Tonight, after we put the children down, with 2 feet of snow on the ground and not a plow in sight, I sent my husband on a trek through the neighborhood to meet a stranger on Massachusetts Ave to give them a can of baby formula. A person, I don’t know, posted on a neighborhood listserv I don’t live in, about her baby with GI problems that was running out of formula and not able to find a store open with a very unique formula need. If you have spoken with me over the past year, you know my daughter’s allergies have me eating a very specific diet for her every day, and in turn pumping 4 hours a day, since we never were able to find a formula she could eat. It’s a huge sacrifice but I know how scary it can be when your baby needs to eat and there is nothing you can do while you watch them scream in pain from the formula you are giving them. So, of course, I had time and a stock pile of unused formula for this stranger. I couldn’t ignore their desperate plea. I’ve been there.
We’ve all been there.
We’ve all been a parent desperate for a solution, for help, for compassion, for love. You know the acute ache you feel when you see your child struggle as you fight for a solution. Whether it’s as simple as a bully on a playground or as complex as a life threatening disease, you would do anything to make life perfection for your child. This is what draws us together. We’ve all been there. That’s our common denominator.
This brings me to my favorite topic. My work this year as the philanthropy chair on the board for BNS. Before I continue, I just would like to let you know that I plan on staying at BNS for the next 4 years so, before you get any ideas, the position is mine. I say this because, I have a pretty cushy role. I see people in need and I immediately get to say, “I know people who can help. How can we help you?” My husband says I have developed an addiction to helping people. I’ll accept that vice. You know how helping someone, like opening the door for someone, immediately makes you feel good? You should try helping large groups of people over and over and over again. I feel fantastic and, trust me, between the teething baby and the amped up preschooler I never sleep and pumping/bottle cleaning 4 hours a day is no picnic either.
In September, I went to my weekly pick up of CSA fruits and vegetables at Norman’s Farmers Market here in Bethesda. My trunk was overflowing with shoes for Rukundo International and a stroller for the baby. I open the trunk to get the stroller and shoes come pouring out on the parking lot. I finally shove everything in and walk up to sign in for my CSA. The ladies working there gently tease me about my messy car. I then take the opportunity to tell them how wonderful our nursery school is and how my car is full of over 350 pairs of smelly old shoes for families in Africa. That is when one of the ladies bends down and unties her sneakers and hands me her still warm old smelly sneakers. Why? Because like all of us who know the desperation of just losing one of our children’s shoes vs the struggle of not being able to provide shoes for them at all, she’s been there. She can imagine that struggle. On some level, we’ve all been there. Our BNS community’s kindness spread to her.
The day school ended for winter break, I picked my son up and loaded my car up with the last of the Salvation Army Angel items. I took both kids up to an industrial area in Germantown and dropped the items off with a nice lady and 3 shopping carts at the Salvation Army drop off center. The best part? The level of shock registered on her face as she said, “This is all for 3 children?! You outdid yourselves!” Of course we did. How easy is it to imagine not having the ability to give your own children gifts or even a jacket? How easy is it to step into these parents’ shoes and imagine their desire to give their children the world? We have the same desires. As parents, we’ve all been there.
I don’t know about you but once the children are down, I have time every night for about one 30 minute recorded segment of the NBC Nightly News before my attention span is lost. Once December rolled in, I saw seemingly nightly heart wrenching segments on Syrian refugee families that if I didn’t do something fast, I would not forgive myself. I was unable to get the thought of mothers and fathers carrying small children hundreds of miles in all elements of weather to get them to safety. I couldn’t stop thinking about how these parents would risk their lives, their homes, their own children’s lives to get their children to safety. It was such an easy decision to collect for Carry the Future. When I decided to move forward, I emailed a bunch of people I know who might be interested in collecting carriers too. Together, we were about to collect 14 carriers for Carry the Future. To be honest, I thought the number was pretty lackluster. I dropped the carriers (and snacks) off at a drop off point in Bethesda. I immediately got a note from the organization. We were one of their top collectors in the area that month. I see a dad every afternoon at BNS pick up carry his baby in a carrier as he picks up his two boys at BNS. Just like all of us, he too has been there. There are never enough hands for all that you must carry except our items are groceries or sibling hands. We can imagine what it’s like. We’ve been there.
Whether it is donating non-perishable food for Westland Middle School’s food pantry or pajamas for children in the foster care system, I know that the BNS family is ready and willing to give and support families that struggle. In this melting pot of a city, it is often hard to find someone like yourself. However, we are all the common denominator as we give and spread kindness through our shared connection of “being there.”
To take it all full circle, we, as parents, have all been there in some way or other to understand struggle, need, and want. We are able to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and know that we need to help. What we want in our children is for them never to have to feel “been there” but to have the compassion and empathy to know when to help and have everlasting kindness. I hope to teach my children this lesson through leading through example. By including my children in bringing in and selecting pajamas, toys, or coins to help someone in need, I am able to take each moment as an opportunity to not only explain to my children about other’s struggles but also teach them to appreciate and value the blessings they have with humility.
For those of you who have donated and/or lent a hand, thank you for “being there” with me. This has certainly been a rewarding experience.
–Jenny O’Brien, BNS Philanthropy Chair