It started with a few lollypops and ended up making me think about my own mortality.
On the first day of August, my boys and I started “The Lollypop Project,” which was a fancy name for giving away Dum-Dum lollypops to strangers all month long. We mostly did it on CTA buses and trains, but sometimes we offered them to the folks working in those stations, sometimes to people waiting around for trains for in the elevators to and from the stations. Whomever we encountered along our travels.
You’d think it would be easy to give away candy, but it wasn’t. Not always.
It usually worked like this: My boys and I would tumble into whatever vehicle we were taking that day, settle into seats, and Lucas would whisper in his very-loud, un-whisper, “Can we do the lollypop thing?” I always said yes, and he and his brother, never to be left behind, took small plastic bags of candy and turned to those around us and asked every single person: “Would you like a lollypop?”
Some people were suspicious, and looked at me expectantly, waiting for… something. Sometimes I would tell explain that the boys and I were giving away lollypops this month just to see how many we could give out. Some people politely declined, others accepted, most said Thank You in some form. A few people tried to pay us, which we refused. Some days everyone on the train accepted a treat, some days nobody did. One morning a lovely family traded us donut holes for lollypops, much to the boys’ delight. Almost everyone smiled.
Often the treats were an opening for someone who wanted to talk. They’d tell us about when their own kids were little like mine, how old they were now (from 50 to 15), what flavor lollypops my kids liked best, that sort of thing.
A few people told me I was a good mother.
Which got me to thinking, would my boys remember this month? Would they remember seeing people brighten as they approached? Of summoning their brave faces and asking every person – even one man whom they admitted later “Looked a like a Bergen (from the Trolls movie)!” Or will this fade into the haze of childhood like a favorite toy, long forgotten and dusty under a dresser? And was this about my skills as a parent or showing my kids the difference a little kindness can make?
This week marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. I remember hearing the news of her passing in shock and horror as the rest of the world did, and sobbing as we watched on TV as her boys laid her to rest. The card reading ‘Mummy’ on her casket. Heartbreaking to see the two princes forced to face the worst possible thing on the most public stage. We all cried with them and for them. She was 36.
Two decades later, her sons have shown themselves to be bright, funny, service-minded men who have taken on a public roles in supporting charities and causes such as mental health support and awareness in a frank and sensitive way that we’d all say would have made Diana so proud. They have lived most of their lives without her, yet it seems her compassion, courage and kindness are alive and well in William, Harry and their families.
A dear friend of mine just lost her grandmother. She was in her 80s and had been ill for quite some time, but a loss is a loss, no matter how many platitudes we attach to it. She said she feels quite lucky to have known her and loved her for so many years, and for her young daughters to have had the time they did with her. I never had the privilege of meeting her, but I feel like I knew her through her daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughters, whom I’m beyond lucky to know and to love as my own. I cried today thinking of their loss.
And now, writing this, my eyes fill with tears again as I think of my grandmother, Dorothy, who loved books and children and making applesauce with me in the tiny kitchen that my grandfather built with his own hands. She would have loved to hear my 6-year-old read out loud and would have laughed in her bubbly way at the 3-year-old’s naughty antics. She was a good grandmother, a good mother.
But am I?
I guess we never really know how we are doing as parents. There are good days and bad days. We hope that we live long enough to know that our children are well-adjusted and happy and adults that function in society. We hope they will be caring, empathetic, loving and loved, kind, reasonable, strong but not pushy, generous but not doormats. All the things we want for ourselves and we hope that our examples – hopefully more good than bad – help make them into all we want to be. All that we may not be, yet.
Thirty-seven. This month we gave out 37 lollypops. I really thought we’d do more, but that’s pretty good. I hope the boys remember all the smiles they saw this month as a result of their generosity, their random acts of kindness. They got to eat a bunch of extra treats and chances are that’s what they will remember from this little experiment.
All of this doesn’t make me a good Mom or even a better one than I was a month ago, but I hope my own two princes remember how it felt to give without expecting anything in return. I’ll keep trying to show them the way, as best I can, for as long as I am lucky enough to do so.
But then it’s all up to them.