I like to joke that I married my husband because he gave me an armadillo, and not a ring, when he proposed. Yeah, guys with diamond rings are a dime a dozen, but the man who shows up with a stuffed, dead rodent is truly unique—a keeper.
In truth, I married him because he picks up hitch-hikers. He is the type of person who goes out of his way to help others. So, yep, if you are stranded on the side of the road, it doesn’t matter that you don’t look familiar to him, he will stop. I know that this sort of thing isn’t a requirement for everyone looking for a mate, but kindness goes a long way with me. I can’t imagine being married to someone who doesn’t do this sort of thing because I, too, have given rides to strangers and money to panhandlers.
In fact, recently, I was thinking about how kindness to strangers is a little easier than being kind to the members of my own household. It’s the sad truth. I was at the grocery store when I saw an older woman with two very full bags of groceries. She looked rather distressed. So, I asked, “Ma’am, are you okay? Do you need help?”
She told me that she had walked to the grocery store from her apartment and that her daughter was supposed to meet her there to give her a ride home, but when she called her daughter, she was told she couldn’t come. She wasn’t sure she would be able to make it home if she had to walk with her groceries. “I’ll give you a ride,” I said.
I know. She could have been the front woman for a criminal mob who steals cars and sells their drivers into sex slavery, but remember, I offered her a ride. She didn’t single me out and ask for my help. Besides, accepting the ride required a certain amount of trust on her part, too. I could have been a serial murderer or a con artist who preys on little old ladies in distress. But like 99.9% of the general population, neither of us had anything nefarious in mind. She needed help. I gave it freely.
I’m not telling you this because I want you to think I am such a good person. I know I’m no better or worse than anyone else.
For all the patience and kindness I have for strangers in need, I’m frequently short on both when it comes to my own family—and that lack of kindness is more evident in what I say than what I do. Just last week, I was dropping my daughter off at school. She was moving slowly, and I was in a hurry. Even worse—and this is so silly of me to even care—I was concerned that the parents in the cars behind us were in a hurry, too and that we were holding up the drop-off line by moving soooo verrrry slooooowly. I hate to inconvenience other people—because I hate it when other people inconvenience me. I may not honk my horn often, but darn it, I think about it a lot!
So, I was saying, “Come on! Come on! Get out of the car! Now!”
And my daughter was saying, “But, Mom, I can’t” and “But, Mom, I have to.” I didn’t wait to hear what she couldn’t do or what she had to do. I pulled her from the car. I handed her book bag, and said, “Move!” And then, I called out, “I love you!” as she limped away. Yeah, that makes it all better.
As I drove off, I saw one of the teachers assisting my daughter with her loose boot. Ohhh, that’s what the hold-up was! And didn’t I feel like an ass? I mean, here I was being more concerned about the guy behind me being late for work than I was about my own kid’s foot. There goes my Mother-of-the-Year Award.
So, I’m guilty. I seem to have all the kindness in the world for strangers and none for my own flesh-and-blood. But just as our lives are filled with teachable moments, we have our learnable moments, too. For me, that was one of them. Show the same kindness to your family that you show to the outside world.
I’ve been practicing it since then. It’s been almost a week since the loose-boot-incident and I have made a genuine effort to be more patient with my children, my husband, and my mother-in-law. And do you care to wager who has benefitted the most from all this kindness?
What I’ve discovered is that when I am impatient with others, it makes me more irritable and anxious. I may be yelling, “Now! Now! Now!” at them, but I’m the one hearing it. I’m the one feeling more rushed and more harried. They seem unaffected. Why? Because they are smart enough to tune me out. They respond more readily to a calmer mother and wife.
What I’ve learned about having more patience with my mother-in-law is even more interesting. Previously, when I took care of her morning or evening routine, I tended to do it in silence because when I spoke to her—no matter what tone I used—she was unresponsive. And of course, as I was lifting her, cleaning her, undressing and dressing her, I felt a lot of resentment—not towards her, but towards the situation of having to care for her. I never took out that resentment on her because I knew she couldn’t help it. No one would ever choose to be as needy as she is. So, in her case, it was never a matter of me needing to show more patience or to stop yelling or rushing. It was—and is—a matter of me showing more kindness verbally.
Now, as I lift her from her wheelchair, I say, “Good job! You are doing great!” Why? Because she isn’t clutching the armrest, she IS doing a good job by making her care a little easier for me. As I undress and dress her, I say, “I know this is hard for you, but I’m doing this because I love you. Lots of people love you and want what is best for you.” As I tuck her in bed, I say, “God love you so much and you have nothing to be afraid of. Not now. Not ever.”
I don’t know that these words have any impact on her. I don’t know that she even understands what I am saying, but I hear them, too, and my own words of kindness have taken away some of the resentment. I hear me say that I am doing a good job. I hear that I live in a world surrounded by love. I hear that I have nothing to fear. Those are some powerful and awesome words I hear me saying to her—and to me.
Kindness shown to the outside world—that of stranded strangers—is one of grand gestures, like marriage proposals with or without armadillos. They don’t happen every day, and while they are celebrated and remembered, it’s the day-to-day acts—and words–of love and kindness that create and sustain relationships.
(Note: My husband would want you to know that he didn’t just randomly select the armadillo. Before we were dating, I told him that my favorite book was A Prayer for Owen Meany, and so, he read it. In the book, two boys pass an armadillo back and forth as a symbol of their friendship. He’d also want you to know that he gave me an engagement ring, too, but not until I said “Yes” to the armadillo.)