On Embarrassment and Love

Two very good friends and outstanding young men.

Two very good friends and outstanding young men.

In El Salvador, Mother’s Day was celebrated on Saturday, May 10th. The Friday before, we had a little office luncheon to celebrate. I jokingly asked if I would be included since I wasn’t a mother. Fortunately for me I was included, and we all had a merry ole time. One very nice thing that one of my coworkers said was even though this day celebrates mothers, we also want to celebrate any future mothers. He pointedly looked at me and my friend (who is also without children) and jokingly said, “so hurry up with that then, okay?!” Ha! Yeah, I’ll get right on that.

On Saturday right after Mass, our house coordinator stood up to do his usual announcements. When he finished, he then asked for all of the tías from Casa Santa María (girls’ house) and from Casa Niño Jesús (babies’ house) to come up to the front. I was sitting practically in the back of the church, and I had no intention of coming forward for a few reasons. The two most important ones being A) I am not technically a tía so I didn’t think I was included in whatever was going to happen and B) I had a feeling it had something to do with Mother’s Day since only the female caregivers were asked to come forward…

Of course it had something to do with Mother’s Day because NPH is a kind and loving place, and whether for the most trivial or most important of events, we do for people. If you get what I’m saying.

While I sat there watching the tías untangle themselves from sitting in the middle of pews, I noticed that the girls around me and the boys across the aisle were all saying my name and telling me to go up front. I refused them several times. Then they started getting louder and louder! I panicked because, what if maybe, just maybe, I was included? Then I thought, no I can’t possibly be included. The house coordinator didn’t specifically mention for me to come forward, just the tías.

“¡Pase Ashley! ¡Pase, pase, pase! ¡PASE ASHLEY!”

So at the alarming increase in the mild yelling of the kids near me telling me to go up, I slowly stood up. I sheepishly made my way to the front of the church and stood amongst the tías. I knew my face had become a red beacon for all those embarrassed souls in the world.

After some nice words, all of a sudden some of the children from the babies’ house popped up like daisies from their seats. I inwardly groaned because I saw that they all had something in their hands, which also confirmed my suspicion and fear that this little Mother’s Day surprise was in fact planned. Planning involves numbers! I’m pretty sure I wasn’t included in those numbers!

Each child picked a tía to come to. I was fully prepared to not receive something, since obviously they would be short a little candy rose. To my great surprise (and relief because let’s be honest, who wants to be left on the altar with nothing, ha?) one of my favorite boys came and hugged me. I squeezed him so very tight and thanked him. I had also hoped that that embrace would catapult me back to my seat. Alas, it did not. After what felt like eons in front of everyone, I sat back down. Some of the girls around me all of a sudden started saying, “Happy Mother’s Day, Ashley.”

God I was so embarrassed. I just felt weird because I had this gut feeling like I wasn’t supposed to be up there, and I think one of the tías did not receive a rose. I did! She didn’t!

After exiting the church Octavio*, the little boy who gave me the rose, and some of his pals came up to me and were all chatty. Octavio said that when he saw me walk up that he had picked me to give his rose to. How sweet and adorable is he! I gave him another hug. Then the other boys asked me if I was a mother. I am not. But that didn’t seem to matter to them as they said, “well you’re like a spiritual mother/sister to me!” After that, some of the older boys and year of service youth saw me and hugged me, saying Happy Mother’s Day. At first I was sure they were just being smart alecks since they know I don’t have children. I realized though that they were being sincere, and that left me all confused. Granted, some did tease me because of how red my face was and because they know I don’t have children. “Haha, why did you go up there Ashley? Why was your face SO RED?!”

Much later in the day, I called my Mom to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day. She asked me how my day had gone. After telling her what happened after Mass, she said, “Well maybe you weren’t included by the adults who planned the surprise, but it says something that the kids thought you should go up there. Right?”

I didn’t think about that. (Thanks for pointing that out, Ma.) Moms are so smart! In my abrupt explosion of embarrassment and chagrin, I failed to see the blessing right in front of me. I failed to see the love surrounding me. The kids wanted me up there for a reason. Perhaps some of them see me as motherly figure. I know for sure many see me as a friend and at least a sister.

Fast forward to Tuesday. I got wind of a celebration for the tías later that night, but since I hadn’t heard about it through official channels, I assumed I was not invited. I was totally okay with that, by the way. When I went to check out the decorations, two of the year of service guys were there working on the last minute details. (Keep in mind that these specific two were also the first ones to hug me and wish me a Happy Mother’s Day after I left the church on Saturday.)

Abraham* came over to talk to me. He had earlier asked me for help in taking/finding pictures of the tías so that he could put together a slideshow for that night. I asked him when I could see the finished product, thinking he would pass it to me via jump drive. “No,” he said. “You’re going to watch it tonight. You’re invited!” At first I didn’t believe him, so he called over to Alfonso* who affirmed the invitation. As it turns out, they also had invited Maki, the new volunteer from Japan. She’s only been here a week, but I was oh so happy that she was included! Inclusion is a powerful element in a work environment after all, and she is so very far away from home.

I know it’s ridiculous, but even when I arrived to the party, I still felt weird being there! I don’t know why I did because I was not the only person present who doesn’t have children. There are tías that don’t have kids. So why was I making such a big deal about it? Only God knows. Seriously, I haven’t a clue.

As the night wore on, that feeling of embarrassment left me completely. We had a delicious meal, and Abraham’s slideshow was very well done. The silliest part of the evening was the entertainment. I’ve long known that I live with a bunch of hams, and the boys’ production of a classroom full of bad students only reaffirmed that fact. They’re hilarious! The girls and year of service young ladies did some very cool dances.

As a gift to all of us, they gave us hand sown aprons. Each had a different painted design on the pocket. I might add that about half of those pocket paintings were done by my friend Katie Ann when she came here to visit me, ha! Kudos to you, my friend.

The best part of the evening, in spite of all the silliness and revelry, was picture time. I walked away with a picture of Abraham, Alfonso, and myself. Because of those two wonderful, thoughtful, and kind young men, I was reminded of what love is and that it manifests itself in infinite forms.

Abraham*

Abraham* and I pretending to dance.

Alfonso*

Alfonso* looking cool.

It is a fact that I am not a mother to any child, legally or biologically. However, Saturday’s debacle and Tuesday’s celebration tell me otherwise. I was included not because another adult thought I should be, but rather I was included in the former at the urging of half of the church full of my kids and the latter because those two sweet young men said I was invited, no ifs ands or buts about it.

Even in the midst of feeling uncomfortable, awkward, and out of place, these kids made and continue making me feel loved and appreciated. That’s all anyone could ever ask for.

Paz y bien.

*Names changed to protect the pequeños’ privacy.

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