After you become a parent, there are some people you meet who you'll never forget. You may not have caught their name at the time; you probably couldn't even pick them out of a lineup. But they did something for you that you'll remember forever.
This mom's got it down. Hey, why not tell her?
Years ago, I was checking out at Target; my two children were bickering, I was hugely pregnant, and I was trying to keep everyone (including me) calm. I knew a woman was behind me in line, but only in that vague this-poor-innocent-who's-subjected-to-our-circus-routine sense. I waddled out of the store, kids whining, as quickly as I could. When we got to the parking lot, the woman who'd been behind us at checkout approached me and said, "I just want you to know that you're doing a really good job."
Someone else might've found such an unsolicited opinion, as positive as it was, patronizing. But given that I was having the sort of trying day when I felt like I was most definitely not doing a good job, I could have hugged that kind stranger for giving me a lift when I needed it.
I asked friends if they'd also experienced stranger kindness in tough parenting moments. I loved their stories:
"Once when my son was a baby I put him in his infant carrier and went for a long walk. It started to rain. Out of nowhere a young man appeared and gave me his umbrella. He insisted I take it, and I was so grateful. I had that umbrella for years—it always reminded me of his kindness."
"I was upgraded to first class with my 7-month-old. As soon as the flight attendant set down a full can of soda, my daughter kicked it and sent it flying. The can landed just perfectly to spray most of the first-class cabin—except me—and doused one man in particular. Everyone, incredibly, laughed it off, assuring me that they had kids, too. I couldn't even buy them a drink, because drinks were free!"
"Where I live in New York City, there are lots of subway stairs: Imagine carrying a stroller up a long flight of stairs with a 20-pound child in tow. Over the years many strangers have helped me up or down the steep subway stairs all over New York. Now whenever I see someone struggling with a stroller, I try to help."
"On a boat trip in Bermuda my son, then 2, was climbing on and off a wooden bench, when an older woman next to us asked how old he was. I told her and said, 'Sorry, he can't sit still.' She said, 'He's adorable and a perfectly normal 2-year-old! If your 2-year-old wasn't doing that you should be worried.' I was so grateful I started tearing up."
"I went to pick up my daughter's new school books and had both kids, ages 7 and 2, with me, and my 2-year-old was being cranky. When 11 books were put on the counter in front of me, a woman in line handed me her canvas bag and said, 'Here, use this.' I said, 'But how will you bring your books out?' She said, 'I don't need to, so it's perfect.' She made that moment in my day a whole lot easier."
"One time in Starbucks my son gagged on a bit of muffin, and threw up everywhere. The lady at the next table immediately leaped up, said 'Poor thing!' and got napkins to help me clean up. I've never forgotten her."
I remembered my angel at Target this weekend when my older daughter, now 9, and I were celebrating her birthday with a just-us-big-girls lunch at a sidewalk cafe. Beside us was a couple with their sweet baby, who had managed to sit nicely quite awhile in a wood high chair, and was then passed back and forth between her parents while they finished eating. At the end, she'd had her fill and started protesting more loudly, and the couple quickly gathered their check and paid.
As they packed up, the dad turned to me and said, "We're sorry!"
"Ohmigosh, don't be! She's adorable!" I said, genuinely, adding I was impressed by how long she lasted. (If she'd needed to bail earlier, it wouldn't have mattered, of course. She's a baby!) I think her parents puffed with a little more pride as they walked away.
Now that I'm not the newbie parent on the block anymore and can offer up something kind to say to a parent having a tough moment in my midst, I should probably do that more freely. I don't know why I haven't—maybe it's the reluctance to seem like a busybody—but I know how good it made me feel when a stranger said something nice to me about my parenting. I still appreciate any positive reinforcement I can get these days. Isn't it always nice to be reminded, I'm not doing this parenting thing so badly or, yeah, my kid does kind of rock!
How about you? Has a stranger ever done anything to make your day as a parent a little better or brighter?