This essay was originally published in the March 2012 issue of L.A. Parent magazine when it won first place in the “Moms Who Write” contest. Since today is the last day of 2013, I’ve been reflecting on past accomplishments and resolutions I’m striving in for in 2014. I was proud of winning this contest and plan on pushing myself to do more. It’s also Xmas vacation, and I’m feeling super lazy so a repost is about all I can muster right now. Cheers and Happy New Year!
First Place: The Charity Case
Robin Tolkan-Doyle shows how, even on a bad day when nothing seems to be going right, a mom can teach a charitable lesson to her kids.
“You won’t win this one,” I found myself saying to my 8-year-old daughter. It was 8:15 am on a Saturday morning and I was on the other side of one of her glorious meltdowns. “I’m NOT going,” Ella screamed. “I’m staying HOME!” There’s nothing I enjoy more than being verbally assaulted by my beautiful first born, especially when I voluntarily trade in a precious sleep-in day for playing escort to one of my kids’ 15,000 different activities. Today’s mission? Driving my son, Liam, to his improvisational comedy class on the opposite side of the Valley.
I had an idealistic vision of how this sunny morning was going to play out; while Liam honed his inner Will Ferrell, Mickey the dog, Ella and I would soak in some vitamin D as we frolicked along Ventura Blvd. If she changed her ’tude, a sugary treat might have even been in her near future. Doesn’t she know what I do for her and her brother? Well, she WAS going and she was going to have a fabulous time.
Despite my feelings of under-appreciation, I managed to corral the troops into my eco-friendly trend car. The box of Hostess powdered donuts that I tossed in the back seat provided reinforcement (read: bribe; don’t sue me) and I actually got Liam to class on time (which is a feat in itself). As Mickey pulled us down the boulevard, I blocked out Ella’s moans and groans by gazing into the windows of my favorite clothing stores and fantasized about shopping without an entourage. I thought about all the calories I was burning on this fabulous power walk. And then I noticed Mr. Homeless Man.
With a bath and some clean clothes, he would have looked like one of the dads at my kids’ school. He had a limp that implied his left leg was hurt, but it didn’t deter him from making his way to the garbage can across from the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. He was looking for breakfast and eating whatever he could find.
Being a born and bred Valley girl, this was a scene I’m familiar with. However, something about this man and my daughter witnessing his desperation was different; I felt like I needed to do something for him. If nothing else, I thought, maybe Ella would learn a charitable lesson from me buying him breakfast and better appreciate how good she’s got it.
I told her that I was going to go into Coffee Bean to buy the man something to eat and she sarcastically asked, “Why?” “He’s hungry,” I said. I took Mickey’s leash and tied it to one of the chairs outside before going in. This particular Coffee Bean had doors that automatically opened as you walk in. As I entered with Ella, all the patrons and baristas immediately started laughing at us. Unbeknownst to me, Mickey had followed us right in, dragging the chair in behind him. Through my embarrassed red flush, I led Mickey back outside and secured his leash to the chair.
Random picture of Mickey posing as a samurai.
Back in I went, handed my credit card to the cashier and asked her for a bagel. Five seconds later, I heard that same chair being dragged down the sidewalk. I ran over to check out what was happening and THIS is what I saw: Mickey running like Frogger into traffic, hauling the steel chair behind him. The loud scraping noise the chair made on the cement spooked my little guy out. Car brakes slammed, horns honked, chaos ensued and I screamed at the top of my lungs “MICKEY! COME HERE! MICKKEEYY!” He managed to cross the street unharmed and quickly headed south into the neighborhood behind the retail stores. I was frozen with terror. I didn’t know what to do first. Stay with my daughter in the Coffee Bean? Run head first into traffic after Mickey? The sheer weight of dragging a patio chair into traffic caused Mickey’s collar to break off, so now he was tagless, and the chair was sitting smack dab in the middle of Whitsett and Ventura.
My screams were obviously heard throughout the coffee shop because two men enjoying their morning Joe immediately ran out into street to save Mickey. I yelled to Ella to remain inside the Coffee Bean and chased behind the men in pursuit of my fugitive dog.
Thoughts of my husband killing me popped into my head. He loves Mickey. Sometimes, I think, more than me. Why was this happening? I was just trying to do something nice. Teach Ella a lesson. Feed a homeless person. What is Ella doing now by herself in the Coffee Bean!? Has she been taken under the wing of a struggling screenwriter who’s teaching her the ins and outs of Final Draft?
Two blocks down, I saw that a white SUV had, thankfully, come to Mickey’s rescue. I dashed over to the car and the woman in the front seat was cradling Mickey like a baby. “He was going so fast and he looked so scared!” she said. “Why don’t you have a collar on him?” Too grateful to dish out a snarky reply, I quickly took Mickey in my arms and recounted my story about buying a homeless man a bagel and almost getting my dog killed in the process.
The two men who came to my aid walked me back to the Coffee Bean as I covered Mickey with kisses. The barista who took my order was waiting on the corner with my credit card, the bagel, the store manager … and, oh yeah, my DAUGHTER!
They were so happy to see that Mickey was OK, especially Ella, who was wiping away tears. As for Mr. Homeless Man? He had vanished, taking with him the valiant lesson I was going to teach my daughter. Ironically, I was standing there holding that bagel, right by that same trashcan. That’s when I started to lose it.
I don’t know if I’ve set “charity” back by this bungled demonstration. I was trying to do something selfless and teach my daughter a lesson and I ended up becoming the charity case. Those people in the Coffee Bean didn’t see me as the do-gooder I was aspiring to be. Instead, they saw a frazzled, overwhelmed mom who leaves her daughter alone with strangers. Luckily for me, though, those strangers had my back when I needed it most. And that’s the greatest act of charity anyone can give.
If anyone learned a lesson, it was I: don’t tie your dog to a chair that weighs less than he does and expect it to stay put. Also, don’t try to teach lessons as that obviously does not work (see above). Maybe living by example is the best way to parent.
After we collected my son and climbed back into the car, I waved the magic bagel in front of both kids to see if they wanted to eat it. Because my hands were still trembling with adrenaline, I accidentally dropped it and Mickey immediately claimed it. Ella began telling Liam the story of what happened and pointed to the scene of the crime as we headed home: “Mommy ran into traffic right here to save Mickey from getting hit by a car!”
“Oh my gosh! Liam exclaimed. “She’s a superhero!”
It was nice to hear my kids talking so highly of me. I could live with “superhero.” I started to exhale.
But before I could soak up the moment, I heard Mickey gagging in the back seat. Projectile bagel vomit blanketed my freshly washed floor mats. I heroically kept heading east on the 101, hoping that I made it till 11 o’clock.