05 March 2008

The Kindness of Strangers

A building fell down yesterday, causing the suspension of all train service in and out of Grand Central. So instead of getting to the station with no time to spare before my train, I found myself in the women’s room – a surprisingly clean and tidy public loo, in case you’re in the area. While ensconced, I heard a commotion outside – a woman cajoling, a child shrieking. I emerged to find a harried looking mother trying to get her child off the floor, and the bathroom attendant clucking nearby. Eventually, the attendant shooed the woman into the nearest stall and stood watching the child, trying to get him to stand up. As she closed the door, the mother said helplessly “he’s autistic”. The attendant bent down and asked the boy to show her the little truck he was clutching. And with that, the child calmed down, and pushed the truck along, but remained lying on the floor. Imagine that mother, snatching three minutes of time alone, a kindly stranger watching her child. It haunts me still.

And I wonder, does having a child of my own make me more attuned to that small drama, more sympathetic to that mama and son? For, though my child doesn’t have autism, she’s certainly pitched tantrums in public and lain on skanky restroom floors. And I could feel that mother’s desperation: “Get off the floor, I need to pee!”

To be dependent on the kindness of strangers – it’s both a blessing and a curse.

26 comments:

Barb McMahon said...

Amen, sister.

Awesome Mom said...

I like to think of it more as a blessing.

I had a bathroom incident too. Evan was just getting over a tummy bug that he had shared with mommy and daddy. I was at Target telling myself that I was not going to get sick that I was stronger than that. Only I was not and ended up puking my guts out in the bathroom holding a scared and crying baby. A nice lady offered to take Evan while I finished heaving my guts out. It was nice that she offered instead of leaving the restroom with out helping.

Don Mills Diva said...

Very thought-provoking post. Ilike to think I have become a little more empathetci since becoming a mother. I get it now that life with children can be so very difficult at times...

niobe said...

A building fell down yesterday.

An opening line for the ages. Right up there with: Mother died yesterday

Kimberly said...

Yes, more attuned for sure. And blessed.

I too have these thoughts as I take a step back and allow myself to be a spectator of life.

thrice said...

Yes, I'm more intuned and on a lighter note I cry at everything.

susan said...

You know, I love that this post opens "A building fell down yesterday..." but it's not actually about the building.

Sober Briquette said...

I think most of us expect to have to go it alone, so when we get a little outside help, it really is a blessing.

Yeah, my friend mentioned her husband was stuck on the train because of that building...

Rima said...

I know that, having children of my own, I would look upon that mother with a much, much more sympathetic eye and be more inclined to lend a hand myself. Not sure if I would have pre-kids.

flutter said...

I am so totally with niobe.

nutmeg said...

This is something I learned as a parent of too many kids under five at once. It's a blessing to help, but it's also a blessing to let others help. Think about how good that bathroom attendant felt that day.

Mayberry said...

I am impressed that the attendant was kind enough to help, honestly. Another of many examples of New Yorkers defying the "rude" stereotype.

MotherPie said...

I don't find "attendants" in restrooms -- hardly ever. What a nice thing to have...when you have a child in tow.

We all need the help of others...

painted maypole said...

i think i was pretty sympathetic before, but even more so now. and it is humbling, this kindness of strangers. I bet that mother will be telling that story for years (just like I still tell the story of the kind lady on the airplane who called MQ "Beautiful" as she passed me in the aisle, where I was standing bouncing a 6 month old trying to get her to stop crying.)

Overwhelmed! said...

I would think that to be dependent on the kindess of strangers should be considered more of a blessing than a curse. I think we all have needed a helping hand with our children from time to time. What a blessing when a perfect stranger is willing to offer help!

Hey, I wanted to let you know that I've got some free books up for grabs as part of my March Pay It Forward Book Exchange. Stop by if you're interested in a chance to win. :)

jen said...

it reminds me of our vulnerability, both in good and bad ways.

Julia said...

Hopefully more a blessing. Especially when it's given with grace and kindness.

Julie Pippert said...

Yes, being a mother does.

I think, when you find the kindness of strangers, it's a blessing, even if you are dependent upon it.

It's a curse when you don't.

KWIM?

calamitykim said...

I am amazed everyday by the kindness of strangers who comment on my blog and send me presents and write me loving words that mend and heal my heart. I always wanted sisters and now I have so many. It is a blessing.

Molly said...

I think motherhood definitely makes you more empathetic. And also congnizent of your blessings. We have a close friend with an autistic child and whenever I feel like I had a rough day with my kids, I think of what she does day in and day out and it reminds me how lucky I really am.

Becky said...

My Ben is also autistic, and we've gotten mixed kindness and unkindness from strangers. Sometimes people look at me while he's throwing a fit and glare like I'm the worst parent in the world, and other people just smile knowingly.

It's hard.

Janet said...

I definitely view public parent-child interactions through a different filter now. Seeing a mother at wits' end with her children in public would have once nudged me towards harsh judgement. Now I'm sympathetic because I have been there and, likely, will go there again.

wheelsonthebus said...

I have had very similar experiences frequently in bathrooms. Something about bathrooms makes other mothers say "Do you need me to hold the baby so you can go?"

Even English women.

Anjali said...

I have been the recipient of far more kindness from strangers, than not. To me, they are a blessing.

MadMad said...

What a great story - great writing! It really does take a village, I always say. Apparently even just to pee, sometimes!

Oh, The Joys said...

It's a curse and a blessing, isn't it?!