I drank a lot during the first 10 years of my marriage. What started out as a social pastime became a coping mechanism.
My husband is a college basketball coach, so I shouldn’t have been surprised, but it seemed like he was always on the road recruiting or competing. That left me at home putting chicken nuggets in the microwave and holding down the fort.
I’d have one or two drinks while the little ones were winding down for the night. After I put them to bed, I’d have a few more.
The crazy thing is, no one knew. I slapped on some lipstick and took my kids to the park and Mommy & Me classes and swimming lessons. I did life. I just did it feeling less than 70% all the time.
My youngest son was born in 2010. That was one year before I began my kindness journey and began seeing life differently.
I was desperate to lose the baby weight (from my first baby six years before) so I spent a lot of time at the Fercho YMCA in downtown Fargo.
My favorite person at the gym was Ralph. He worked at the check-in desk and kept the shenanigans to a minimum. I couldn’t get three steps through the door before Ralph, with his full head of white hair, would flash a huge smile and say, “How’s it going today, Nicole?”
I was accountable to Ralph. If I missed a few days, I knew Ralph would ask. Once or twice he even called me to make sure I was still alive when I forgot to tell him I was going on vacation.
Here’s the thing: Moms can begin to feel invisible. We magically make clean clothes appear in drawers, Cheerios boxes land in the pantry and stockings fill with candy, and yet no one seems to notice. Ask another mom. I’ll bet she’ll tell you there are times in her life she has felt unseen.
Remember the "Sesame Street" song, “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” Ralph was a person in my neighborhood. He wasn’t anyone I thought I needed or relied on. But without even knowing, he became one of the most important people in my neighborhood. He was just doing his job, but he overflowed with a natural and authentic kindness and it spilled right onto me.
Ralph had no idea what was going on in my life. He didn’t know I walked in the door with a hangover every day. That’s the thing about kindness. We don’t have to know the backstory. Kindness can still hit its mark.
Kindness fills in the spaces that are lonely, lost or just a little weary. We don’t have to know how it happens, we just have to see the people around us.
Thanks for seeing me, Ralph, in a time in my life when I felt very invisible.
For anyone else out there feeling unseen, I hope today you find a “Ralph.”
Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nicole J. Phillips, a former Fargo television anchor, is a speaker, author and host of The Kindness Podcast. She lives in Aberdeen, S.D., with her three children and her husband, Saul Phillips, the head men's basketball coach at Northern State University. You can visit Nicole at nicolejphillips.com.