Bill Foxcroft, executive director of the Idaho Head Start Association and me with Tommy Sheridan, deputy director of the National Head Start Association.
There’s some irony in asking for help after giving a talk on asking for help.
Sitting at the airport in Salt Lake City, two talks for the Idaho Head Start Association completed, I was glancing through the evaluations of my talks—95% were 8+. Whew. Apparently the topic—how asking for help as a single mother of two helped save my family and me—resonated with staff, teachers, and parents in the Head Start program in Idaho.
I loved the audience, love the organization, and am a long-time proponent of early childhood education, intervention, and support. The National Head Start program has served more than 36 million children over its 58-year history. Today more than a million children attend Head Start programs, which employ more than 257,000 people! The talks and new friendships made in Boise were affirming for myself as well.
Next stop? Bozeman, Montana, for a brief visit with my grown children, their respective significant others, and my grandpuppies. It would be my first-ever foray into the “Treasure State” in the worst part of the winter. It was supposed to be -17 degrees in Bozeman when I landed.
When I looked up from the evaluations, I noticed the woman sitting next to me doing something I recognized, and said: "I know that move. You're checking on a child sleeping behind that column, aren't you?"
Yes, she replied and told me that she and her daughter, age 11, had been traveling all day from Belgium, where they'd spent time with her parents. We laughed about a similar experience I’d had with my daughter when she was about the same age—we’d spent the night under a desk at the Portland airport waiting to catch a flight to Atlanta.
Geraldine—by that time we’d exchanged names—agreed to watch my things while I went to the ladies' room. When I returned, she said our flight had been canceled, and that she’d booked the last room at the airport Radisson. I gave her a thumbs up and said I was going to look for an alternate fight.
Maybe I could fly into Billings tonight.
Or rent a car. It was a six-hour-plus drive. The roads were rough. No dice.
No flights to Billings, either.
I started zigging and zagging over the map of Montana to see what else could work, and thought about Helena. It wasn't that far from Bozeman. Meanwhile the line to the Delta service desk, which was about 100-people deep when I got to the gate, had about 200 people waiting impatiently.
Then, jackpot. There was a flight to Helena—a 90-minute drive from Bozeman—the next morning. Better still,I booked a seat.
I told Geraldine and she started checking availability for the same flight. A few minutes later, she and her daughter, Nelle, booked their seats.
Relief in the air, I made a big ask: Would Geraldine be willing to split the cost of the room and perhaps she, her daughter and I could have a Salt Lake City girls’ night sleepover?
I didn't know the extent of Geraldine's world traveling experience at that time, but I could tell she'd sized me up. In the little bit of conversation that we'd had—I’d told her I was coming from giving a talk to the Idaho Head Start Association and that I was eager to see my adult children in Bozeman for the first time in months—she'd decided I was a safe risk. She said yes, and I said I'd pay for the ride to the hotel.
Long story short: We did have the last room at the Airport Radisson. It had two queen-sized beds. Nelle and Geraldine bedded down quickly; they’d had a long day. I sent a few messages to the kids, confirming everything, did an abbreviated cleanup, and went to sleep around 1 a.m., grateful to be in a clean bed instead of trying to sleep in a chair at the airport.
Geraldine, Nelle, and me before heading back to the airport, after our pop-up girls-only Salt Lake City slumber party!
At 6:30 a.m. we headed back to the airport. While waiting, Geraldine and I shared more bits of personal histories. She’d been a college recruiter, and had traveled throughout China, India, and Malaysia before having children. We talked a bit about having daughters, and how grateful I was that my daughter is not a pre-teen at this time when the news about teenage girls and the post-pandemic pressures they are feeling with social media and more, is a great cause of concern. These facts are well-documented in a book I recommended to Geraldine, Girls on the Brink by author and friend Donna Jackson Nakazawa.
When we boarded the plane, our conversation ended; our seats were far apart. After landing, we hugged and thanked each other. My daughter arrived to whisk me away; Geraldine’s husband came to pick up his wife and daughter. And our adventure seemed to come to an end.
But I decided there was something to be learned from writing about this experience.
Later, I texted Geraldine to ask if she was okay if I wrote a story about what we’d experienced in the last 14 or so hours, if I only used their first names and sent it to her first. She was good with that.
And here we are.
I’m back from a great experience of meeting wonderful people who work with Head Start, and spending an incredibly sweet time with my children, during which I thanked them for living so close to each other.
They’d always been close, so when Patrick left Georgia for Montana six years ago, Louisa, who also loves the outdoors, followed suit. They have been rock-solid supports for each other. They know how to ask each other for help when they need it, and they know how to offer support in healthy ways. This served them well when Patrick and a friend of his bought a white-water rafting business, and Louisa helped him with bookings and more for several summers.
There was so much gratitude gained during this brief adventure.
Gratitude for my health, my children and their great relationships with their significant others and amazing dogs. Gratitude that I had enjoyed giving the talks I gave and that they were so well received. Gratitude for the confidence to ask for help and that I’d listened when people along the way told me that asking for help is a sign of maturity. Gratitude that I’d made new connections with people who were enthusiastic about the work being done at PACEs Connection, and how well it aligns with work being done by the thousands of employees at Head Start who are eager, too, to prevent and heal trauma.
Writing this blog was a kind of gift to myself on this March day, which is also my birthday. It is also a way of marking and celebrating these new friendships and possibilities, and affirming the fact that we’re never too old to ask for help, or to have a pop-up, girls-only slumber party.