21 October 2012

the kindness of strangers

"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." - William Arthur Ward

It was less than 48 hours after Emma's emergency dental surgery, and as I drove to pick her up, I was so relieved to have a fun activity ahead for her. Kiddo'd had a rough, painful couple of weeks, and the gym+swim program would be just the thing.

First she needed to eat, and I had a plan for that, too -- Moe's, her favorite place, where she asks for a "'dilla" every time we drive by. A quick, easy win.

We pulled into a space right in front, and Em was already wriggling in her seat, the smile spreading across her face. I picked up my purse and frowned at how light it felt, and then, even before I looked, my heart sank and the furious inner monologue began.

Really, Kerry? Where's your wallet? You know where it is. At work. In your desk drawer, where you haphazardly tossed it after ordering lunch. If you'd taken half a second to make sure it was in your purse, but no. You couldn't be bothered.

A quick, panicked search proved me right: no wallet, no debit card, no cash. Nothing but a checkbook. We might barely have time to drive across town and back-- a 40-minute round trip-- get our food and dash home to get Em's gear, but that wasn't a viable option.

Pulling away from Moe's without a quesadilla would have triggered a (completely understandable) meltdown. I couldn't do that to Em, not after what she'd already been through that week. Not when it was my own stupid fault, and not if there was any possible way around it.

"Hang on just a second, babe!" I told her in my brightest voice, grabbing my checkbook and running inside. I went straight to the register and waited, ready to volunteer a check written for triple the amount of our food, if it only meant I could bring Emma inside for her beloved 'dilla.

"Hi there!"

My head jerked up, and instantly, I knew somehow it was going to be okay.


As her teeth began to really bother her a few weeks ago, getting Em to eat had been an issue. So anytime she expressed a preference for something edible, I tried to make it happen. (Verbally requesting is a big enough deal, when it becomes a habit, I'm not about to discourage it.) So we'd become regulars at Moe's-- and one employee had noticed.

"Hey, you guys again!" she said once.

The next time, she bent to smile at Emma, making deliberate eye contact. "What's her name?" she asked, and when I offered it, she said, "Hi, Emma!"

She said "Hi, Emma!" the next time we came in, too.

And the time after that, she came around the counter to offer her greeting, hand outstretched. "Can she have this?" She held a neon green rubber bracelet, stamped with "Welcome to Moe's!" I said yes, and she handed it to Emma, who beamed.

I'd been impressed enough when she bothered to ask Emma's name. My surprise when she remembered, and continued to use it-- it's so rare these days to find that kind of customer service. Especially in a busy restaurant where the amount of time you spend interacting with someone is less than a minute, and especially when the girl you're talking to might not answer you back.

But Emma made an impression. And this employee took the time to form that connection. As brief as the exchanges were, she never tried to force Em to respond. She just smiled and accepted, and we kept coming back.


It was her friendly face looking back at me in my panic, and I blurted out my story. "I left my wallet and didn't realize ... I know you don't take checks, but I have checks ... she won't understand if we have to leave ... Can I write a check? Please?"

She was smiling when she told me they didn't accept checks, and I thought I was going to cry in front of her, until she continued.

"Don't even worry about it. I've got you. Go get Emma."

I think I blurted out that she was awesome as I sprinted back to the car to get my girl. We ordered, and Em's wide eyes watched the food being prepared, and at the register, I pulled out my checkbook again (along with a Sharpie, the only writing utensil I had in my purse-- clearly my best day ever).

She shook her head again. "Seriously! It's fine." I thanked her again, and we went on. Em devoured her dinner, having no idea how close her day had come to being ruined.

But I knew, and it was no small thing. I wrote an email that night to Moe's corporate headquarters, the best way I could think of to say thank you being to let someone in charge know that one of their employees was making an active difference in a little girl's life, and that difference had earned them the loyalty of two customers for as long as they stayed in business. I admitted that I didn't know the name of the girl I owed this gratitude to, but promised to learn it.

Today we went back, and as we paid, I confused the guy at the register by asking him to overcharge me by $10. I explained, and he shook his head. "Nah, it's okay," he said, then asked if I remembered who the manager had been.

I shrugged, then glanced toward the back of the store and realized that Emma's friend was working. I pointed: "It was her!"

He called to her, and she turned, smiling at the sight of us, and we both started talking at once.

"I can pay now!" "Don't even worry about it," she told me, and then went on. "You didn't have to write that email-- our vice president sent it to me."

"And you didn't have to do what you did. But you saved her day-- you really have no idea."

She does now. And now I know the name of the girl who spared a few seconds to be a little extra kind to my girl, and who went the extra mile to fix an unfixable situation.

Thank you, Jess.