Last Wednesday morning I was focussed on Plan A: Walk five minutes down the road to our local supermarket to pick up ingredients for dinner and top up on some essentials (read: I have been living deodorant-free for about two weeks), but when, on exiting our house, balmy 60 degree weather and a vivid blue sky greeted us Plan A was scrunched up, set on fire and thrown to the ground, where I promptly did a dance on its ashes.
I rung The Native.
“Hey, I know it’s only 11:45am, but HAVE YOU BEEN OUTSIDE? AH-MAZ-ING. Wanna meet us in the park for lunch?”
He told me to meet him on the High Street in fifteen minutes – fifteen minutes mostly because in most offices lunch breaks don’t tend to happen before twelve, but whoever decided that had not seen this day.
Plan B was a go.
What was not in Plan B was to be waiting in that spot on the High Street 25 minutes later with no sign of The Native. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and assumed something urgent had come up and waited. As we waited, I noticed another mother. She was with an apopletic three year old who, being firmly rooted to a block of pavement outside of KFC, was banging on Colonel Sander’s face. I raised my eyebrows and checked my phone waiting for some indication that The Native was on his way.
I give him a call.
“Where are you?”
He says he told me to call him when I got there. FALLACY. These are the moments when I wish I recorded every moment of our lives. ::Rewinds tape:: SEE, Everyone – Vindicated!
At this point, Plan B was still a go, it was just a little crumpled. I looked up again to see the mother trying to move her daughter away from The Colonel. She had taken her in her arms and the little girl was smacking her mum in the face. She was kicking her. At one point, I think she even spit on her.
I started to watch the other passers-by. They did the same as I did only minutes ago. Raised eyebrows, they’d glance over with disapproving looks at the irate 2 1/2 foot tall person and the mother who couldn’t control her.
The thing is, I’d stopped raising my eyebrows because I wasn’t just someone passing by any more. I had been watching this mum struggle for 15 minutes. She looked exasperated. She looked dispirited. She looked tired. She looked like she wanted the earth to open in front of the KFC to swallow her up because dropping into a freak chasm in the middle of Town and spiralling to your death might just be easier than dealing with this little girl right now.
I tried not to stare, but I felt a huge wave of compassion wash over me for this mother who was trying her best. I could see it. I could see it as she tried to move this little girl from the stubborn, angry place where the little girl was so resolute about staying.
The thing is, I am a huge feeler. Way too much of a feeler. I mean, today I teared up while watching Glee during some eternal friendship high school ballad meant to support 16 and Pregnant, Quinn, after Sue Sylvester told someone to leak her secret pregnancy to the whole school. How dare she?!
Perhaps an irrational feeler.
I wondered if I should try to help. I tried to watch closely without gawking.
Kneeling down, she firmly stated:
“You have behaved terribly. We are going home. You are not going to the cafe. You will have a time-out.”
The girl screamed louder and began to hit her again.
I then heard the mother with desperation in her voice say:
“What do you think this is doing to the baby in Mummy’s belly?”
The girl, unaffected by this sibling she had little to no emotional tie to, continued to scream.
My Feeler radar went off the charts and I walked over and touched the Mother’s arm gently, not knowing how she was going to respond – not really knowing what I was going to say.
“Are you okay?”
“No, not really,” she replied quietly.
She didn’t raise her eyes to meet mine.
I didn’t know what I was doing. I wasn’t really thinking about crossing any cultural or personal lines because I just felt for this woman who was trying so hard. I knelt down and looked into the round face of the little blonde girl. She had snot running from each nostril, but had stopped crying because this strange woman had approached her Mummy about her behaviour. She couldn’t contextualize what people are meant to do in this situation. I couldn’t either.
“Take a deep breath. Just try to calm down, okay? You’re upset, aren’t you? And it seems you are having a hard day, but try to calm down and not take it out on your Mummy. We are always hardest on our Mummies, aren’t we?”
I talked to her for a few minutes as she looked at me cautiously through dropped eyelids with her gaze just barely lifted from the ground. As her anger was slowly replaced by confusion her Mother said gently again:
“Now we are going to the car. We are going home now.”
The girl started to whimper and then cry. It was then I heard The Native chuckle nervously behind me. He didn’t know how to contextualize this either. This wasn’t in Plan B.
I turned to go and quickly muttered something to her about trying to relax once she got home.
In the half an hour we had together at the park I asked The Native at least five times if I did the right thing and nearly a week later and I’m still wondering if I did. I’m sure there are some things I said in the course of that unexpected interaction that weren’t entirely helpful. I didn’t want acknowledging her daughter’s behaviour to humiliate her even more. I didn’t want to undermine her as she tried to discipline her daughter. But because I had minutes to watch her, instead of judging her in the seconds it takes to walk by her, I saw a woman who needed a break, who needed to breathe, who just looked so desperate and I felt for her and, rightly or wrongly, that led me to do something.
What would you have done?