A few weeks ago, I took V to the library while M and C were at their piano lessons. While V pinged between the puppet theater and the play kitchen in the children’s area, I sat on one of the couches, watching her alternately stage a play and make sandwiches.
A woman came in with her two girls, gently reminding them that they only had a few minutes to pick out books. Her girls were younger than V, probably close to 3 and 18 months. I’m not the best judge of a child’s age, despite having three kids of my own, but I figured the smaller of the two girls was either not quite a year or had just crossed the threshold given her diapered bottom and her bow-legged unsteady toddler walk.
While the sister threaded her way through the stacks, looking at books, the mom sat down across from me so she could keep an eye on the toddler who was playing in the kitchen with V. Given our arrangement in the space, each of us made a point on a triangle. I flipped through a magazine while I kept one eye on V, watching her stack plates, move pots and pans on the burner and open and close the Little Tykes Stove. She and the little girl shared nicely for at time before the little girl wandered away from the kitchen. I noticed only because the cacophony of voices died down to just V’s little voice. The mother was sitting on the floor, scrolling through her phone (no indictment because that’s what I planned to do once I finished my magazine), occasionally calling out to the other child, “One more minute. We’re not staying long!”
I looked up at V, who was still playing with the kitchen — incredible seeing as we have a kitchen at home in our playroom that goes untouched — and noticed that the other little girl, the toddler, had moved from in front of the kitchen to just off to the side and behind it. The couch on which I was sitting, the puppet theater and the play kitchen all back up to a wall of windows. In front of the windows is a short lip of a ledge and attached to the ledge are anchors to secure the beaded cords of the blinds that cover the windows in the evening. One of the cords had come unhooked from its anchor and was chittering melodically as the vents inside the ledge blew hot air across the room, knocking the cord into the wall.
I watched the little girl pluck the cord in her fingers and in my head, I thought, “That needs to be secured before she puts it over her head.”
And sure enough, as if she had plucked the thought from my head and planted it into her own, she stretched the cord, put it over her head like a necklace and began to walk, unsteadily, towards her mother.
In the space of a few seconds, a couple of things happened:
The mother looked up and saw what was happening, but remained seated on the floor with the phone in her hand, seeing, but not really seeing.
The little girl, who by this time had the cord wedged in the fold of baby fat between her neck and chin, continued to walk towards her mother, the beaded cord nearing its maximum tension.
I looked between the child and the mother thinking, “Oh shit! She’s going to hang choke! Get up! Get up! Get up!”
I jumped up and moved quickly to the little girl, not running or shouting so as not to scare her, and kind of rocked her backwards onto her heels with one hand as I removed the cord from around her neck with the other, the whole while, apologizing to the mother for helping.
All of this happened, if I had to guess, in about 4 seconds.
The mom took her daughter by the hand and where I would have been all more Mommie Dearest (kidding), she was more Mary Poppins with her
chastizing behavior modification of the child. That was it. I wasn’t expecting a medal, or a ribbon, or a trophy. She focused her attention on her child, rightly so, and went about her business.
What I wonder is whether or not I did the right thing. Why did I apologize for helping?
I didn’t know that woman or her child and yet, I was up like my pants were on fire trying to help this little girl while her own mother was just as close by.
When I put myself in her position, when I put M, C, or V back in their toddler days with a trip to the library, what would have my reaction been if someone else had gotten to my child before me?
A few days later, I was shopping at Target (whoo-hoo!) and coming down one of the main aisle that has bedding on one side and bathroom goods on the other. As I neared the end of the aisle, about to hang a left towards Health and Beauty, I saw an unattended stroller, just sitting in the aisle. I slowed down and peeked in — yep, there was a baby in the infant seat, wide awake and pretty content. I looked to the right and to the left, no one in the aisles. No one in the aisle in front of me. Another woman came towards me, pushing her cart, and I asked her if it was her stroller.
Look, I’m no Nancy Drew, but if I’m being honest, I knew full well that it wasn’t her stroller, not just because the baby was a different race than she was, but because the woman was coming from the opposite direction the stroller was facing. Maybe I flashed back to the plot of “What Was Mine“, a recent novel that I read where a woman plucks an unattended baby out of a cart at an Ikea and walks out of the store with it.
Whatever the case, I felt if I let another shopper know, then it wasn’t just my problem; I’d have help. We looked up and down a handful of aisles for a minute or two (which felt like longer), before we saw any other shoppers, let alone any that might be traveling with a baby. Turns out, the woman we found was in fact the mother; she left the stroller because she “didn’t want to wheel it down the aisle while she looked at storage baskets” – her words, not mine. She wasn’t rude, she was just real ambivalent. I may have responded with an “Oh, okay” or maybe even a sorry. What’s up with the apologizing for helping?
If the roles were reversed and I left my stroller unattended and someone came to flag me down about it, I’d probably be a little sheepish. I’m sure in the earlier rounds of parenting, I probably did that. Now that my warriors three can read, they read the instructions on the cart, on the baby changing table, on the counter top sign at the post office, loud and proud “Don’t leave your child unattended!” We always come home in a group.
For whatever reason, I think back on these situations and wonder if I did the right thing. I wonder why I apologized after each instance, as if I did something wrong. Maybe I’m just a big cynic and assume that any time someone does something nice for someone else, there must be an ulterior motive involved. Maybe in this time of constant digital connectedness via mobile devices, laptops and the like, we’re actually less connected than ever before and when presented with face-to-face interactions, we don’t know how to behave.
Maybe I’m just sensitive.
Whatever the case may be, if I look like I need help, hop to and help a sista out. Apologies not required.