Written by Donna McClintock, COO with Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc.
DEDICATED to ALL the men and women who serve our country and keep us safe!
I blog because of my passion to inspire big people to love, nurture, enjoy, cuddle, teach, and be advocates for little people, for their family units, and for those who might not have their own voice. I strive for a common-sense approach, so I often share simple life lessons I learn along the way. I feel that if my life is impacted, perhaps I can impact others. I say without reservation or hesitation that it has been a long time since I have been so inspired by a series of events. I also warn you that this blog might take a little longer to read than most. My heart is overflowing. I am flying home as I write and will have only one day with family, but I will be fully present for the beauty of the ordinary in a new way.
I arrived in a Midwest city on Friday afternoon after having traveled all week. This was probably my sixth airport in seven days. I had an important work event on Saturday, and I must admit that I was extremely weary. I love my life and my work, but I was really feeling the stress of my schedule on this particular day. I stepped off the plane lost in myself and my worries. As I entered the gate area, I saw the little man pictured here standing with his mom. He stopped me in my tracks, and I was unable to talk or keep walking for a few moments. I see welcome-home signs quite often in airports, but there was something in this child’s eyes that moved me beyond words. His intensity and his longing to see his dad walk off that plane just filled me with compassion.
I asked his mom for permission to take his picture. She had big tears in her eyes and excitedly explained to him that I wanted to take his picture because I thought he looked so nice. She gently caressed his head and told him to look at the camera. He did, but it was tough — he kept looking behind me for Daddy who was on my flight and returning from Afghanistan. I wanted to stay and take pictures of them, but I had not suffered with them and felt that I did not deserve to experience their reunion. I walked away feeling grateful to his father, to his mother, and to sweet, brave, little Dylan who had sacrificed his daddy. They had all paid a big price for me and my family … for all of us.
My weariness couldn’t possibly compare to Dylan’s father’s. My sadness for not being with my children and grandchildren for our traditional Sunday lunch seemed so small compared to the many meals that Dylan has missed with his dad. I thought about how just last weekend, I had driven my granddaughters to lunch with the car top down and listened to them squealing with delight while Dylan and his mom were probably counting down the days until Daddy came home.
Dylan’s eyes say it all … eyes of longing, hope, sadness, and anticipation. Our men and women who serve would probably say that the ordinary days with their families are what they miss the most while many of us run through these days without pausing to appreciate them. And so came Lesson #1: Gratitude is refreshing. I vowed to look beyond my pettiness and appreciate the beauty of the everyday things. I will find ways to reach out to those who make tremendous sacrifices for others, including those who sacrifice for our country. I could have spent the last 30 minutes writing in my gratitude journal or thinking of creative ways to help others rather than wasting that time feeling down and focused on my own problems. I must admit that there was a bounce in my step when I walked away from Dylan that wasn’t there before I met him. I am grateful to him, to his family, and for every good thing that I have taken for granted.
This brings me to my next wake-up call — Lesson #2: Find a way to communicate with those you love. Nap time at Children’s Choice in the center we were visiting was anything but ordinary for one little girl in our Kindergarten program. Her nap time is Daddy’s bedtime where he is stationed, and I cried when I learned that her nap-time routine includes a Skype “tuck-in” – her dad tucks her in for nap, and she tucks him in for a good night’s rest. Where there is love, there is a way. Rather than focusing on what you can’t do, focus on finding a way to seize every opportunity to communicate your love and devotion to those who matter in your life. Don’t let guilt, distance, or any other challenge keep you from finding creative ways to be involved in your loved ones’ lives.
Lesson #3: Do it while you can. As I was walking to my gate today, I witnessed a mom receiving a phone call. I do not know the details; I just know what I saw. She was a beautiful, elegant woman who lost all sense of direction and poise. She began sobbing, stumbling, and dropping things while trying to run to a gate. Some amazing people jumped in to help her, and all she could say was “My daughter…I just got a call…my daughter…” Those of us around her became a team. One man ran to the gate to ensure the plane didn’t leave without her. Someone else took her rolling suitcase while two strong men got on either side of her to escort her while gently saying, “We will get you there.” None of us knew her story — we just felt her loss and knew that something very bad had just happened. Love while you can. Hug while you can. Express it now.
I thought about how I had gotten off a plane so self-centered less than 36 hours before and how much I had learned since then. Well, another lesson was waiting for me on this flight. Lesson #4: Is there anything more beautiful than a mother’s love? I was shaken when I boarded the plane and was thankful for an upgraded seat in first class. A stewardess began the safety instructions; and although she was trying, she just couldn’t stop crying. She apologized profusely and said, “I just saw a very young Marine in the back of the plane in full uniform. I asked him if his mom had seen him in full uniform yet. He began to cry and said, ‘No,’ but she was meeting him.” He told the stewardess how much he missed his mom and that she was so proud and so excited to see him. His tears said it all – he was proud, happy, and weary. The stewardess said she lost it at that point. Just then, a mom sitting on the first row jumped up and said, “He will not ride in the back! My son is a Marine. Bring him to my seat, and I will sit in the back of the plane.” How many lessons about a mother’s love, selflessness, pride, and honor can you receive from what I witnessed?
I have a new passion: To treasure and find beauty in each ordinary day. I vow to not waste my time being unhappy, focused on petty things, or pouring my heart and soul into things that simply do not matter. I trust that by sharing my experiences with you that you are inspired to think about what you might have overlooked. Perhaps a leisurely walk with your teenager where phones and other distractions are left behind could turn an ordinary day into a real connection. Perhaps just hugging your little one a bit tighter and making eye contact each morning will remind you of his love for you and will give him the confidence he needs for the real world. It is an honor to get to hug those we love, to laugh with those we cherish, and to invest in those for whom we are responsible. Sometimes we become mechanical, so we need to be purposeful while we have the opportunity. Children have one childhood, and we have one life. There are no do-overs.
Dylan’s daddy is home, and I am sure that Dylan was ready to get out of that suit and tie and just do some ordinary things with his dad. Dylan, you inspired me and started a weekend of life lessons that I will not soon forget. You and your mom are an inspiration.
My weekend was full of lessons and also full of joy, laughter, and purposeful planning to ensure that I focus on applying these reminders to my own life. To all the men and women who serve our country and keep us safe — You reminded me that I, too, can enjoy ordinary experiences with my family. Thank you!! And to all the parents who work hard, feel guilty, and juggle more than you know how to do — Just take it one day at a time and vow to find beauty and joy in each moment.
“What day is it?”
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.
― A.A. Milne
It’s mine now, too.