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The Kindness of Strangers

Madeleine’s found something she hates more than peas: mittens.  With the weather being colder recently and her penchant for pushing the stroller blanket down so she can feel the “wind in her face”, mittens have become a must.  Apparently, though, they cramp her style too much; she screams bloody murder every time I put them on, so I try to avoid doing that in public.  Once they’re on at home, they stay on for the duration of the walk.
Recently, though, we were stuck at the post office and she was becoming frantic in a search for her thumb -“Where did it go?  It used to be right here!  My thumb is missing!  ARRGHH!” – so I took the mittens off.  Fifteen minutes later, errand completed, we began our friendly wrestling match and the screaming took off.  Behind me, a woman getting mail from her p.o. box suddenly started waving her arms and jumping around, shouting, “Look at me!  Look at me!”  Maddie, startled, stopped crying, I swooped in with the last mitten, and we were off.

Did the strange woman suddenly have a nervous breakdown?  No – just an urge to help a harried mom, and I deeply appreciated it.  Being a mom has brought me many such favors that I can never repay over the past several months, and I all too often take them for granted.  Every time I’m out with Madeleine, the door gets held for us at least 80% of the time, so much so that if someone walks in ahead of me and doesn’t hold the door, I grumble and cast him dirty looks, as if it’s an entitlement rather than a gesture of grace.  People in supermarkets help me bag fruit in the produce section or squeeze the stroller through a narrow display area.  Women on the street kindly rush to gather my belongings when they spill out of a half-open, half-on-my-shoulder diaper bag.
I’m used to being a pretty independent gal; in my twenties, I went through the requisite “I don’t need a man to hold my door open for me” phase, though in my case, being from the south and enjoying the delicate attention of men, that phase lasted about 5 minutes.  On the subway I’d politely refuse help with a large bag; coming home with groceries I’d rather leave a peach in the dust than admit I couldn’t juggle all my bags and pick it up myself.  This stubborn independence is a trait I’ve often considered endearing and quirky, but my husband would call exasperating and prideful. 
With a baby, though, you find your pride – what you will and won’t accept help with – drops to the gutter.  A friend of mine with two teenage daughters never took a dime from her parents after she moved out of their house, even when it meant eating ramen noodles every night for a month.  After her daughters were born, though, and her parents would call asking, “Can we take the girls shopping for school clothes?”  Her answer was simply, “Yes.  Thank you.”  Your stiff-necked pride takes a backseat to the safety and welfare of your child, and while the taste of humble pie may be hard to swallow, you eat it gratefully when it helps your child.
Coming back from a vacation a few months ago, my husband and I were forcefully separated at the security check-in by an attendant either deliberately cruel or doggedly devoted to the FAA regulation that says, “Send passengers to alternating security checkpoint lines.”  Brian took all of the luggage, but I was left with my purse, the diaper bag, and Maddie in the stroller.  Somehow I managed to remove my coat and shoes and send them and the bags through, then take Maddie out of the car seat, send it through, collapse the stroller one-handed, hoist it onto the x-ray machine, and get it off on my own.  image004.jpgOn the other side, though, it was an impossible situation.  I couldn’t put my coat and shoes on until I put Maddie down, and I couldn’t put her down until I reassembled the stroller and car seat, and I couldn’t reassemble the stroller and car seat until I put Maddie down . . . Finally, in desperation, I laid Madeleine on top of my coat in an x-ray bin (the sight of which prompted a passenger walking by me to hiss, scandalized, “You’re not supposed to put your baby through the x-ray!  That’s dangerous!”  Thanks for the tip . . .) and tried to keep her from rolling out while gathering all my gear (note picture!  I was certain no one would believe me).  I was two seconds away from leaving everything, snatching up Maddie and walking barefoot onto the plane when a woman came up to me.
“Excuse me,” she said kindly.  “I know you won’t leave your daughter with a stranger, but perhaps you can hold onto her while I gather your things and put your stroller together for you?”  I gratefully accepted; in fact, it never occurred to me to throw out an “I can do this just fine by myself, thank you!”  Never once did I see her offer to me as a comment on my mothering skills, my organizational weaknesses, or my general lack of character.  In no time at all, I was put back together and ready to move on.
I’m learning that it does truly take a village – finically, emotionally, physically – to raise my child.  Extra babysitters, extra clothing, extra help from a stranger at a doorway.  I’m dependent on these people, and if it’s better for my child, I’m fine with that. 
So to everyone who has helped carry a stroller down a flight of stairs, hefted a strange mommy’s bag on an airplane, entertained a drooping baby in a bank line, or even held a door open for the buggy behind you, on behalf of every mom, I thank you.


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