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How an act of kindness becomes a parent's lifeline

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Mathew Mead/AP

(Read caption) This Dec. 17, 2014 photo shows rosewater shortbread cookies in Concord, N.H.

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I made some cookies. Not just any cookies, but really soft sour cream ones that meant I had to take an extra trip to the store. Cookies that couldn’t be done bar style without losing some of their magic. A recipe that made six dozen cookies that would eat up a chunk of my morning.

It was the fall after I gave birth to my first child and the nesting instinct was going strong. After nine months of reading, swimming, and sleeping, my stomach was a little flatter and my house was full of crafts and baked goods. 

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I’d met a woman at church who seemed nice, so I decided to drop some cookies by to welcome her to town. After tracking down an address and discovering a new neighborhood, I stood in Lara’s driveway with a foil wrapped plate of cookies in my hands. I suddenly felt nervous, like I was crossing some invisible line of coolness by reaching out and trying to make a new friend.  But I was there, baby was asleep in his car seat, so I rang the doorbell.

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A quick hi, she invited me in; I declined what with the kid and the awkwardness and such. In Eliana Land, this is where the story would normally end – random act of kindness, life goes on.

It is now eight years later. Lara and her husband will raise my children if my spouse and I croak.  Lara’s family is more intimately entangled with mine in all of the best ways than anyone we are related to by blood. 

Those cookies are easily the best choice I ever made.

Twelve months ago Lara tearfully told me that she might be moving. We were in a parking lot where she was dropping me off to take an airport shuttle.  My stomach dropped a good six inches. I tried to swallow calmly but it wasn’t working.  She was so sad that I had to be strong. 

“Wow, that would be a good opportunity for you and Jim.” I can’t remember any of my other words. Crap about hard choices and moving forward and blah blah blah.

What I wanted to say was: “No. You can’t do that. We have an unspoken agreement and you already live 12 minutes away from my house and that is too far and what the heck are you thinking, moving? That will ruin my entire life. I can’t make new friends so you can’t move and no no no.”

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Lara lives 260 miles away now. I know, it isn’t too bad. But to go from seeing someone every day to once or twice a month is a big adjustment.

I try not to call every day. I want her to be happy and have a life and not be trapped in the Vortex of my Awesomeness, unable to move forward. We talk once a week. I drive out once a month. She comes here sometimes. It is OK.

My youngest son had to spend a week in the hospital, three hours from home. The logistics of trying to get my other kid, Cole, picked up from school while my husband commuted to work in another state – nightmare. I tried every angle, asked everyone I could think of, and got myself more and more worked up.

“Why doesn’t Cole just come here?” Lara proposed over the phone.

“Really?  But your kids will all be in school?”

“We’ll hang out.  It’ll be great.  Just think about it.”

And I did. I thought about where my dear 8 year-old would feel safe and comfortable while worrying about his baby brother. I thought about how missing a week of school meant nothing to me if I would know someone was caring for my boy just the same as I would.

I texted and messaged and called a dozen times, knowing that an extra kid for a whole week would be more than a little favor. 

“Of course its fine.  We love Cole.  He’s family.”

So Lara drove two hours to meet us at the hospital. Cole gave me a brief hug but couldn’t wait to get in her minivan to be with his favorite family.  

Lara pulled a giant gift bag out of the car. It was filled with activities, toys, games, markers, snacks for mom, and even a few bottles of Diet Coke.  I started crying, right there on the curb. 

“You’re going to be OK. Cole’s going to have a great week. I’ll come if you need me.” Lara hugged me tight, swooped down to pick up the my youngest and nuzzle his soft neck skin, and finally closed the sliding minivan door.