I was ambushed earlier this week. I thought I was headed out to a long-awaited playdate with the Vancouver contingent of The Sisterhood; instead I found myself standing in the parking lot of my apartment building, jaw agape and completely stunned at what had just happened. The girls in my birth club had managed to pull a fast one and give me the surprise of all surprises—a gesture reminiscent of what Don’s co-workers had done for us back in March—another reminder that people are inherently good and generally want to do good for those they care about.
It all started with a burnt meal about six weeks ago. Money was tight here in Nyanaland and I posted to the girls how frustrated I was about burning dinner—I’d had the week’s meals budgeted down to the last dollar and a blackened chorizo dish that wasn’t on the menu not only meant money wasted on a charred meal, but also money we didn’t have being spent on a replacement. They were all sympathetic, of course, and a few of them sent me private messages offering to transfer me some funds. I assured them that money wasn’t that tight around here, and that we’d piece together something from the freezer—after all, that’s what the deep freeze is for. Little did I know that just a few days later, a new, private group would be created on Facebook, and all the sisterhood would be invited but me. It started with one post:
Soooo, I’ve been thinking… with Karen’s post the other day about burning dinner and wasting $10 that she didn’t budget for, I think it’s time for us to come together for one of our own again. Nyana will be coming home soon (YAY!) and with Karen’s maternity leave already having run out, they could probably use a little extra dough right now, we all know about the extra expenses that a baby brings. So I was thinking that we could all send a cheque or money order or a gift card, whatever you like… I know that not everyone can or will participate, some will send more and some will send less, and that’s ok, but let’s get together and help out our little fighter once she gets home. My address is above, so you can send it to me (all made payable to Karen), and I’ll forward it on to her, I’ll make a pretty gift basket. Please add everyone you can from our group (and beyond if you like). Come on ladies – let’s try to hit $500!!!
Let’s all include a little note, or drawing or picture, etc. and I will put it all together in a scrapbook for Nyana. Notes from all across Canada, awesome!
And so it began on April 15th, just two short weeks after Don and I enjoyed our 24 hours in the lap of luxury courtesy of someone else’s kindness. Like a snowball rolling downhill, this initiative gained momentum quickly and they reached their goal of five hundred dollars within a week. Knowing my love of the kitchen, they submitted favourite recipes to be compiled into a cookbook for me, and cards and well wishes and photos were forwarded to one member to create a scrapbook out of for Nyana. All of this happened of course in a parallel group, all completely unbeknownst to me.
Fast forward to Wednesday last week, Nyana’s first playdate. We’d had it on the books in our group for a few weeks, since before Nyana was busted out of the NICU even, and I was thrilled to see a mostly sunny sky when we got out of bed in the morning. I got Nyana and her bipap and her food pump ready and I was proud of myself for having everything ready in time for our 10am adventure. Ny and I headed out the front door and we strolled the six blocks down the hill to the coffee shop at the corner of English Bay, and we got there with about four minutes to spare. Success! Right as I realized that I was the first one there, my phone rang. It was Samantha, the same girl who gifted us our wonderful crib.
“Hey,” she said. “Don’t suppose you’re still home, by chance?”
“Nope. Just got to our meeting place.”
“Oh… well, I’m in your parking lot and I don’t know where I’m going. Can you come back here?”
I gave her directions to meet me at the bottom of the hill but she was insistent I come back. I asked if I could just meet her halfway; it is, afterall, six blocks uphill with a stroller that easily weighs sixty pounds. Still she refused, and again she insisted that she needed me to come back. I was miffed. She knows it’s uphill. She knows it’s six blocks away. She knows I have a baby and a diaper bag and an oxygen tank and a 25 pound battery in tow. And for some reason she needs me to come meet her at the top of my hill. I stewed the way back and tried to rationalize what could be so important she couldn’t even meet me half way. I finally settled on one of two options: she either really needed to use the washroom, or she’d brought bedding to fit the crib she’d given us. We were ten minutes past our rendezvous time when I rounded my building into the back parking lot and I was nervous that the rest of our party would be waiting at the bottom of the hill, wondering where we were…
…until I saw the cluster of strollers in the parking lot, Samantha and the rest of the playdate waiting here for me. Confusion came and went and was quickly replaced with Oh, crap, what’s going on? I saw that Diana had a video camera and I knew I was in trouble. Samantha opened the trunk of Janna’s car and presented a huge gift basket, wrapped in cellophane and tied with a pretty turquoise bow. A giant purple N graced the front of the basket, which I promptly removed and made Nyana’s first bumper sticker on her chariot. The basket of goodies was seemingly endless.
I was stunned. I was surrounded by a group of women I was meeting for the first time, women who led very busy lives with families and stresses of their own, yet had somehow found the time and the creativity to pull off a surprise of this magnitude. I think I managed a What?? when they told me they’d managed to raise $1,500 in cash between the 87 of them, followed by a stupefied why?? I’m no one special, I told them. I’m just a mum, just like they are, just trying to figure out how parenthood and Mr. Bipap and Mr. Oxygen fit into my new normal. They told me they were in awe of Don and me and the way we persevered through the whirlwind of Nyana’s dramatic arrival and the subsequent months waiting to bring her home. They told me that good things deserve to happen to good people. They told me that Don and Nyana and I have inspired them to be better people, too.
The Homespeak scrapbook was put together by Vanessa, and includes cards and letters and photos of the other babies in the group. I poured a small glass of wine when I got home from the play date—never mind that it was barely one o’clock in the afternoon—and methodically read every word of every card and letter. That Nyana will have this book when she’s older, and she’ll hear the story of how so many people loved her from afar, is astounding. It’s still somewhat unfathomable to me that my little family is deserving of such an outpouring of love; that good still exists in the world in such a capacity.
The Homespeak cookbook is a work of art, and if the scrapbook and the gifts and the monetary donation didn’t do it, the cookbook brought a few tears to my eye. Heather put hours of work into designing the book, methodically laying out every page beautifully. Every page has a photo of Nyana and a Nyanaku. Every page has a personal note from the mum who submitted the recipe, and the book is professionally bound in hardcover. The dedication at the front of the book reads:
In honour of Nyana finally being able to come home, the ladies of Winter Babies decided to compile a cookbook. These recipes come from women across Canada who have fallen in love with Nyana’s story and wish nothing but the best for her.
We chose a recipe book because Karen loves to cook, and we felt that it was the perfect way to express the love we have for your little family.
We hope that many years from now Nyana will read this book, filled with Nyanakus and well-wishes penned by those touched by her story, and realize how much impact a two pound micropreemie can have in the hearts of dozens of people she may never meet.
You are such an inspiration to all of us, and we feel so blessed that Karen ended up in our birth club so that we could get to know such wonderful people.
Thank you for being awesome, and we hope that you enjoy this recipe book.
Winter Babies 2010/2011
Don and I marvelled later that evening, after having put Ny to bed, at the day we’d just had. What had just happened to us was what you see on the evening news happening to other people. Kindness and generosity like that doesn’t happen to us; we’re no one special. Certainly neither of us expected to have fifteen hundred dollars dropped into our laps on a random Wednesday morning. I never imagined that the group of ladies I’d spent months laughing and commiserating with would band together to do something so gracious for us. We knew that people had been touched by our adventures but this? We were stunned and overwhelmed to have it happen once when Don’s co-workers surprised us. To have it happen twice is somewhat ridiculous in a most amazing way.
The most amazing part of all of it is that none of this would have happened if Nyana hadn’t escaped the womb so early. My life is more rich and more full and more blessed today than ever before, and it’s all thanks to the most terrifying and stressful thing to ever happen to me. I kept saying during our NICU adventure that it was the most amazing experience I hope to never repeat, but I had no idea how much it would impact the rest of my life. Nyana’s prematurity brought out the best in me, and made me want to be a better person. It’s made me see that life is about the little things—the small victories and the personal relationships, about slowing down and appreciating the world that surrounds you. I’m so thankful for everyone and everything in my life, and I can’t say thanks enough to these ladies for what they’ve done for my little family. Maybe I am someone special, after all.
The Homespeak cookbook can be previewed in it’s entirety at Blurb.com. Click here to view. You can even purchase one for yourself if you’re so inclined.