. My. Hero! This was absolutely genius! 🙂 Thank you for not simply walking away and letting it gnaw at you. I hope your example inspires others to step in act in ways that are gentle and kind.

  • Reply Jill December 22, 2011 at 8:40 am

    Holy wow.

    Holy shit.

    I am totally sobbing right now.

    These two sections did it, beyond the beauty, the vulnerability and bravery and honesty of what you did:

    “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.”

    Holy, holy.

    And this:

    “We all have our things. And we’re all missing things. And we should all be easier on ourselves and each other.”

    Thank you. And, Amen!

  • Reply Brandy December 22, 2011 at 9:20 am

    I needed this. I also gave to someone that I wasn’t quite expecting myself too and then kicked myself for acting without full thought. But you are right I gave and maybe it did help. Maybe it was supposed to happen. Just let it be.

    Have a great Holiday!

  • Reply Claire J December 22, 2011 at 9:39 am

    What a lovely little story – and thank you for acting with such thoughtfulness and compassion. 🙂

  • Reply Bridget December 22, 2011 at 9:50 am

    It’s been a crazy, stressful year — one that earned me a 20lb gain. I call it my stress baby. I’ve already decided that another austere diet is NOT the resolution for 2012, but to just be kinder to myself. Maybe I am just meant to be this size right now. Thanks for the great story! I promise to be easier on myself.

  • Reply Gq December 22, 2011 at 11:09 am

    Greta’s comment was great, Skippy turned something beautiful ugly. I for one think you are Awesome!

  • Reply magpie December 22, 2011 at 11:11 am

    This: that surreal moment of weirdo dreamland perfectionville nonsense

    Love. Thanks.

  • Reply DebbieLB December 22, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    Beautiful post! We women are so hard on ourselves…we do not need to pass it down to our daughters! What the heck were they doing in the coffee shop if not enjoying a coffee/hot chocolate and cookie or scone?!?

  • Reply Theresa December 22, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    Hi Laura,

    I dont know you but I just wanted to say thank you for not jumping on the soap box (even if for a good cause). The “killing with kindness” method always seems to be get the best results, nice job 😀

  • Reply Weekly wrap up in the middle of the week — December 22, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    […] Choosing compassion. […]

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