A five-foot high maze of cardboard boxes all labeled “Toys” blocked my view to the hallway where a disturbing noiselessness emanated from my daughter’s direction. A growing awareness of a missing permanent marker brought tears of exhaustion to my eyes. I started planning out my mommy resignation letter in my head as I attempted to come to terms with the probability that she was writing on the wall (and possibly her legs, but hopefully not her face) with indelible ink…again.
Last May, my husband and I along with our two children (ages barely four years old and 13 months at the time) relocated from the Midwest to the Deep South. Although I was initially seduced by a fantasy that revolved around wearing t-shirts in November, my packing fire was quickly doused by the unrelenting waves of accumulated junk. My husband’s new job offered enough compensation to pay for the moving truck and the men who loaded, drove and unloaded it, but the endless search for the perfect box to temporarily house every single tiny little Batman action figure accessory was my cross to bear.
Children do not enjoy, nor do they accelerate, the packing process. Before any item was put into a box, my four-year-old son, acting as quality assurance inspector #1, would need to carefully examine the item, recognize its potential for immediate play options, and subsequently wail in despair at the thought of not having access to it for the foreseeable future. My one-year-old daughter, in her role as vice president of stress enhancement, was enjoying her newfound skill of “dumping out.” Her greatest joy in life was to unload open boxes of all of their neatly packed contents and then move on to repeat the process in another room. My children’s job description during this time clearly included, “Helping mom inch closer to insanity.”
Attempting to actualize the adage that “Slow and steady wins the race” I had diligently packed four boxes a day for about two months, but the afternoon before the “big day” my turtles pace sprang to jackrabbit panic as I took notice of the neglected cupboard of Christmas china above the refrigerator and peered faint-heartedly into one large forgotten linen closet that had served as a sort of baby-item depository for the past three years. I consoled myself with the recollection that I had three empty boxes left that could be filled after the children went to bed. Then my husband uttered four words that will undoubtedly cause trauma flashbacks for years to come, “We forgot the garage.”
As we pathetically willed ourselves to open the door to the garage we were overcome by images of multiple late-night trips to dark, smelly alleyways located behind grocery stores, all the while praying that the “good boxes,” untainted by the goo of rotting fruit, would not yet have been sent on to the demonic recycling center. “We’re going to need some help,” I moaned as I punched the button to the automatic garage door opener.
Just then a barefoot strawberry-blonde angel descended on our driveway taking the form of our neighbor Barbara who was being walked, her arms tugged almost from their sockets as she paused to see us, by her two enormously muscular dogs. “I’d love to help,” Barbara smiled cherubically as she was whisked away by her canine companions, “I’ll be over after dinner.”
So began an evening that, as predicted, included many trips out to scour stores with “good box” potential, another revelation that the photos, mirrors and framed posters on the walls still required that custom-made boxes be built to accommodate them, and two very whiney children who refused to stay asleep amidst the packing frenzy. All the while Barbara, referred to on that fateful night as our fairy godmother, alternated between entertaining my disoriented children and bubble wrapping everything in sight. She not only brought her energy and organization skills that night, but she kept our spirits light with laughter during a time of great stress and near-exhaustion.
What did Barbara have to gain from her act of kindness? Before coming upon our desperate faces in the garage her plans for the night had been to watch tennis on television and get some sleep. Instead she endured cardboard paper cuts on her hands and irrepressible playmates. Knowing Barbara, however, she would likely tell you that the evening was a celebration, a sendoff of sorts for a family whom she had grown to appreciate having in her community.
What did we gain from Barbara’s act of kindness? It’s immeasurable. We were able to prepare ourselves for the mover’s early arrival and make it to the house closing on time. My husband and I were able to get through the last strenuous mile of a moving marathon with our marriage intact. My children had an evening of hide and seek with a good buddy to help them remember their old home with some fondness. We were eager to meet our southern neighbors so that we could start establishing a supportive network in our new community. Karmically, we went on to help a family member with his move armed with the tools (e.g., patience, perseverance and box-making skills) that Barbara had shared so freely with us. Most significantly, we walked away from the experience with a lifelong friend who has written this beautiful story on our hearts…with indelible ink.