February 29, 2012 by themommahen
I’m a sucker for those “pay it forward” commercials where people do nice things for unsuspecting strangers. You know the ones where the woman grabs a guy’s elbow as a bus approaches and then that guy picks up groceries for an old woman and it goes on in a nice little circle? Totally plays into my sentimentality, which of course has grown a bazillion-fold since having the Hatchlings.
When I’m on the receiving end of a random act of kindness, it’s like finding a four-leaf clover, seeing a double rainbow or winning a scratch-off lottery ticket. Moments that are so rare, so pure, the world stops spinning for a nanosecond, a spotlight shines down on the scene and everything starts moving in slow motion. Like a couple weeks ago, when a new friend reached out to me to arrange a playdate for her son and H#2 because she read something I posted on Facebook about him not wanting to go to a larger playgroup gathering. That day, my Facebook status was this:
Never underestimate the power of a kind word or gesture.
And then last week, I was in the checkout line at Harris-Teeter, after ordering H#2’s birthday cake and grabbing a few essentials. It was well into nap time and H#2 and #3 were more than beyond needing a nap after a fun morning with the aforementioned playgroup at a tumbling gym. The boys were hanging in pretty well though, and we were almost done. While the cashier rang our stuff up, I helped H#2 pick out his balloon (and one for his big sister still in school) from the free balloon corral. (H#3 doesn’t get a balloon of his own, as he’ll only pop it and try to eat it.) I signed the credit card slip and handed it to the cashier who looked at H#3 and said, “Is he okay? He’s crying.”
I looked at him, big grin ear to ear making eyes at her, and was briefly confused until I saw H#2, right behind H#3, tears spurting from his eyes. There are two truths about kids and cries:
1) the severity of an injury is directly proportionate to the number of seconds that pass between the injury and the cry. The longer the gap, the worse the injury.
2) the silent, square-mouth cry (thanks to my friend MPG for that term) means heartbreak has happened. Point of fact, children can, up until the age of five, contort their mouths into a perfect square and squirt projectile tears from their eyes.
The square-mouthed cry in action as exhibited by H#2 at approximately nine months.
I grabbed my receipt, swooped H#2 up into my arms and pushed my cart out of the way to find out that after several warnings from me, he had accidentally let go of his balloon. His favorite color. And it was the only one.
As he sobbed gut-wrenchingly on my shoulder, wailing about how he didn’t mean to let it go and now he can never ever have another balloon, I kissed him, hugged him and told him while he couldn’t have that color, he could choose another and that he wasn’t the only one that had ever lost a balloon. As I stood there, trying to quiet his ear-piercing wails, selling him on another balloon color, worrying about getting them out to the car and napping and picking up H#1 from school on time, the man who had been in line behind me was grabbing his bags and heading out. Graying, probably late 50s, he caught my eye, smiled and stepped towards me, stopping for a second to say, “Great parenting, really great parenting.”
In the midst of the sobs, and my keys digging into my arm, and H#3 pulling items one by one out of the grocery bag, I was almost confused by this stranger’s comment, but thankfully I was able to smile gratefully, and I thanked him for saying so.
And then he was gone. My now calmer H#2 picked out another balloon, I pulled the kale out of H#3’s grubby little hands, and we left. I walked more confidently and felt like I had a ray of sunshine following me as I walked. It wasn’t until I got in the car that I realized the power of that man’s words.
I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary and I certainly didn’t write this post to give myself any pats on the back. I have no idea which of my actions spurred this stranger to comment so kindly. Maybe he heard me warning H#2 to hold on tight to the balloon and expected me to berate him rather than console him. Maybe he was glad I moved out of his way to deal with the situation rather than block his way. Maybe his expectations for parents and parenting is very very low. Whatever his reason, his words came at a time when I really needed it, and they have stayed with me ever since.
So, Dear Mr. Harris-Teeter shopper, thank you so much for your random act of kindness last Friday. I promise I’ll pass it on.