We were standing in a pizza shop in the middle of Red Square, the heart of Moscow beating steadily outside the dirty windows.
I nibbled at the crust, politely smiling every time Sergei, our translator and guide, looked at me, his eyes filled with hopeful anticipation that this visit to a very “American” style restaurant was satisfactory to my fifteen year old palate.
In truth, the cheese tasted funny, and the sauce was sharp on my tongue. But of course, I ate the whole slice because that was the right thing to do. And I smiled and nodded enthusiastically when he asked if it was good.
More than anything, I was just glad to be in the warmth of the restaurant. It was cold outside, the bitter kind of cold that makes your teeth hurt and your bones tremble. We’d spent the morning walking through Red Square, gawking at St. Basil’s cathedral, purchasing watches and pins with Soviet emblems on them from young boys on street corners, and swallowing up the culture of a city that until three years before had been locked behind something called the Iron Curtain.
I didn’t understand much about history back then. I was twelve years old when Reagan demanded that a wall be torn down, when the Soviet Union collapsed and people regaled freedom from far off streets.
Not yet a teenager in a world without social media meant that the news was relegated to the nighttime hours when I was in bed. Sometimes I caught snippets of world events as they passed between my parents and their grown up friends, but I didn’t pay attention.
I didn’t care.
Earlier that afternoon, I filed in a line past the body of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, spread out beneath an oxygenated glass case. The room was completely dark except for the spotlight over the former head of the Soviet Union, his body pressed flat against the table as though he’d been steam rolled.
I had no clue who he was, having been given only a brief history lesson minutes before stepping into the room. And so the moment was lost on me, but the memory is still there, and I have more appreciation for that experience now as an adult than I did back then.
After Lenin’s Tomb, we made our way to the pizza place, hungry and cold, and ready for a break. That’s when Sergei taught me about empathy.
There were no chairs in this restaurant – only high top tables where three or four could stand at a time. I stood next to Sergei, smitten with his loose command of the English language and his wry wit. As we finished eating, a man stumbled to our table, dirty and mumbling something in the language that I didn’t yet understand.
Sergei asked him a question and the man nodded. He glanced at me, then back at Sergei, his hands clasped tightly in front of his chest. Sergei jutted his head toward the last uneaten pizza on our table and the man snatched it up, then turned and left, his mouth chewing furiously as he disappeared into the frigid crowd outside.
I looked at Sergei in confusion. The number one lesson reiterated to all of us since we landed was never to give food or money to people begging on the streets.
“Why was it okay to give something to that man, but not to the other people who have asked for help?” I asked him. Sergei paused, his gaze traveling to the door where the man had just disappeared.
“Because he really needed it,” he finally answered.
“How did you know?” I asked.
Sergei shrugged. He took a sip of the lukewarm soda from his paper cup marked PEPSI, a much appreciated and consumed capitalist influence in the former Soviet state.
“I just knew,” he said. “He had Russian eyes.”
It’s been twenty-two years since that day in the Red Square cafe, but I think about that moment frequently. I remember the day when the man with Russian eyes approached one of his own and was met with compassion.
We’ve entered a new year. We survived the skepticism, cynicism, and anger of 2016, and though nothing has really changed from last week to this week, there’s a freshness in the air. It’s like the warmth of that pizza parlor in Red Square.
Now is our chance to take in the world around us and look at it through the lens of compassion – to assess the needs surrounding us, and offer empathy and compassion a little more freely.
Perhaps we should have been doing that the whole time, but the heat of the moment left us disoriented and confused. So here we are on the other side, the next four years looming before us on the horizon. How will we respond? What will we say?
I don’t have any resolutions this year – no one word challenges like in year’s past. Only a desire to look at the world through a lens of empathy and compassion, to look people in the eye, even if I don’t agree with them, and to try harder to hear them.
I long to step back into that moment in the pizza parlor when a gift was given because one young man took the time to look into the eyes of another and recognize need.
Here is to a year of more compassion.
What are your hopes for the coming year?
The picture haunts me.
An image of black and white, it seeps into my consciousness often, particularly when I find myself holding tight my children.
I pick up my toddler and snuggle her close, and I think of the mother – of the hollow, vacant eyes staring numbly ahead as she holds her child so similarly.
I lay on the floor by my ten-year old, and it appears again. When the children shriek through the house, filling each corner with delighted laughter, I find myself once more drifting to this woman. Who was she, and what was she thinking as she held her children in her arms and waited to usher them to death?
Oh September 29, 1941, the German army stationed in Kiev, Ukraine began a mass execution of Jews. Having been told they were being transported, thousands of Jewish men, women, and children lined up just outside the city, at Babi Yar, a ravine that would soon forever be known as “the killing ditch”.
By the end of the day on September 30, just under 34,000 people had been murdered.
I am desperately behind in life. I’ve barely kept my head above water this week (and I can’t even blame it on pregnancy this time), and it doesn’t appear I will catch up anytime soon. So, in lieu of writing any actual new words, I’ll go ahead and repost this blog from April, 2014: Also known as “The Day I Killed Santa.”
And yes, for the record, all of my children are now in on the “secret” of Santa. Luckily we’ve got Annika coming up behind them. Christmas magic, take two!
I will (hopefully) return with original material next week.
My children were all up and dressed before the sun awoke up this morning. This is partly my fault since I put them all to bed before the sun went down last night because PREGNANT MOMS GET TIRED!
I also forgot, yet again, to play Tooth Fairy last night because PREGNANT MOMS HAVE NO BRAIN CELLS! So Sloan, bless him, woke up disappointed one more time when there was no money left under his pillow.
Now let me give you a tiny glimpse into our philosophy on the “magic” of childhood. We have always celebrated things like the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and Santa Clause with our kids. I know some people do not agree with this, but for us, it was fun and we’ve never felt that it was harmful practice.
I destroyed the myth of the Easter Bunny for our children last year because, honestly, it was my least favorite story. I mean, it just logically doesn’t make sense. Bunnies don’t even lay eggs, for heaven’s sake!
Side note: I have a distinct memory from my childhood, when I swear up one side and down the other that I saw the Easter Bunny. I heard a noise outside and went to cross the hall to my parent’s room, and a six foot rabbit stood on his hind legs at the end of the hall. I was so terrified, I dashed back to my bed and pulled the blankets over my ears.
My parents maintain to this day that it was simply a result of my overactive imagination. I’m not entirely sure it wasn’t one of them dressed up to torture me. Either way, the memory is as real as the nose on my face and I will stand by the story until the day I die.
End side note.
came stumbled into the kitchen this morning at 6:20, and the first words to greet me were, “Mom! The Tooth Fairy didn’t come again. Is the Tooth Fairy even real?”
I’ve been wanting to let Sloan in on the secret of the Tooth Fairy and Santa for awhile now. I just really wanted him to hear from us, and not other people, that these were simply the fun aspects of being parents, so I took him to his room and tried to let him down gently.
“No. The Tooth Fairy isn’t real. I’ll give you a dollar for your tooth later, though, okay?”
Bribery is an art form, friends. Don’t judge.
“Well,” he said, and I knew it was coming. “What about Santa?”
“Yeah, so Santa is an interesting thing,” I answered as sweat gathered on my upper lip. “You know the true story of Saint Nicholas that I read to you every year?”
“Saint Nick was a real person, and he really did give gifts to those less fortunate. They hung stockings outside their windows, and on Christmas morning he would leave little treats, or necessary items in their stockings. It’s the magic of giving to others, and that’s a part of Christmas we like to celebrate.”
“Sooooo…Saint Nicholas is real?” Sloan asked.
“Well,” I answered, “Saint Nicholas was real. But he died a long time ago.”
Tact is also an art form. Look at all the things you’re learning from me today!
“And now,” I continued, “one of the fun things we get to do as parents is carry on his magical tradition of giving. We give to others at Christmastime, and we give to our children. We are Santa Clause! It’s a privilege to be Santa for our kids, and now that you know the secret, you can be Santa with us!”
He sat on his bed, face registering utter disbelief. “So you bought all those presents?”
“Well, yes,” I answered. You’re welcome, I thought to myself.
“But I’ve heard Santa’s sleigh on the roof on Christmas Eve!”
There was no real answer to this, so I stayed quiet. This is probably somewhat akin to my vision of the Easter Bunny as a child.
“So,” he continued, still processing. “If I get to play Santa with you, does that mean I get to climb on the roof and slide down the chimney?!” His eyes lit up.
“Uh…no. That doesn’t actually happen. That’s part of the myth of Santa.”
Face fell again.
“Now,” I continued,”part of the fun of being Santa is keeping it a secret. You can’t tell anyone else about this because then it’s not as fun, so can you keep this just between us?”
He nodded slowly. (I give it a week before the other two kids know about Santa.)
“I just can’t believe you’re Santa,” he said, shaking his head. Then he shrugged, stood up, and asked for some cereal, because when you’re a ten year old boy, food conquers all disbelief.
So the basic theme of this entire story is that I was Mommy the Dream Slayer this morning, and I destroyed the magic of childhood before the sun even rose above the trees. Later, after I’d sent them off to school, I got tickled about the whole conversation and called Lee (who is out of town) to tell him that I destroyed childhood for our firstborn today, and to congratulate him for missing out on that parenting milestone.
Then we both thought of this quote from Talladega Nights, and got to laughing so hard we were crying, because, yeah – for Sloan this was akin to being mauled by a cougar and having his favorite Crystal Gale t-shirt ruined.
So…anyone else in need of a little dream slaying today?
Apparently I’m on a roll.
(PS – I know this can be a hot button topic in some circles, so respectfully I ask that it not become one here. Santa and the Easter Bunny always have very small roles in our holiday celebrations. Kind of like Nutella plays a small role in our every day snacking, but it is not our main source of nutrition…)
Hello, everyone, and welcome to my new space! I’m so excited to be here, and to have you all join me on this new adventure. I wanted to kick off my time in this new space with a very clear reason for why we’re here. Why did I shift away from Minivans Are Hot, a website that’s given me so much over the last six years? What was the purpose in starting over from scratch?
To answer that, I need to go back a few months. Late last year, as I slowly came out of the fog of a really rough year, I realized that my perspective on blogging had changed significantly. One of those realizations came through the 31 day series I wrote in October, 31 Days to Becoming and Author.
I didn’t get a massive amount of traffic during those 31 days – quite the contrary, in fact. I think that series may have been the nail in my blogging coffin, so to speak. I gained something so different, though – something I was not expecting. I gained a confidence and a sureness in my skill and knowledge as a writer, and a passion welled up inside me to focus more on the inspiration that comes from doing something I love.
I love writing. Words are how I process the world around me. Like a true, awkward creative, I’m much better at communicating thoughts on paper than I am verbally. This makes me sound so fun. You want to invite me to your next party, don’t you?
I had another epiphany while writing that series, though, and this one has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with you as the reader. You are motivated and encouraged when you feel inspired, too. We all operate under an umbrella of inspiration, and when you recognize what it is that inspires you, you are much more likely to live a life of freedom.
With that in mind, I’ve created a purpose statement for this blog:
Kelli Stuart.com gives motivation to those who are looking to live a life of passionate inspiration, leaving readers encouraged and empowered to chase their dreams, the desires of their heart, and the gifts and talents that are unique to each one of them, all to the benefit of others, and not themselves, because we all know that a life lived passionately is a life that changes the world.
It’s a mouthful, I know, but this truly is my goal for this website. I want to encourage and equip you all to live a life of inspiration, no matter what that may look like, and be assured it will look differently for all of us.
Are you a creative – an artist of some kind? You’re welcome here.
Are you a parent seeking to find the joy in the day to day challenges of raising children? Please join me.
Are you a professional – one who leaves your home each morning before the sun wakes up, and endures the bumper to bumper mayhem each evening upon your return home? You’re welcome here.
Do you love decorating, coupon cutting, entertaining? This is the place for you.
Are you in ministry? Pull up a chair and join us.
Are you a passionate advocate for the voiceless of this world? I’m so glad to have you!
There is a place for everyone in this space, because all joy and motivation began with inspiration. So thank you for joining me as we take this journey. For those of you who came with me from Minivans Are Hot, you will see that my voice and writing style have changed little. This new space gives me room to expand, opening up the opportunity to write about so many different things.
I made this change because I felt inspired to do more, and the expanse has made me feel free.
I’m so glad you’re here!