During the middle of the mortgage meltdown I was also doing some melting of my own; quickly and completely like butter over a high flame. With my finances still in shambles after my husband’s death and the real estate landscape a wreck, I was in dire need of some extra income. Not so I could buy a new pair of jeans or go to happy hour, but so I could buy food. It was scary and humbling all at once.

I asked a friend with a baby to post an ad for me on a mom’s blog, hoping to pick up some quick babysitting gigs. While I worked on my long term plan I knew some short term cash would help my immediate issues. I also knew that after stressful days of worrying about my budget, spending a couple of hours building castles out of blocks would be a welcome activity.

I was contacted by Anna, a woman in my neighborhood, who had two little girls that needed looking after on Tuesday nights for a couple of hours. She and her husband used the night to have some time to themselves. I was beyond grateful for the opportunity to earn some extra money.

Anna was in the kitchen cooking when I walked in the house that first Tuesday. She invited me to go up and play with the girls in their room while she did some things downstairs. That initial meeting of reading the same picture book to Flo 17 times as she constantly asked me “Why?” and twirling around and around with Emilia in the living room was over seven years ago.

Seven years of school pictures and plays. Seven years of holidays and birthday parties. Seven years of reading Fancy Nancy before bed, negotiating over snacks before bedtime, and dropping Flo off at school on Wednesday mornings.

I didn’t know that grocery money was the least important outcome of the day Anna answered my babysitting ad.

I didn’t know they would become my extended family.

I didn’t know when I was suffering from a broken heart during the Christmas season they would invite me to sing carols and look at twinkly lights.

I didn’t know Friday nights watching Cinderella nestled between two little bodies warm and ready for bed, while shoving popcorn in our faces, would be the highlight of my week.

I didn’t know they would come and visit me when I moved to another city, making me feel at home.

I didn’t know I would happily run up their front steps, scoop them in my arms, press my face into their necks and inhale their smell. I didn’t know.

And I certainly didn’t know I would have just as big as impact on them.

A few days ago Anna sent me an email, “I thought you might like to see the essay Emilia wrote about you.” Before I had even clicked on the attachment my eyes were filling with tears.

Emilia, soon to be 12, chose me as someone who has impacted her life, as the topic for her school essay.

The tears spilled down my cheeks as the essay began, “The person that has had an impact on my life is Robyn, a family friend. She has had an impact on my life because she is so different than a lot of other people I know.” I smiled not knowing where this was heading. This was the same little girl that told me I couldn’t send out Christmas cards because I lived alone.

She called me brave to deal with my husbands death. She said I find new ways to look at the world and it helps her do that too.

I held my hand over my mouth as the tears slid off the tip of my nose onto my laptop. I pictured her sitting at her tidy desk, gripping her pencil tightly laboriously working to write each letter perfectly.

Then she said something that made my heart soar.

She makes me feel special by listening to me and she makes me feel that what I have to say is so important. It’s helped me realize how I want people to feel when they talk to me.

I sat at the table half way across the world, afternoon light waning, dumbstruck. I was so damned pleased with this little person for processing the message and channeling it into a behavior. Her behavior. Toward herself and others.

Yes, darling Emilia. This is exactly right. All of it.

Take this in, drink it up and hold it close. Put it in your pocket and carry it around like a favorite rock. From time to time, rub it with your fingers for a reminder. Tell your sister in case she doesn’t know yet. Then tell your friends at school.

Listen closely to them, Emilia. Help them understand how important they are as well.

But Emilia, listen to yourself especially. Because what you have to say is the most important part of all. I promise.