Grace From a Stranger: The Day I Met Ms. Connie

“There’s a man on our roooooooof!” went my five year old’s battlecry as he ran down the street to the neighbor’s house, shoeless and in clothes that didn’t match.

“Walker?! Honey dinner is ready! What are you doing?” I tried to yell before he was through their gate and out of sight…

This was a few months ago. Finn baby had been home for a couple of weeks. I had cooked dinner only a handful of times, this being one of them, since his arrival. Our roof had leaked in a recent rainstorm and there was a man on it assessing the damage to the wonderment and delight of every kid in a three-mile radius of the neighborhood. Their excited screams and pretend worry at his every move from above had woken the baby up from a nap…again. My husband was left to deal with the roofer and the dogs while I chased down the older two boys, baby swaddled up in my arms.

I live across the street from a senior center, a library, and next door to a park. The senior center has regularly scheduled dances and events during the week, and this particular night was dance night. On my way to get the boys, I saw a neighbor talking to one of the men who had just pulled into a parking spot. He and his wife were in their shiny red convertible and I smiled to myself at the thought of them zipping around in what could only have been something they had wanted when they were much younger and finally got around to buying now that they were much older.

“Bring that little one over here! I haven’t seen him yet!” the neighbor, Tom, commanded. So I did, and that’s when I met Ms. Connie.

From around the side of the red convertible came a woman with big, round hair and oversized sunglasses. She looked at me and looked at Finn. “You’re doing a really good job,” she said. I looked at her like she had just spoken Greek. Did she not see my shoeless older boys who had given up the trampoline to play basketball in the street with their friends, balls flying dangerously close to all the parked cars? Did she not see my husband on our porch only a few houses down, his piece of garlic bread left to languish by my absent mind in the oven in one hand, and paperwork about the roof in the other?

Did she not see me, looking like something that had crawled out from under a drain? “Oh,” I said, half reply, half question. “Thank you.”

“Those are hers too,” Tom laughed as he pointed to my boys, the oldest one now shimmying up the back of the basketball goal to my abject horror. “She’s got her hands full.” “Well. You’re doing a great job,” she said again while she rubbed the baby’s cheek. “He’s so healthy looking. And look how comfortable he is. He feels safe with you.”

I didn’t know her name or anything about her yet, but I already loved her.

Ms. Connie went on to tell me her name, that she had raised boys too so I shouldn’t worry about them (even the one climbing the basketball goal), how pretty our house looked with new flowers planted for spring, how she remembers the days with little ones at home stretching on for forever but also flying by — and shared evidence to back up her claim that I was doing a good job: “They know you’re here watching them. They can see you coming to get them. Even when you don’t think they see you — they do — and they feel comfortable in the world you’ve made for them. This baby looks so healthy…you’re doing a great job.”

Her husband collected her after he had talked cars with Tom, in fear that they were going to be late to their dance (they hadn’t been in a few months because he hadn’t been well) — we said our good-byes, and I rounded up my ragtag gang to head in finally, for dinner.

I share this post today for two reasons: First and foremost, I hope it rains down Ms. Connies on all of you.

When you look a mess, when your kids are monsters at the grocery store, when nothing about your day is going as planned and you just want to push rewind and start over, I hope there is a Ms. Connie somewhere out there to tell you what you can’t see: That you’re doing a really great job.

Second, I hope one day down the road, maybe in ten years or maybe in forty years, we can remember the universal struggles of motherhood and be someone else’s Ms. Connie.

I haven’t talked to her since, but I see their car sometimes on dance nights at the senior center and it makes me smile. And on the days when I struggle I think to myself, “Ms. Connie said I was doing a good job,” and however crazy it may sound, I feel a little better.

Thank you Ms. Connie for seeing me better than I can see myself sometimes.

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