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crying at the deli counterIt’s a beautiful, crisp, fall day.  I am waiting at the deli counter in need of fixings for my family’s lunches as we run to five soccer games over the next two days.  The woman in front of me, about 15 years older than me, is having a hard time articulating her order while simultaneously sobbing.

Thinking she must have just received terrible news, I contemplate whether to say anything or pretend not to notice.

Yet as her sobs get louder, I feel compelled to ask, “Are you ok?”

Still sobbing, she points to the window overlooking the high school football field and says, “This is the first time in ten years that one of my sons isn’t on that field.”

Still confused, and now thinking that her son is sick, or even worse, dead, I gingerly ask “Why?”

“My third son left for college, and I’ll never again be on the bleachers with the other parents cheering on our team” she says.  She must notice my minimizing look because she next asks me a question: “Do you have children playing sports?” I reply in the affirmative, adding that all three play soccer and lacrosse.  At this, she stops crying and apparently decides that I am the one in need of advice.

She looks at me intently and says, “Make sure that you cherish every minute. The games. The practices. The carpools. The parents that you spend more time with than your own siblings; because before you know it, it’s gone.”  Eyes still glued to the window, she takes her order from the counter and walks away, sobbing once again.

It’s funny how a small encounter can stay with you.  When I met this woman, my deli counter lady, 15 years ago, I didn’t quite understand what she was talking about that day.  But, given how upset she was, I decided to take it to heart.  On those crazy days when we had overlapping games and got lost on our way to remote soccer fields (those were the days before GPS), I would repeat my mantra, “deli counter lady, deli counter lady.”  While watching games in torrential downpours and snow storms, I continued to chant, “deli counter lady, deli counter lady.”  And, during those come from behind wins or team bonding parties at our home, I would look around, savor the smells, sights and sounds and say, “thank you, deli counter lady.”

I don’t know anything else about my deli counter lady.  For all I know, she was CEO of a Fortune 500 company.  But, my other take away from that day was the realization that I didn’t want my own kids’ college launch to be as dramatic a loss for me as it was for the deli counter lady.  So, on those days when the kids were sick and I had to leave them to go to work, or when I had clients in crisis, on those days when I wondered if I could do it all, I would repeat “deli counter lady, deli counter lady.” 

I also didn’t know that day that one day I would be coaching women who were about to become, or already were, empty nesters.  If I met my deli counter lady today, I would have a rich community of excited and inspirational women to connect her to.  But for now, all I can say is “Thank you, deli counter lady”.

This article was originally published on www.barbarawassermancoaching.com

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