Don't Be Mad at the Helping

I'm pretty sure Andy came out of the womb helping people. I can see him now, in the hospital nursery, crying as loudly as his little baby lungs could cry, in order to get the nurses attention. Not for himself, of course, but because the baby next to him needed his diaper changed. Service might as well be Andy's middle name and his desire to help others is one of his truest intrinsic motivators. Andy remembers being a kid and his mom instilling good deeds into all that he did- hold doors for others, shovel sidewalks, help carry heavy loads. He can't recall a time when it wasn't important to him to watch out for those around him and he can't tell you the moment when he decided that service mattered. As he tells me, "it's the right thing to do."

In highschool, when most teens are spending their energy on figuring themselves out, hiding from adults, and feeling dark, gloomy and zitty, Andy was out in his community, building bird houses, cleaning parks, and volunteering at a raptor center. Sure, he was zitty and doing regular teen things, yet he never lost interest in caring about others- a great accomplishment at a time when kids can hardly think about much more than caring about themselves.

His interest in community accelerated when he moved to our small upstate town. As a matter of fact, his mom has told me that she thinks Andy gravitated to upstate for its small town lifestyle and the ability for him to make an impact on the place he calls home. As a graduate student, Andy was always signing up for extra volunteer assignments, staying behind, after most others had left, to make sure everything was cleaned up and the last box packed away. He volunteered to help an retired professor set up his computer and offered to do errands for him or just spend time listening to his elderly friend's life stories. When he got his first post grad job, it wasn't long before he was joining committees and planning community events, like our annual Winter Carnival. He spent countless hours, and shed lots of sweat, ensuring these community activities went off without a hitch and everyone had a good time. To Andy, the end goal wasn't always about how much money he made, or the connections he established. It was about how much of a difference he could make, or even more simply: it was about helping others when help was needed.

Helping others may not buy you yachts and fancy houses but it does get you some recognition. Andy's got badges and sashes and framed certificates and other accolades to commemorate his dedication to service. He's been called a super hero and has developed a sort of infamy in our small town. When I first heard him called a supero hero, I laughed. I also slammed my fork and knife on the table and started chanting his name, but we were at a restaurant and I was drunk. Now, many years later, I actually visualize Andy wearing a suit (I know, think Mr. Incredible when he was out of shape) underneath his button up and khakis and being ready, at a moment's notice, to help someone in need. Kittten stuck in a tree? There's Andy to save Mr. Meows and return him back to little Suzy and Bobby. Mrs. Johnson's paper bag full of food rips open as she tries to load her groceries into the minivan? Never fear. Andy is here with a reusable tote for Mrs. Joshnson to use- and he's so good at getting under all the cars to gather the cans of corn and jars of pickles that rolled away. The Smiths tire goes flat in a big thunderstorm and they have no cell service or AAA? No worries, Handy Andy to the rescue. He uses his membership to call AAA, fashions a giant umbrella out of a tarp in the back of his truck so they don't get wet walking from their car to his, books them a hotel in town-on him- and runs up his data plan so Little Jimmy can use his phone to watch Netflix on the way there. All the upstate citizens know they are in good hands since Andy is always nearby. It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's Andy the Eagle Scout. On any given month, on any given night, Andy can be found volunteering. He's helping others, serving the community, and making a difference.

And I think it's so f^&king annoying.

I'm not a bad person. I like to help people, too. It was my idea to start a Little Free Library! I was on the Diversity Day Committee in highschool. I donate clothes to charity. I help little old ladies, and kitties stuck in trees. I hold doors open. Service and community are important to me but so are my kids and a clean house and my damn sanity. So, while Super Andy is out leaping tall buildings in a single bound, and getting certificates for it, I'm folding my 10,097th pair of underpants and re-wiping the tooth paste blobs from the sink. Maybe I wanted to be the adult chaperone on the service week trip to the DR but Andy had 5 evening meetings that week and I needed to be home for the girls. I like to help others, but at this point in my life, I feel more like a sulky teenager who can't figure out how to take care of myself. I can't figure out how to fit it all in.

Sometimes I worry that if it Mr. Meows was our kitten, Andy would not rescue him from the tree. I usually carry in my own groceries. And you know what, there is a true story about me, Andy's mom and the girls (infant and toddler) trapped on a back road with a broke down car and Andy leaving us there to go to a baseball game. Just this week, Andy disappeared from our house to help a family whose car had broken down. When he returned home, I freaked on him, after panicking about his whereabouts (one minute he was in the house, waiting for Char to put her PJ's on, and the next minute his car is gone and he's not answering his phone.) He was very direct with me and not interested in an argument. He said, "If it were you and the girls stranded, I'd have wanted someone to do the same for you." I told him to go fu$k himself and stormed away but what I really wanted was to remind him of was the fact that it was true-I would want someone to do this for me, but all those years ago, why hadn't he? I can't help but feel like the girls and I don't get to see Super Andy. By the time he gets home from a day of service, he's used up all of his super powers and he has little energy for rescuing me from piles of laundry. He's used up all his good listening skills, polite patience, and attentiveness on others, and has little tolerance and time for the girls whiny woes. Andy gives so much of himself to others that I get angry and hurt when it doesn't feel like he has much left to give to us.

The night that Andy left to help the stranded family, Charlotte and I sat in her bedroom, waiting for his return. She was anxious because Daddy reads to her every night that he is home and she can't fall asleep without a Daddy story and back rub. She asked over and over where he went and when he'd be home. I was tired. I was mad. I was frantic and nervous. I was in between swears and tears. When he finally answered my call and told me where he was, I shared with her that he left to help a family. I told her I didn't know when he'd be home and I was sorry and I was mad at him for letting her down. I asked if I could fill in for him and I rubbed her back and then leaned over to give her a kiss goodnight. She wrapped her arms around me and pulled my face to hers. "Momma," she whispered, "don't be mad about the helping. Be mad about the not calling."

She's right. It took a six year old, someone who is also greatly impacted by Andy's passion for service, to remind me that I can't get mad at the people Andy is helping nor can I be mad at Andy for wanting to help others. At a time when many would look the other way when someone is in need, Andy reminds me that stepping up, and going the extra mile for others, is just as important as taking care of ourselves. Andy's good example will instill the same value in our girls as his parents instilled in him. And I bet you, after reading this, Andy will never, ever, leave me and the girls stranded on the side of the road again.

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