(From the archives.)
Let me start with an admission. If I worked in a restaurant and saw a mom walk in with her three little children – her three little boys – I would try not to make eye contact. I’d yell, “Not it!” to my fellow servers. I’d take up smoking… so I could duck out the back door.
But that’s not what happens at my IHOP. (And I call it “my IHOP” even though I only go there every couple of months.) Not only does the waitstaff not run away when I walk in with my two little boys and baby, they actually seem happy to see us. We get high fived. We get fist bumped and slapped on the back. We get treated the way Snooki must get when she walks into her local tanning salon. And, don’t forget, they have syrup at IHOP – five syrups on every table. I have three children who each have ten fingers. That’s thirty potential sticky fingers. And, we get high fives, fist bumps and slaps on the backs when we walk in.
Last time, Chris waited on us. Sometimes it’s Sebastian. Other times it’s Romel. Let me tell you about Chris, Romel, Sebastian, and their manager, Anwar: the staff at Charlie Trotter’s, Jean Georges and Le Bernadin don’t hold a candle to these guys when it comes to customer service. And, from what I hear, none of those places have free crayons either.
I was there pretty recently. I strolled in with my boys at eleven thirty in the morning. It was a Saturday. Have you ever eaten breakfast outside of your home? 11:30 a.m. on a Saturday is prime time. Every table is taken. Every seat is filled with hungry people who want to stuff their faces with reasonably-priced bacon, eggs and pancakes.
Chris took our order – went to the kitchen – and then reappeared. He wanted to know if my sons could do him a favor. Could they help him carry the plates from the kitchen to our table when our order was ready? Could they? Could they?! Could Mary Richards light up the whole world with her smile? Heck yeah! They said yes and then we waited. We even called my husband to tell him the good news.
While we waited, a thought occurred to me. The plates were going to be hot. Maybe too hot? What if my kids hurt their fingers? I debated whether or not I should pull Chris aside. Had he thought about how hot the plates might be? My children use their fingers all of the time. Please Chris, don’t burn my kids’ fingers!
And while I mulled over whether or not to talk to Chris, I glanced at my three year old. He was about to explode. The anticipation was almost too much for him. He had the same look on his face that he did after his third birthday party when he learned he was going to get another birthday party the following year. And the year after that. And the year after that too. (“You mean, I get another one?!”)
Chris came to get my sons. “Are you ready?” he asked them. And so, my three year old and six year old walked with Chris to the outside of the kitchen. He handed each of them a plate. I winced. (“Please don’t let them burn their fingers.”) And they walked. Slowly. Happily. Carefully. They reached our table. They were each holding a tube of yogurt upon their plates. They were only holding yogurt. Chris was carrying the plates with the hot pancakes. He didn’t want them to burn their fingers either.
Pictured: Sebastian and Chris.
NOTE: Should I point out that I am not being paid by IHOP? I am not employed by IHOP. I don’t make any money if their stock (are they public?) shoots up today as a result of this post being published on my blog which is read by fourteen zillion people. I don’t eat for free at IHOP. In fact, when I go to IHOP, I barely have time to eat. But, that’s the fault of my kids. Seriously. Let me eat in peace, guys. Please.
(From the archives. I rerunning some of my “People Who Kick Ass” series.)
My Chicago suburb is home to one of the world’s most famous and respected adoption agencies called, “The Cradle.” I’ve driven past the agency, which is housed in a majestic stone building, hundreds of times.
Since its founding, The Cradle – which deals in both domestic as well as international adoptions – has placed nearly 15,000 children into permanent homes. Every now and then, I see a picture in my local paper about a fundraiser or benefit for the celebrated agency, where – once ago – Gracie Allen and George Burns, Bob Hope, Al Jolson and Donna Reed all adopted children.
But I had heard something about the agency that I thought might be urban legend. Supposedly, there was a program through which volunteers could help care for the babies. I was suspicious. I knew very little about adoption but I doubted that infants actually lived inside of the agency. I assumed the babies lived in foster homes while they awaited their birth parents’ decisions as well as the adoption process.
I was wrong.
Last week, I picked up the phone and called The Cradle. I wanted to find out if they really had a program where volunteers could care for babies. The answer was yes. It turns out that the Cradle is the only adoption agency in the United States with an onsite nursery. An average of six to eight infants at a time spend their first days, weeks and even months of their lives in the nursery which is staffed twenty-four hours a day by both a registered nurse as well as an infant specialist. The volunteers I had heard vaguely about were called, “Cuddlers.” But, there is at least a two-year waiting list to become one.
Could I come see the nursery, I asked. To my surprise, I was again told yes.
The third-floor nursery looked how I hoped it would. It was bright and clean – and its windows opened to let in fresh air. Butterflies and caterpillars decorated the windows and walls, and I was told that a Christmas tree occupied the room in the winter. During a two-day blizzard this past year, the staff nurses brought in blankets and pillows and stayed overnight. They were prepared, I was told, to stay as long as they would be needed.
The nursery was filled with cribs, rocking chairs and – to my delight – books. When I looked in, there were two Cuddlers helping the staff members care for three babies. (There have been as many as 18 infants in the nursery at one time.) I watched one of the Cuddlers read a board book to what looked like a one month old. As she read, he went from the quiet alert-state to a gentle sleep. When his eyes closed, the Cuddler put away the book and continued to hold the baby in her arms.
I was told that because of the nursery, birth parents can take their time while they decide what’s next. Some choose to bring their children home. Many choose to pursue adoption. This is a place where they know their babies are well cared for while they make their decisions.
Lynne Firestone coordinates the Cuddler’s program. Lynne, who adopted her two adult children through The Cradle, pointed out that the agency needs to have people who can take care of the babies no matter what. “They [the babies] can’t get enough constant care, loving and holding,” she said. “It helps them feel that the world is a good place.”
Toward the end of my tour, I was taken to the room where the adoptive parents – if they didn’t already meet in the hospital — see their babies for the first time. It was called, fittingly, “The Belonging Room.”
NOTE: If you want to volunteer to become a Cuddler, you’re out of luck at the moment. But, if you want to support The Cradle you can visit their website. They also have an Amazon wish list for the nursery, where you can find everything from pacifiers to diapers to swings.
I feel like my shopping list is pretty spot-on this morning.
Melissa: In a nutshell…
I wanted to give everyone a heads up that next week, I’ll be reposting some pieces from the series I ran a few years ago called, “People Who Kick Ass.”
I started the series as a chance to shine a very small spotlight on people around me who I thought deserved it. It was also a nice way to bury my head in the sand and take a break from the national and international news. And, yes, I feel like doing THAT again.
But, mostly, it was an opportunity to say thank you and give a virtual shout out to people in my “real life” who I thought deserved it.
And, so, that’s what I’ll be doing next week. I’ll be reposting profiles of some “People Who Kick Ass.” Or, I’ll just write about Kim Kardashian’s book of selfies for the next seven days.
I haven’t quite made up my mind.