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The Invisible Network

Before I became pregnant, I never really used to notice babies and
children in the world around me. Sure, I’d hear the occasional toddler
meltdown at the grocery store – accompanied by a line of fastidious
faux-compassionate smiles from annoyed non-parents – and I’d notice a
cute baby cooing happily on the subway. But there didn’t seem to be
that many of them.

Once pregnant, though, it’s as if there was some veil lifted from my
eyes – babies everywhere! Burstingly pregnant women walking up the
stairs, tired and cranky infants being pushed in their strollers,
aromatic toddlers with an obviously full diaper; they all seemed to jump
out of the woodwork at me. I guess I had just never really noticed them

In the same way, before I had Maddie I’d see an
unaccompanied adult and assume they were childless. I mean permanently
childless, not simply missing one of their kids. I don’t know; I guess
I assumed circumstances on people because they were my circumstances.
Make sense?

Now that I’m a parent, though, I’m realizing that a
very large percentage of the adult world is made up of people with
children. I know, sounds pretty self-evident, but it was rather
revelatory to me. And nowhere was it so evident – or so appreciated –
as when we were on vacation. 

It’s no secret that one of the things I dreaded most about our vacation
was the whole travel aspect. I absolutely knew that Maddie would melt
down in public, and was not looking forward to it at all. I think I was
assuming all those smirking, impatient non-parents I mentioned earlier’d
surround me, and I’d want to crawl into a hole and die.

the truth is, fellow parents are all around us, an invisible network of
people who know exactly where you’re coming from, and more important,
are willing to help out when needed. As you yourself know, a parent is
always “on”, whether it’s her own kid in question or a stranger’s.

we arrived at our second vacation spot, a van picked us up at the
airport to shuttle us to the luxury hotel. The only passengers in the
car, my husband and I began chatting with the driver. I’d called the
hotel ahead of time to make sure there was a grocery store nearby where
we could get Maddie soy milk; six days was too long to go without, and
we planned to stock up our mini-fridge. The hotel had assured us there
was indeed a grocery store within a five-minute walk.

I asked the
driver if he could point out the store in question; puzzled, he replied
there was no such store. Turns out the hotel was wrong, and the nearest
grocery store was 5 miles (not minutes) away. He asked why we needed
one, I told him, and the next thing I know he’s making a u-turn.

going to stop and get your girl some milk right now,” he said.

you guess? Yep, he’s a dad himself, with a little boy who has
allergies. Ten o’clock at night, and he made three detours trying to
find a grocery store still open for us. They were all closed, but we
were still incredibly grateful he’d made such an effort.

next day we had to hire a car to drive us to the grocery store. I began
chatting with the woman driving and filled her in on what the trip was
for. “If you run out, please just call the car service and ask for me!
I’ll simply pick some soy milk up on my way to the hotel and save you
the trip,” she said. Yep, a mommy, with a very picky three-year-old.

our trip we encountered dozens of fellow parents willing to lend a hand
for a couple strangers and their child. An understanding mom seated
next to us on the plane, a young dad bringing Maddie fresh orange slices
before she melted down from waiting too long at dinner, a kind bellhop
with twins willing to watch our bags while Maddie ran around the lobby,
a mom from Minnesota encouraging Maddie to play with her daughter’s
water toys; kindness after kindness was heaped on our heads by people
who know what it’s like to be in our travel-worn shoes. We’ll never see
them again, but know we’ll pay it forward as best we can.

think my favorite encounter with a fellow traveler came on one of
Maddie’s last days in the pool. While Brian sat in meetings, Madeleine
and I frolicked in and out of the water. After a brief snack break, we
returned to the shallow end to find a man lying at the entry point,
completely submerged but for his nose and mouth; even his be-goggled
eyes were closed and under water. With dark hair, a beard, and a
swimsuit similar to Brian’s he looked enough like her dad to confuse
Maddie and she kept straying towards him, trying to figure it out. At
one point I turned my back to pick up a water toy and when I turned back
around, I saw my daughter had sidled right up next to the man and was
standing on one leg.

Where was her other leg? you ask.

answer is, inches from his belly; she was poised to firmly plant her
foot on his midsection and jump on him – just as she’d do to her daddy.

silently began scrambling frantically towards her; I didn’t want to call
out and startle him into sitting up, hurting himself, possibly her, and
frankly, embarrassing me by what he’d see.

Before I could
reach her, the disembodied lips said, “It’s ok. My daughter likes to
stand on my belly, too.”

That’s taking one for the team. 


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