Season of Thanks
Seven Minnesotans share their stories of hardship—and how those challenges shaped them for the better
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When Minnesota clans gather around the table on Thanksgiving Day later this month, many of them will take turns listing the things they’re most grateful for. Such lists will surely include the worthy-but-expected items—family, friends, good health—not to mention the occasional note of gratitude for “big-ticket” items; a raise, a handsome house, or a new Johnson outboard motor. But what about the gifts that don’t come neatly wrapped in beautiful-but-expected packaging? We’ve found seven Minnesotans who feel sincerely thankful for unexpected, challenging, and sometimes burdensome gifts. Read on, and then go recount your blessings.
Photo by Kelly Loverud Sheltering Arms
Photo by Kelly Loverud
Kathleen Hook, Eagan
As the only nurse at a high school with more than 2,000 students, I get to know a lot of the kids, but some really stand out. For many, I’m their only health-care provider.
LaShay was a strong student who faced serious challenges at home but was quietly determined to make it. One day, she came into my office and told me she was pregnant. I was the first person she told. She was relatively sure she’d be in harm’s way if she divulged her condition to her mother; their relationship is tenuous at best. She needed help processing the information and deciding her next steps.
LaShay is an incredibly strong, stoic individual yet a tiny little thing. When she first came to me, she was as little as my 9-year-old, not even 100 pounds. Though she tried to downplay it, it was clear she was in great distress: pregnant, not feeling well, hungry. We talked about her options, how she’d have to tell her mom. She agreed to call me if she was in trouble. I would worry if she wasn’t at school and told her I was there to help.
One day, when LaShay was seven or eight months pregnant, she came into my office carrying a huge backpack. She started to cry, which she never does. I unpacked her bag to make it lighter; it was filled with books for calculus and AP physics and English lit. Here was this tiny, pregnant girl without a steady place to call home who was carrying college-level course work, showing up at school every day, and doing her homework in the nurse’s office. She was hanging on by the skin of her teeth, but she was hanging on.
I felt unwilling to witness her suffering anymore. I needed to do something. Another teacher and I talked it over and both offered to take her in, but LaShay has her pride and refused. She was living with her mother, but it was clear things were going downhill. Then, at the end of the school year, she had her baby. When I went to see her and the baby—a boy named Santana—at her mom’s place, I felt like she was doing okay. Over the summer, I only heard from her once.
When school started, it was LaShay’s senior year. She showed up for the first day or two but then disappeared. I tracked her down, and it was apparent things were really bad. I reminded LaShay of my offer. A few weeks later, she called me in the middle of the night and said, “You need to come get us.”
LaShay and Santana moved in with my family in September 2009. We eventually found child care for Santana. LaShay finished her senior year and received an awesome scholarship to my alma mater, St. Catherine University. They’re on the waiting list for family housing. I’m fist-pumping happy about this turn of events, so thankful for all the assistance she’s received.
Having LaShay and Santana in our lives has been one of those unexpected blessings you wouldn’t have imagined, but once it’s happened, you couldn’t imagine life without it. This was a situation so desperate it forced me to reexamine my beliefs and put them into practice. I’m thankful I’ve had that opportunity.
And there’s one other thing I’m thankful for: I don’t know anybody who’s had a baby brought into their life who isn’t grateful for that experience. Santana has brought so much joy and exponentially more love.