A Little Mother Teresa

Alexandra Mercer McCarren essays

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“Hello to my people!” shouts my 22-month-old daughter. When does she say it? ALL the time! This catch phrase made its debut on a cab ride home from the Logan International Airport in downtown Boston. My husband, daughter, and I squeezed in the back of a cab with all our travel gear after a long plane ride home.

My husband closed his eyes for a quick catnap while I rambled on about how rude the man was running the cab line at the airport. “The nerve of him. I can’t believe he actually gave us a hard time for taking so long to put in our car seat. A car seat! Like I’m going to sacrifice the safety of my child for the sake of his impatience.” I looked over at my husband. His nap wasn’t working out so well. He squinted his face, eyes closed, pinching his fingers together like crab claws. This was his way of telling me to bring it down a notch. I rolled down the window for some much needed air and took a deep breath. I sat back and listened to the radio. It was a talk show about power to the people.

“Hello to my people!” shouted my daughter.

My husband opened his eyes. “What did you say, sweetie?” he asked.

“She said, ‘hello to my people,’” answered the cab driver.

Oh, right. Her people. Wait. What people?

“Hello to my people!” she shouted again. Pretty soon everyone in the cab chimed in.

“Hello to my people!” It was contagious. Our words rang out like a chorus through the streets of Boston. 

Throughout the next few weeks, talk of her people continued. She shouted it out on street corners, on the subway, at the park. One day she used the slide at our local playground as her soapbox. She climbed the stairs to the top of the slide and shouted it to all her fellow toddlers. Then, as a dramatic finale, she slid down the slide and ran off into the distance. During those moments, I just smiled and shouted alongside my daughter, as if it was what all 22-month-olds say. 

Then one day while eating lunch, she looked up at me. “Ssssaaaad,” she said in a long, drawn-out voice in between bites of blueberry yogurt.

“Who’s sad, sweetie?”  I asked.

“People,” she answered.

Okay. This was getting weird. Is she a little saint channeling energy from Gandhi or Mother Teresa? Or maybe even a bit from Che′ Guevara. She did say “sad” with a bit of a Spanish accent.

“People do get sad sometimes, sweetie, but it’s okay. We can always help them be happy,” I explained.

My daughter smiled and ran to her toy bin. I celebrated my successful quick thinking with an uninhibited interpretive dance titled “I Rock At This Mom Gig.” My dance was cut short, for she appeared seconds later holding a cup with three little plastic people inside.

“Hello, people!” I said. As soon as I said it I knew.

“Hello to my people!” she shouted.

“So these are your people,” I confirmed. “So nice to finally meet them.”

It makes sense really. She likes to keep these little figures together. She is very excited to see them every time she gets home. Perhaps saying “Hello to my people!” is a way to show she is thinking of them or would like to see them soon. And it is quite likely she felt one of them may have been sad on that particular day at lunch. Perhaps he was hungry.  Perhaps he was lonely. Who knows?

What I do know is it’s these “Ah-ha!” moments as parents when we understand what goes on in our child’s jam-packed, mile-a-minute mind that we feel euphoric. It is as if we just reached the peak of Mt. Everest and won a million dollars, all while eating an ice cream cone.

With patience and timing, she gave me a glimpse into her world, and I felt honored to have been a part of it. Had I not been paying attention at the right moment, I may have missed my opening, lost my “Ah-ha!” moment. I want to be ready for all openings and grab these moments when they come.

And she’s just a toddler! I picture her as a teenager trying to communicate all the jumbled emotions that come with adolescence. What a crucial time to reel in those “Ah-ha’s!” and let her know she is not alone. There are sure to be rough seas, but with patience and timing, we can always find the shore. And when we do, we will stand on solid ground, despite our wobbly sea legs, and say “Ah-ha!” together.

In the meantime, although she is a people person, it is safe to say she is not a saint reincarnated. She just likes to talk to little plastic people.

About the Author

Alexandra Mercer McCarren

Alexandra writes, edits, and mothers her way through each and every day. As a freelance writer and editor for both children and adults, she feels fortunate to work from home while raising her two delicious daughters. She is an expert in selective hearing, benign ignorance, and triage assessment when it comes to hitting deadlines while simultaneously maintaining a copacetic sisterly environment. She believes there are lessons in every encounter, and writing is what sets them free.

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