Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Wink and a Smile - and a Cow Suit

Today is the 15th anniversary of my mom’s passing. (On my other blog, I’ve talked about the actual day here and here, but this is about today.) When January 20 falls on a weekday, I take the day off work. Early on, I used to plan activities as tributes to Mom, but as time has passed, I’ve found that the universe presents its own tributes with a wink and a smile.  I get to cow today with my Cow Crusader for Kindness cape and sneakers, but first… a few thoughts on Mom.

As I’ve been de-cluttering and organizing and we’ve combined households and begun wedding prep, (Wedding prep!? Squeeeeeal!) I’ve come across so many of Mom’s things. I want to share them with the world—because SHE WAS AMAZING!

I found a short bio written about her when she received the inaugural Mary V. Johnson Adoption Advocate of the Year Award in 2000 from Governor Kempthorne.  I hadn’t heard this story before, but when she was a social worker in Blackfoot, ID in the 60’s, she received a call from an irate citizen concerned about the misuse of donated food items.  The family didn’t like beans, so they used them to serve as insulation in their home. Upon arriving at the residence to investigate, Mom observed bean sprouts growing out of their roof. Her report related that though the beans were not used as intended, they did however serve a needed purpose.

In 1978 when I was in Kindergarten, she ran the the Idaho Youth Ranch’s South Idaho Girls’ Home. It was in the big house behind Tasty Treat on 4th Street. I remember going there and hanging out with all the girls. I had no idea these teens had been abused or ran away or both, and I felt so lucky to have so many older friends. I can still remember their names.

In 8th grade French class, I remember when a new kid showed up mid-semester. His denim jacket was ripped. He smelled terrible, and his hair was a mess. He didn’t make eye contact and he sat on the edge of his seat bouncing a leg. First thing I asked my mom after school was, “Hey Mom. We got a new kid in class today. Do you have a John Smith in your case load?”  She did, and it was him. He kept wearing his denim jacket and kept getting sweatier and smellier to hide the cigarette burns on his arms. Mom told me to be nice to him, so I was. I got really good at identifying the kids that would be in a social worker’s case load, and I was always nice to them.

Mom was a founding member of the first Interagency Task Force in Idaho, which assisted with Idaho’s formalized Child Protection protocols. In 1990—while I was in my senior year of high school—Mom became a supervisor for Adoptions, Training and Quality Assurance.  This meant her role was to assure that the child welfare staff adhered to federal and state requirements in achieving permanent placements for kids. She shouldered the sometimes unpopular responsibility in holding workers accountable for case plan which met the federal requirements.  Luckily, she’d had years of practice taking her red pen to all of my essays and college applications, so it was honed for her employees’ case files.

Mom could be funny but serious. She could be kind but stern. Often her sternness was born out of the urgency she felt when kids needed help. She navigated those seams so naturally that it had to have influenced me.

I’m about to present this month's School District 25 CAKE award to a student at Poky High and then another at Jefferson Elementary recognizing Character, Attitude Kindness and Encouragement. Like Mom, I will be funny—because hey! that cow suit is funny.  I will also be serious in conveying the importance of kindness. I won’t exactly be stern because all sternness evaporates in the presence of udders, but every time I present to these kids, I feel that urgency that Mom felt when working with families and kids.

That sense of urgency is a wonderful motivator and truly a gift—especially today. I'm off grab some cupcakes and greet those kids. Hey Universe--Thanks to Mom, I've got my own wink and a smile today. And a cow suit. 
Some guys are residing the house right now and took a quick break to snap a pic.  It's always fun to explain....