Sometimes Others See the Gifts You Don’t

I’ve said more than once to my husband or a close friend that I don’t have many skills that would be useful in an apocalyptic situation. I’m not particularly creative with foodstuffs, I don’t know how to repair things, and I’m certainly not equipped for any sort of hunting/security needs. My skills, such as I have, seem pretty well geared toward a luxurious state of peacetime. I think I rock at my job of helping undergraduate students sort out some of their problems. (How many people are going to be in university when the zombies rise?) I’m confident in my writing skills. (Maybe I can help write the manifesto of the underground rebellion…) I’ve been told that I give pretty incredible hugs. (I’m not naive enough to think this could solve many dystopic conflicts.)

Sometimes this questioning of my “valuable” skills trickles down into the level of my friendships. I have friends who are amazing bakers, generous chauffeurs, thoughtful gift-for-no-reason givers, crafty geniuses, or handy repair people. When they share these talents in a way that benefits me, my family, and my home, sometimes I hear a quiet inner voice asking, so what do I contribute to this friendship? have they not realized yet that I don’t bring anything tangible to this table?

I’ve noted, when such wonderings surface in conversation, that perhaps my main skill is entertaining. But I mean that in the most basic sense of the word: I like to open my door to people and hang out. Food I’ve prepared is never the best stuff served at my house – someone else always brings that. My friends know they might have to work around some clutter or crumbs left on the floor by my kids just to put their things down. When I have people over, there’s a 50% chance I won’t have washed or styled hair, and a pretty fair shot I’ll be in something akin to pajamas. I likely will remember to offer something to drink, but it might be forty minutes after arrival.

The point of this, though, is not to self-deprecate, but to share how some of the women in my village recently helped me think differently about what we each have to offer.

Over a year ago, when R was about two months old, I started hosting a weekly, open-door baby playgroup. I knew ten or so other moms on mat leave or otherwise home with small people, some of whom I’ve known well for a long time, others whom I’d just met. Most weeks, three or four women would straggle in mid-morning, a few times we had eight or nine. Babies were everywhere: rolling on the floor, crawling into the kitchen, older ones playing puzzles or dumping buckets of fun food onto the floor.

I loved it. I looked forward to our gatherings all week, and was so grateful not only that these women were around to keep me company, but that they were all willing to come to me – it seemed pretty lazy and selfish to be the one who always got to stay home (especially in the winter). Plus, sometimes they brought treats or would offer me a ride if I needed to take R somewhere in the afternoon! I was lucky enough to be back at work only four days a week for the first three months, and so playgroup continued even after mat leave ended.

This week, I was feeling a little ennui on my first Friday back in the office, when a coworker came in with a secret package. These lovely women, the Moms I Know At Home, who had already done so much for me, had made me a first-Friday-back-at-work gift: a collage of pictures of all of them and their babes, with messages on the back. I cried as I read about how my skill of just opening the door, which I take for granted and don’t see as much, was actually something dear to my friends.

When I think about it, many of my friends also have such qualities – little things they probably don’t see as much but which make my life brighter and for which I’m grateful. It’s the friend who’s never too busy to stop and chat for a few minutes when we run into each other on the street; the one whose empathetic eye rolls are just the ticket to make me feel not alone; the one who quickly brushes off any hint of mom-guilt with an automatic “fuck that bullshit” response; the one who is almost as excited to see my baby’s new skill as I am; the one who just has a quiet, genuine way of listening… and there are many, many more.

So take a moment to think of someone in your village who has one of these innate, less conspicuous gifts, and thank them for it. It will make their day. ☀️

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