05 July, 2019


In December 2016, the world lost an amazing woman. Jeanne Gordon was my life-changing mentor many (um, many many) years ago. In the late 80's fresh from nanny school I moved into the Gordon home for a 3-month internship program.  I moved into a home filled with love, children and beautiful topsy-turviness.  

I am a pretty organized person by nature.  I like things just so.  Living in the Gordon’s large basement in a makeshift bed-room was an adjustment –they had never had a live-in nanny before.  Jeanne said that on a whim, she agreed to sign her family up.  I shared the room with large Halloween and Christmas decorations and many storage boxes awaiting their turn to have their contents unleashed.  As I emerged up the stairs from my new room, I was smack dab in the middle of the most used living space, the kitchen!  Sometimes I would try to sneak up and out the back door (when it was my time off) and leave un-detected, but it just wasn’t meant to be.  There would be a smiley little face wondering where I was off to, when I would be back, why was I going, can they come, etc.

One of the most amazing things I learned from Jeanne was that, that little life in front of me was not only a sponge ready to absorb my every action, that sponge was important!  Those endless questions weren’t meant to be annoying, they were inquisitive and inquisitive questions deserve to be answered.  One time when we were making chicken soupa? (a chicken dish with Dorito’s chips mixed in!) one of the kids ran in from outside saying “We want to show you something”.  I told Jeanne that I would finish preparing the meal and she could go outside and she said, “No, leave it, let's go look!” so we went outside to check out some caterpillar or other insect and then joined in an already-in-progress ball game in the yard.  I don’t remember what happened to the meal, we probably ate it cold and soggy and loved every bite as we discussed the fun we had just had.

I remember, that when I went outside, it was hard for me to concentrate on the multi-legged creature we were humanely examining; my thoughts were on those chips getting mushy in the pan, but to Jeanne everything was second to the kids.   That incident enhanced my perception of how to be a good child-care giver.  It didn’t mean having everything in order and creating children as neatly pressed as their clothes. No, it meant BEING there for them, in the moment, in that very moment, in that very precise moment which you will never have the opportunity to be in again.  After that comes the cleaning, and the laundry and, oh yeah, the food.

After my internship was over I continued, for the next couple of years, to babysit for the Gordon family every Tuesday night (date night).  Over the years of my nanny career, I would relive the chicken soupa incident.  There would be a time when I would hear myself saying “I can’t right now, you’ll have to wait just a minute” to a sweet little innocent face and then I would catch myself!  WWJ(eanne)D? What could be more important than that face at that moment!  I would think of Jeanne and put down whatever I was doing and live in the moment, relish that incredibly-uninteresting-to-me bug, or that airplane flying overhead.

Now that I am a foster mother for many children and my days are a rush of (mostly) innocent faces, I still reflect on WWJD.  As I juggle the finances of our community, the health and well-being of the kids, and the social media aspect of Wat Opot-which ties back into the finance, I have to consciously keep my own life balanced.  And that means not only my mental health, but my physical health as well.

It took me almost a year to find the perfect mix of natural remedies (i.e. Food!, essential oils and targeted nutritional supplements) to ease my age appropriate aches and pains and really feel healthy inside and out.  Now I feel great and am stronger (mentally and physically) than I was a year ago.  So all is well, right?  Well, come to find out, I’m not actually meant to just ease on by life for a while. Seems the universe allowed me some extra time to take care of myself before resuming it's challenges.  

I have been living life in Cambodia for 8 years and I go with the flow.  Having bad days, having more good days while responsible for the general upkeep of such a large family.  I mourn those who have left their bodies, miss those that have left our property and struggle trying to help those whose health or  backgrounds are less than adequate.  I can’t explain how I did it or continue to do it, I just do.  No special powers, sometimes in mommy mode, sometimes in big sister mode and often in survival mode.

So…the strange thing that hit me full force is the realization, the in-my-face realization that to some of the kids, I am the only positive mother/older female role model they have ever had.  I know I have said and even written those very words, but those were just words describing a ‘job’ so to speak.  

A few weeks ago I sat with an older teen waiting for news neither of us were prepared to deal with, it suddenly hit me.  At that moment, there really was no responsible adult who cared enough for that young woman to be with her.  No one to hold her hand while holding back tears.  No one to help her deal with the consequences of careless actions.   Consequences that would have been avoided had this realization hit me a year ago.  Had I truly internalized that more than a handful of the kids in my care actually do not have a non-judgmental support system (biological family, yes...support system, no), nor have they had someone who they can trust; someone who will love them without “I told you so’s”; someone who will understand that the past is irrelevant at this point and the only way to move forward is through respect, communication, counseling and unconditional love.  

It matters to my health what I think and how I feel, but it also matters what the kids consciously and unconsciously pick up on.  Most innately know whether I am frustrated, sad, stressed, sick, or just plain down in the dumps.  When I got back home after probably one of the top ten most stressful and emotional days of my life, the kids felt it and most seemed kinder (if that makes sense).  When I woke up the next morning, I got the normal good-morning hugs, but a few unexpected ones from a couple of pre-teen boys who I assume needed that hug as much as I did.

That damn “Every Challenge an Opportunity” quote has not left me since my Peace Studies Program over 10 years ago.  The challenge now for the formerly non-committal me?  To come to terms with the enormity of potential forever.  The possible forever that comes with a commitment.  The possible forever that anyone looking in thought I understood. The possible forever that hit me like a ton of bricks right on my dense skull.

WWJD?  I believe she would (more or less) quote Queen Elizabeth 1; “Look Melinda, you are married….to Wat Opot.” and then a big knowing smile.

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