I Spent My Day Off Cooking Dinner for My Ex-husband and His Wife

I’ve been co-parenting with my ex-husband for almost 18 years. Sometimes we freaking nail it, and other times I pray he gets one of those hangnails that only kind of bleeds but hurts to high heaven when you get lemon juice in it. Seriously, we’re pretty solid about 95% of the time.

He and his wife recently had a baby. Well, she had the baby, so props go to her, but I’ll include him because he suited up for the occasion and totally supported her the whole way through like a champ.

Our daughter was headed up to the hospital to visit them, so I shot her the following text:

“Life Lesson: Never show up to someone’s hospital room empty-handed. Always take something, even if it’s just a dozen brownies from Bill Miller’s or an iced tea. Take something with you when you go.”

She’s a good kid, so she placed an order for a bunch of pastries and picked them up on her way.

In the middle of the “never show up empty-handed” lesson, she asked if I would make dinner for her and her dad’s family so she could take it over when she went to stay with them later that week.

I didn’t hesitate.

I headed to the store and bought all the ingredient, plus some, and spent my day without kids making a huge batch of beef taco soup, some brownies, and some muffins for the next morning.

“Why did you make brownies and breakfast for tomorrow?” she asked.

“Because when someone needs a helping hand, even if it’s just dinner, you provide it to the fullest and with as much love and relief for them as possible,” I told her. “It’s just a little life lesson in kindness.”

I spent my day without kids cooking for my ex-husband because, well, I like him and his wife, so I wanted to do something nice for them. But I also wanted to teach my daughter that acts of service for the ones you love go a long way.

My best friend taught me this lesson by her example. She has never shown up to anyone’s home, a party, or a hospital room empty-handed. If she drops off dinner at your house, you can guarantee it includes the entire meal—from main dish to sides to desserts, and probably even the drinks. It’s not only extremely kind, but also incredibly helpful when you need some love and a home-cooked meal. She also packages the meal so that it looks pretty, with cute ribbons and whatnot, but she’s what my daughter calls “extra.” I just stuff mine in a reusable HEB bag.

The lesson my friend taught me by her example is one that I am trying to teach my daughter through my example, and hopefully she will teach someone else through hers. I think many old-school life lessons are getting lost these days, so I asked my tribe what life lessons they’ve learned from influential people in their lives and which ones they are passing down to their own children. Here are their responses:

“How to accept gifts. You always stop whatever you are doing and focus your undivided attention on the giver and let him/her know you appreciate the gift. My mom references Princess Diana and how she would focus on one person at a time, even at big receiving line events.”

“Hand writing thank you notes (just because someone’s awesome) or special cards. I’ve taught myself to do this as a management recognition tool, but out in the wild, it’s been even better. A friend called me to say how much she appreciated the small note… Who calls anyone anymore?”

“To graciously accept a compliment with a ‘thank you.’ No arguing or demurring, just a heartfelt ‘thank you.'”

“To fake it even when you aren’t proud of yourself when your family wants to celebrate with you. Your graduation isn’t just your victory. Let them be proud of you and don’t be the Debbie Downer.”

“To just generally rise to the occasion. Even if you don’t feel like being social or would prefer to sit there in your own head/universe, if you go, you make an effort.”

“I never once visited my mom in the nursing home, at the hospital, or at home without something in my hands. She noticed. She always commented how I never showed up empty-handed. As my mother was dying, her roommate told me how she talked about the things from her daughter in Texas and how often we called. I was the least likely to do that. I was the one with the most excuses not to. It helped with the healing, and after several years she spoke out about noticing it.”

“Put your cart back—return it to the store or to the collection station in the parking lot. If there’s a baby in the car, make sure it’s just out of the way of vehicles.”

“Never bring a car home on empty. Ever.”

“If someone is asking for money or food, give what you can. If there’s a judgment, they’ll be judged by what they did with it. You’ll be judged by whether you helped a brother or sister out when they asked.”

“Treat people as people. This may sound like it goes without saying, but I think anyone who has ever worked in retail, customer service, or the food service industry will tell you otherwise. Don’t treat others as though they are beneath you simply because they’re serving you in some capacity. My dad taught me this because he used to be the worst offender.”

“Never let someone you appreciate go unappreciated.”

“This is an oldie but a goodie: Stand if there is someone elderly or pregnant who needs the seat more than you. I’ve found that on trains, subways, wherever, I will be the first to offer when other young men and women watch a person struggling to stand. It teaches my child to be empathetic to others’ needs, and I try to model that often. Also, we always say ‘hi’ to people with disabilities directly to them. Even if a person is on a trach in a wheelchair and may seem unaware of his/her surroundings (unlikely), saying ‘hello’ means so much more than staring or only speaking with the caretaker. It means ‘I see you.'”

“A smile is free and can go a long way, along with ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ It costs nothing to be kind and can make all the difference to someone.”

“Always look for the person alone—in the lunch room, on the playground, at the party—and start a conversation or ask if he/she wants to sit next to you.”

What life lessons did you learn along the way that you try to model for those around you? What lost art of general kindness do you want to bring back and keep alive?

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