How two jars of dirt changed my outlook on motherhood and serving my children.
One January morning, I had just sent my kids off to school. I was starting my day, still in my “mother uniform”- slippers and robe- when I got a text from my 15 year old son. He said, “Hey mom, can you bring me two jars full of dirt”. This was not the strangest text I’ve ever received from my kids, but it was definitely and odd request.
“Two jars of dirt? Are you pranking me? What for?” I asked
He responded, “I was supposed to bring two jars of dirt to school for science class, and I forgot. I need them in 25 minutes before my science class starts”
“Where do I get two jars of dirt? How long have you known about this?” was my typical motherly response.
His text back said, “I’ve known all week. I’m really sorry. But if I don’t bring it today, it will lower my grade. You’ll need to dig it up in the backyard. Please mom?”
“No way! If you’ve known about it for a week, you should’ve been prepared! Plus it’s 12 degrees and snowy outside!” I replied with an eye-roll emoji.
He responded, “I’m sorry, mom. I really need it. Is there any way you can bring it?”
“I’m sorry too. But no.” I sternly responded. There was no way I was going to dig up two jars of dirt from the backyard when he had known about this assignment all week! What would bailing him out teach him? He needs to learn to be responsible and that I won’t always be there to call when he’s in a pickle.
I put my phone away, and started about my day. Dishes, laundry, all the regular things that mothers do. Then I pictured him sitting in science class sweating, knowing that if his grades weren’t good enough, he couldn’t try out for the baseball team. He was already struggling in science class without being unprepared. I’m sure he was stressed, and I was the one he called.
In that moment, I thought about my own mother. We didn’t have cell phones when I was my son’s age, but after school, when we needed to be picked up, we would go to the payphone and make a collect call. I never had any money, and there was no way my mom would accept a collect call. When she picked up the phone, all she’d hear was the operator say, “You have a call from” … then I’d talk as fast as I could, “mom, I’m ready for you to pick me up at school.” …. click. Call disconnected.
I had no way of knowing if she’d really come pick me up or not. I actually didn’t know if she’d even get the call. But I knew. I knew that within 5 or 10 minutes, my mom would appear, driving a maroon minivan, and pull up to the school to pick me up. It never failed me… SHE never failed me. I knew that my mother would show up. No matter what.
I remember when I was a freshman in college. It was my first time living away from home. I had just landed a job at a camera shop that paid $7 per hour. You may be thinking that was a good wage in 2005, but no, it wasn’t. I was so poor, and using all of my money to pay tuition, housing, and a car payment. Getting that job was a lifesaver because it meant that I could afford to eat too! The only problem was that I had to wear a a uniform of a black shirt and khaki pants to work, and I had neither.
I called my dad and asked if he could help me with some money to buy some clothes. I remember being worried that it would be asking a lot, because I knew they were struggling financially too. My dad worked two jobs to support our family. But he didn’t even skip a beat. He said he would transfer money to my checking account right then, so I could go shopping when I had a break at school. I remember that he had sent me enough money that I could even get a pair of shoes to go with my work uniform. Now, nearly 20 years later, that money he sent me still feels like a million dollar gift- something I could have never done for myself, and my dad showed up for me.
When I was in high school, I was notorious for my messy room. It was always a disaster and I’m sure it drove caused my parents crazy. I honestly tried to keep it clean, but I just couldn’t. I was so busy that I hardly had time to think, let alone clean my room.
I remember coming home late at night from my job at the local burger joint. I had been gone all day- left at 6:45 for school, stayed after to make up a test, went to a church activity, and then straight to my job at the local burger joint. When I came home at close to midnight, I walked into a perfectly clean bedroom. While I was gone, my mother had picked it up for me, folded my clothes and put them all away She’d even washed my sheets and made my bed. Walking into that clean room felt like pure heaven.
I was 17 years old, and should have been able to keep my room clean without my mother stepping in. But what she did for me that day has always stuck with me. Now, as an adult, Every time I wash my sheets and slip into a perfectly made bed, I think of my mother, and her tender acts of service for me. I still hold strong to my belief that clean sheets are heavenly! When I asked my mother about cleaning my room for me, she told me that I was busy and had a lot of my plate. She wanted me to know that she loved me and that was what she could do to serve me.
Flash back to the present day, I was struggling to decide if helping my son now would enable him to be lazy, or show him that I loved him. I couldn’t stop thinking about my teenage son, who was about to be scolded for being unprepared at school.
My parents’ example hit me so hard right then. Had they bailed me out? Yes, many times. More than I probably realized. The argument could be made that they made me soft, taught me that I didn’t have to do what I should do, because they would always step in and help me. Maybe by them helping me and showing up for me, it made me less responsible, forgetful, or lazy. Who knows?
But what I do know is that I look back on those small acts of service and I knew that my mother and father loved me. I remember parents who showed up when I called, pitched in when I needed it, and overlooked the many flaws I have. Did it make me soft? Probably. But it also made me feel loved.
So, sitting there thinking about my 15 year old son, and his dirt conundrum, I decided to show up for him, like my parents always showed up for me.
I grabbed two mason jars and an ice cream scoop, because it was all I could find. Then I went in the backyard, in my slippers and robe, and dug up some dirt. The ice cream scoop probably wasn’t the best choice. I had to dig throught 3 inches of snow, and I could barely scrape off any topsoil from the frozen ground. But I filled two jars about halfway with dirt and off I went, to deliver them to school.
I got to the school right as they were switching classes, so he came to the car and grabbed the jars. I told him that he owed me a hundred, thousand dollars. We laughed at the thought of me scraping up frozen dirt, with an ice cream scoop. Then he said, “thank you so much. Love you”. Then off he went, back into school, just in time for science class.
Being a mother is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s hard to find the balance between teaching, loving, guiding, and letting your kid struggle every once in a while. But if there is anything I want to teach my kids, it’s the same thing my parents taught me… Do what you can to help someone out. We don’t have to solve everyone’s problems for them all the time, but a little kindness here or there goes a long way.
None of this is about the money, the dirt, the clean room… what it is about is being seen. My parents saw me, and found something they could do to take a small burden from me. They gave me a few moments where I could breathe easier, because they were able to see what I lacked, and fill some small gaps for me.
What my mother and father had done for me was just offered me a small boost. They didn’t take away all of my struggles, my independance, or make life a breeze for me. Rather, they gave me little bit of help so I could keep going. Isn’t that what we should be doing for each other?
How much better would the world be if we stopped trying to teach people lessons, or prove their shortcomings. What if we did away with the stepped in when we could, and gave someone a boost? If we want to love people better, watch for something they are lacking, something they are missing, and if you are able fill that small gap, then do it.
Give someone a jar of dirt if they need it.
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