For Mother’s Day, and in honor of my mother, whose kindness and eye for beauty inspire me every single day, I’m posting an edited-down excerpt about her from “The Art of Grace.” Her lesson in acceptance and inclusion marked me deeply as a child; it taught me something profound about considering other people’s feelings, and the rewards that flow from that:
When I turned six, my mother told me I could have ponies at my birthday party—a little girl’s dream—if I invited everyone in my first-grade class.
Fine by me!
Everyone, she continued. Including Dennis. (Not his real name.)
Dennis, the boy whose pale skin and hair made him look transparent, barely there. The kid I was very sure had the worst sort of cooties. This I knew, though I didn’t know much else about him. Dennis was given to nosebleeds and a kind of spastic jitteriness, and like the other kids in the class, I did my best to avoid him.
I think I shed some tears over the ultimatum, but I really wanted those ponies, so Dennis was in….
And on the appointed Saturday of my party, a horse trailer pulled up the alley; three squat, lethargic, darling animals were saddled up by our gate, and an excited line of children formed for turns around the backyard. I remember hopping up and down a lot. I remember going first. I remember what everything looked like from high atop my pony as I traveled grandly past the dirt patch where I made mud pies, past my little playhouse, past the other children, past Dennis, his pale face flashing even paler in the afternoon sun. He was clapping his hands, hopping up and down, as jazzed up as everyone else.
And I remember gazing over to our gnarled, solitary apricot tree, newly in bloom and magnificent, where my mother stood chatting pleasantly with Dennis’s mother. His mom was older, grandmotherly, and the white pinned-up coil of her hair almost disappeared against the blossoms. As I watched them, his mother and my mother together—the surprise of it still electrifies this memory—it registered that my mother was taking care of her guest with the same calm, sensitive attention with which she treated, well, everyone. She was looking after Dennis’s mom, making sure she had someone to talk to, delivering the unspoken message to her that her son, so often alone at school, was welcome at our house….
It took a while to grasp, but as I put together the view from my pony on that beautiful day in my backyard, I came to understand something as startling as it was liberating, heart-opening: everyone should have a good time at my party, and I wasn’t the most important person at it.
Dennis had seemed so alien to me. He might as well have been a helium balloon, fragile, not quite of this world, barely connected to the rest of us. But I learned three things about him that afternoon that anchored him, pulling him back down to earth. I learned that he liked ponies, just as I did; that he had a mother, just as I did; and most of all, that his feelings, and her feelings, mattered as much as anybody else’s. My mother taught me that, by her own graceful example.
It was a good party. And a great birthday, where I felt myself grow up a little.
–from “The Art of Grace,” by Sarah L. Kaufman. All rights reserved.