My five-year-old daughter still loves to play peek-a-boo. She pulls her hat down to cover her eyes over and over and over, dozens of times throughout the ten minute drive to school. “Do you see me, Mommy?” she asks. I glance in the rearview mirror the first few times, just to humor her, but then my mind strays from the game and I answer on autopilot. “Yes, I see you!” I say, without even looking. She giggles madly every time, completely oblivious to the fact that Mommy isn’t really paying attention.
* * *
I didn’t see her at first.
My mind was on other things. “Would the buyers like our place? Oh, please let them like our place! Our condo is so small, especially with two kids and a dog. We need a bigger place …”
The cold air stung my cheeks as my feet crunched through the snow. My breath hung in the air, fogging up my glasses.
I heaved the heavy black garbage bag into the dumpster.
And then I saw her.
Her face was covered by a ragged scarf, hood pulled up over her graying hair. The pile of bags in the dumpster shifted as she tore them open one by one. What was she looking for? Food? Recyclables? For once I was thankful for the cold, simply because it hid the stench of the rotting garbage. Her gloved hands pawed through our waste.
A split second earlier I had been thinking, “We don’t have enough” – but in that moment I realized that we have more than we could ever need.
* * *
I didn’t see it until it was too late.
Married friends of ours never spent time with us as a couple. He spent time with my husband and his friends; she spent time with me. We’re both introverts so the one-on-one time made sense. We talked about surface things – my kids, our jobs, what was happening at church. We drank hot chocolate and ate raspberry scones and laughed until our sides hurt -
But we never went deeper.
I never asked her how she was doing.
How her marriage was doing.
Until the day she sat on my couch with wadded up tissues clenched in her hands, trying to choke out the words that it was over.
* * *
It’s easy for me to miss things.
I get caught up in my own little world of motherhood. Who needs a snack? Who needs a Band-aid? Who left their toys all over the living room floor? How can I distract the kids long enough to get my work done? When do I need to pick up my son? What does he need signed for school tomorrow? Did I pay the phone bill? What should we have for supper?
Seeing things takes time. It takes effort. Playing peek-a-boo with Ellie for the hundredth time means I have to pay attention. I have to turn off the ongoing list of everything-that-needs-to-be-done running through my brain and look at her. I need to step outside my own little bubble to see the people around me – whether it’s the friend sitting on my couch or the woman sifting through the garbage in our dumpster.
My to-do list never ends, and my days are always busy -
But I don’t want to be so busy that I don’t see things.
So this afternoon, on the way to the elementary school, I’ll play peekaboo with Ellie – and I’ll see her.
I’ll really see her.