34: Be Someone’s Grapefruit

34: Be Someone’s Grapefruit

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers

Be Someone’s Grapefruit

Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.

~William James

Do you remember bringing your eighteen-month-old daughter to preschool with knotted hair, a milk mustache, in a princess costume, while her older brother trailed behind in his superhero pajamas? No? I do. And I remember what a blessing it was to be around people who laughed along with the joke, people who knew that fighting over Cinderella and Superman outfits just isn’t worth it sometimes.

The year my middle son was three and his sister was eighteen months old was chaotic, to say the least. Their older brother, who was four, went to school a bit farther away, and my husband dropped him off, leaving me to get the two younger kids ready for school and pack their lunches.

Packing lunches wasn’t, honestly, my thing. It requires buying the food, then making the food, and then cramming the sandwiches into the teensy rectangles in the Pottery Barn squares made for monogrammed lunch boxes. This never works out in real life the way it does in the catalogs.

Trying to make nut-free sandwiches in the shape of a star and a flower while my daughter danced the tango naked with baby wipes trailing from her bottom wasn’t working. If Cinderella wasn’t waltzing in the nude, chances are she was swinging from my hip begging for “chocwat,” while I tried to patch together some sort of acceptable meal. I figured if self-parenting was good enough for the children of the 1980s it was good enough for my kids, too. And that is how my three-year-old ended up on lunch duty.

Ultimately, I did what any good delegator would do: I put my handy three-year-old son in charge of lunches. There were rarely problems because he is the middle child and wanted to please his mama by packing acceptable lunches while I chased his sister who was riding the dog.

It turned out he wasn’t making great lunches but the teachers — loving and nonjudgmental — never mentioned the quality of food going into those lunch sacks — until the day when one of my daughter’s teachers told me, very sweetly, not to pack medicine for lunch.

“Huh?” I said. I needed to decide if I was going to play along as if I was the one actually packing the lunches and take responsibility for whatever “drugs” were in the lunchbox, or throw myself under the pre-school bus and admit that I had the three-year-old running the show.

It turned out it was just a Pedialyte bottle my son had mistaken for a Gatorade. I wasn’t in too much trouble, but I did feel like I needed to tell my son’s teacher what had been going on just in case he had been peddling Pedialyte and peanut butter in class.

I walked to my son’s classroom. Miss Brenda wrapped me in a big Louisiana hug and smiled so wide it lit up the dim hallways. I wasn’t worried about telling Miss Brenda about my error. I knew she would chuckle and make me feel better. Liam, my son, loved Miss Brenda, and it was easy to see why. She was one of those rare birds who sprinkle sunshine in their wake all the time. She may have had bad days, but you never knew it.

Every morning, I walked my son to his classroom and stood in the hall to watch his little face as his morning routine unfolded. Liam would stand shyly in the doorway, his chin tucked down, looking up through his thick eyelashes. The moment Miss Brenda saw him, she would smile and kneel down with her arms wide open. “There’s my Liam,” she would say, and he would run into her arms. His joy was my joy. Leaving my baby with someone who clearly loved him so much was manna from heaven. It allowed me a few precious hours to shower, and to feed and walk our dogs. Not enough time to get lunch food, but that’s okay.

I approached Miss Brenda about the lunch/drug situation, and she smiled as I walked toward her, a twinkle in her eye.

“Miss Brenda, I need to talk to you about lunch.”

“Uh-huh?” She laughed, a big, tooth-eating grin spreading across her face. She wasn’t one to reprimand, but she might draw this out for the fun of it.

“Well, obviously, I haven’t been making the lunches, and I probably shouldn’t have put such a large responsibility in a toddler’s hands. I am sorry if his bringing Pedialyte to school caused any problems or lawsuits or anything.”

She just hugged me and laughed. She was a mom; she got it. Miss Brenda didn’t judge you; she rolled with you. She was always on the inside of any joke because that’s where the joy lives.

“Helen, I knew he made the lunches. He brings ten cookies, a fruit punch and a piece of bread every day. But you know what’s funny? He loves grapefruit.”

I looked at her. “You sure we are talking about the same kid? Grapefruit? It’s sour.”

“Nope,” she said, “he loves it. Every day, I bring a grapefruit for lunch, and he eats half. It’s his favorite part of the day.”

I looked at her, and my heart swelled, the way it does when you discover someone is taking care of you but not saying anything. They are just silently loving you from the sidelines.

“Miss Brenda, you are giving him half of your lunch every day? I wish you had told me. It’s one thing to starve my own children, but I feel awful that I have been starving you.”

Miss Brenda looked at me. “I love sharing my grapefruit with him; I just wanted you to know so you could buy some for him to have at home.” Just like that. Grace.

I bought grapefruits for my little boy, and I still do. Miss Brenda made my life better in so many small ways. Her smile, her wit, her joie de vivre. Half the time when you walked into the classroom, she was dancing with all of the kids. She loved New Orleans, and at the end of the year I gave her the fleur-de-lis belt she had seen me wear. She loved it.

Miss Brenda passed away last week. She was too young to go, and she was loved by everyone who was lucky enough to know her. We hadn’t stayed in touch, and I learned about her passing on Facebook. But I was deeply saddened. She was one of the good ones. She was the light that makes the bad days more bearable.

Every time I buy a grapefruit, I think of Miss Brenda. Every time I cut a grapefruit for my kids, I say, “Remember Miss Brenda?” When I heard about her passing, I thought about how many lives she touched. I know that everybody who loved Miss Brenda has their own grapefruit story. Sometimes we strive for fame, glory, money, status or power in the hope that these things will render us immortal. But it’s being someone’s grapefruit that truly allows us to live forever. I realized that, more than anything, I want to be someone’s grapefruit. And I will feel Miss Brenda’s love for the rest of my life, every time I buy a grapefruit.

~Helen Boulos

More stories from our partners