I’ve been going through so much that sometimes I feel a little bit like a life sucker—like I suck the life right out of my people each time I struggle or trip or waffle. So the days when I can also be a person to someone else don't make me feel entitled, or superior, or like a savior. These times just make me feel like I am also doing my part. How many of us would wither instead of thrive without our people? I know I would.
Without my people, I would be planted back home, droopy as I grovel. But instead I keep growing. I don’t notice it, just the way I don’t notice my children growing from one day to the next. I have to look back at their baby pictures, where I stare in awe remembering when my children were smaller. I feel just as helpless and dejected as yesterday. But if I flip through my mind’s albums of the pictures of the places I’ve come from, I stand taller and straighter than the photos of me from months earlier. My growth is painstakingly slow. Yet I grow.
Yesterday, I could see for myself the way I am also helping people that I love to grow. And I feel less like a burden and more like season. We are all leaves growing from a single tree. It is by holding hands and building each other up that we change colors, fall, and then grow again. I wouldn’t grow again after falling without my people. Without my people, most mornings I would pray to not wake up because giving up is easier than regrowth. Yet my people shout to me, “Rise up!” And I shout the same to dear ones beside me who have also given up, “Rise up!” And together we are part of a single vibrant tree again in spring.
My morning started with telling my team I’m struggling and my team telling me, “You’re doing great, love. One foot in front of the other. You got this.” And then a text came through from one of my fill-in teachers, Chelsie. She asked, “Will you be in today? I really need some advice.” Chelsie was being harassed by a former landlord. She had never fully moved into her apartment, due to the overwhelming smell of smoke and the landlord was now harassing her to continue to give him money. Chelsie works mostly third shift at her other job so she was running on no sleep. I told her when I was on my way to work and she met me there. I was cleaning the break room and she walked in, “Hi,” she said, before breaking down. When she told me what was going on, I called my lawyer and asked for a referral. Elizabeth gave me a referral and I sat with Chels as she connected with the referral and got a game plan in place. I told her she has done all she can do for today and the only thing she needs to do right now is to go home and sleep. When she came back later, a plan was in place. A few teachers were gathered and Chelsie said to them, pointing to me, “She is such a good person.” Then she started to sob. I hugged her tight and she told me, “You are such a good person. You are. I am so thankful for you.” I told her I understand what it feels like to be exhausted and frantic and sometimes you just need someone who isn’t sleep-deprived to help formulate a plan.
Next, Tashi told me at the end of her shift, “I really want to learn how to drive.” I told her, “Let’s go. Let’s go learn how to drive.” Her jaw dropped and she said in her excited high-pitched voice, “Are you serious?!” “I’m dead serious,” I said. We got in the car and she adjusted the seat and put her seat belt on and nervously exhaled. She asked which pedal is the brake and which is the gas and I told her and then said, “You want to use your right foot for both pedals.” I told her the only thing she needs to know for now are the pedals, drive, reverse, and the blinkers. She nervously put the car in reverse and she maneuvered which way to turn the wheel to reverse in order to face the right direction. Slowly, perfectly, carefully, she then put the car in drive and drove through the parking lot. “You got it girl, now onto the road.” “Are you serious?” I told her again, “I’m dead serious.” It was a residential area with almost no traffic and a perfect first road for Tashi to drive on. She had never driven before and did a perfect job. She was overly cautious and never jerked or slammed on the brakes. She carefully made her way back to the daycare and I squealed, “You did it! You drove!” Tashi looked at me and said, “I drove.” Then she broke down sobbing with her hands over her face as I hugged her. “I never thought I would drive,” she said. I told her we are going to have a real live drivers training class. Camille and Momo also want to learn to drive so I told her, “I’m not even joking. Drivers training is gonna happen right here on these Little Smiles streets!”
Tashi has been such a rock for me so many times. I will never forget the way she found me sobbing underneath my desk on that first day back to work after leaving Pablo. “Oh, Erin. It’s okay,” she said as she crouched down to my level the way she would with an inconsolable toddler. She just held me and kept saying, “It’s okay, Erin.” Her bright beaming face is what motivates me to start another workday each morning. The way she smiles and excitedly exclaims, “Good morning, beautiful!” That part right there is what helps me get my game face on when I think I might be too exhausted to put the work in for one more day.
Shortly after Tashi left for the day, I got a text message from Charisse. Charisse has also worked for me for a couple of years. She mostly fills in now but she visits often. When people leave to find another job, they still visit often. We are a family. We really are a family. We are one tree. Charisse texted me, “I just wanted to say how much I love and appreciate you. Getting hired at Little Smiles was the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” I look at the Little Smiles women. There are groups and cliques but everyone here found their best friends here. Even my best friends are here. Yes, that’s complicated when you’re the boss. But these people are my people too.
On the way home from daycare, Hendrick asked, “Do you have best friends, Mom?” I said, “Yes I do, Hendrick.” He asked, “Who are your best friends?” I paused to think about it. Before I could even answer, Andres chimed in, “Mama’s best friends are all of our teachers at daycare.” I nodded because he was right. “You’re right, Andres,” I replied. “Your daycare teachers are my best friends. Your daycare teachers are my people.”