THE BITTER AND THE SWEET

When I was a few months shy of my 24th birthday, I departed for a year in Philadelphia. I signed a contract as a nanny for a suburban Philly couple, and I left 31 years ago last month. Despite the initial homesickness, and the difficulty inherent in living in someone else’s home and taking care of their children, it was a sweet experience.

My firstborn son is a few months shy of 24, and he left Friday for the first of his three-year commitment in ministry in south Asia. For me and his dad, it was mostly a bittersweet experience. For him, I know it is sweet-bitter.

Unlike me at age almost-24, he seems to genuinely care that it was hard for us to send him off, and hard to be without him here. I don’t remember giving a flip how my parents felt when I left them, but I do remember wanting so badly to turn around in that narrow center aisle of the airplane after they dropped me off, and run back to them, letting the fear overriding my sense of adventure. But I didn’t. I made it there, and I made it through the year with two visits to home.

My son will spend his first year there before he comes home for about a month. It will be sweet.

**********

Life has a funny way of coming around full-circle.

When I was in Philadelphia, I made two lifelong friends, both named Amy. They, too, were nannies, and both from the Midwest, so we had a lot in common. When I speak of both of them among others, I aptly differentiate them as “Tall Amy” and “Short Amy.”

“Tall Amy” sent me a text last Saturday. She wanted to let me know that they would be driving through my small city in six days on their way from Minneapolis to Texas with their three children for Spring Break, and would it work to visit, at least for a bit?

This was a gift from Above. Knowing my husband and I would be sullen and sad the day after sending our son off, I knew there couldn’t be a better remedy than a visit from an old friend.

There wasn’t. They arrived at dinnertime Saturday, spent the night and departed around noon today. I hadn’t seen her for almost two years, and she hadn’t been to my home since our second-born son took his first steps, almost 20 years ago. He joined us too, and at 6’4″, wondered why she didn’t get as excited about his ability to walk now as she did then.

Laughter is such good medicine, and we did plenty of that.

We recalled our dark, desperate days of the first week alone in Philly before we met each other. Both alone in a strange city, living with strangers, and soothing ourselves with the only familiar remedy: food. There seemed to be a big hole that could be filled with nothing but food.

We both arrived on Saturday, February 17th, 1990, through the same agency. They got us in touch with each other, and when she answered the door on February 24th, my first thought was this: “I know I am going to like her.”

I still do.

We were perfect company for each other, and quickly discovered our similarities: we both grew up in large Catholic families. We both couldn’t stop eating. We both were/had been runners; she was still running, but I left it behind after high school. We quickly became inseparable. Our respective employer families both suggested other nanny friends to us, because, perhaps, it wasn’t good to have just one friend. We both disagreed, and until “Short” Amy came into the picture in my neighborhood in the fall, we were all each other needed.

By May, she had me running again. I cannot put into words how grateful I am that she gently, but assertively coaxed me back into running. It saved me, I shed the extra weight, and I felt better than I had in my 24 years. She held me accountable to meet her for early morning runs, and I have been hooked since. I rarely miss a day now, and when I don’t run, well, I don’t run. Nothing else runs, either. And, it still saves me.

From the depths of my heart and soul, dear Amy, thank you.

I dug back in my Philly photos, and found one of the few of us together. While we took many excursions together, we had mostly pictures of each other. No selfies back then! We are no longer concerned with taking pictures with hot lifeguards.

********

When we get together, or even through the mail–typically for no occasion, we like to share small gifts with each other. This time was no different. Let me preface the rest of the story with this: of our many food remedies in those early days of our year together, dry cereal seemed to be good medicine, and there was always plenty with kids in our respective houses. One kind in particular eased the most pain; and I called it my “crack”–its name fit. While putting together our bag of goodies for each other, we had the same idea:

This morning, we enjoyed a run. At age 54 for both of us, this now means a run/walk. We were gone for an hour, and I had my 10,000 steps for the day before we got back. It was gloriously reminiscent of our early days together, 31 years ago. Last night, we called “Short Amy,” and left her a voicemail. She lives in Hawaii now, and we dream of going there to see her. If not that, we keep trying to find a way for all three of us to connect when she is back on the “Madland,” as she aptly calls it. She left a voicemail back for us this morning while we were out running. We will keep trying, because friendships this special are worth the effort.

We enjoyed a brunch, and they hit the road. Their children were delightful and patient with our extended visiting, but Spring Break 2021 was calling, so they hit the road.

Two big send-offs in one weekend was enough. A shared meal is always a good way to begin the goodbye process, and we were able to enjoy a family lunch Friday in Wichita on our way to the airport.

I feel that big hole deep inside again today, and, once again, I have been trying to fill it with food. This time, I know I can rein it it, and accept and appreciate both the sweet and the bitter that life offers, and not rely upon food to provide it. However, I’ve got an entire box of cereal waiting to make me feel better…