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Who is your neighbor?

February 28, 2012

My first confession of two.

I didn’t do anything.

I passed a few children looking through toys at a local Goodwill and recognized that they were behaving pretty well for their ages. I said nothing to them. Their mother was checking out when I came up beside the cashier. She was talking and it took me a few seconds to register what she was saying. She had just used her head to point out her children and called them a really horrible name. She continued cussing as she talked about her kids and when her youngest came up to her she made note of what a little monster he was. Meds aren’t working and he’s just a little monster. I said nothing. I was shocked and honestly, I was scared of what might happen if I said something. (I have a problem being tactful. She looked and sounded scary, too.) I looked at what I assumed was this woman’s mother. She said nothing, but looked a little uncomfortable. As the women left, the mother called for her “brats” to come on. I said nothing.

I said nothing to the cashier as I checked out. I looked for the woman as I walked out into the chilly air. I saw nothing.

So, that’s what I saw and heard. Here is my inner monologue during those couple of minutes:

Did she really just call her kids that? Really? I wish she’d stop cussing. Oh, she just called her little boy a monster. It might not be the medications fault, lady. Is that her mom? She’s not doing anything. She looks beaten. Should I say something? How would I say it? I should say something so at least the kids would know that someone cared. Doesn’t that mother know if she calls her kids those names that that’s what they will become? Negative attention is still attention and if it’s the only kind you get, you do more negative to get it. Should I say something? What would she do? I don’t want to get into a fight. Wasn’t there something on the news a couple of days ago about case workers having to send children back to unfit homes? Isn’t Goodwill a safe haven location? God, help them. She just asked her little brats to come on. Could I get her license plate number and call the police? Too late. I have no idea what I should have done. Sob, sob.

A few days later and it still bothers me. I’m replaying it in my head of what I could have said. “Mam, I thought your kids were acting age-appropriate.” Let’s rewind further to the beginning of the story. I noticed the children were behaving pretty well for their ages. I could have remarked on their behavior. I could have gone through the toys with them asking them which were their favorites. When I first encountered the mother I could have told her that her children were behaving well. If I had given the compliment, what would the mother have said. Honestly, in this case I think she would have continued in her rant about her children. That wouldn’t always be the case though.

I think about myself being in line at a store with my 2.5 yr. old. I’m probably stressed just because I’m the mother of a 2.5 yr. old and you never know what’s going to happen. If my child was behaving even just a little bit, a kind word from a stranger really could change the way I feel about myself as a parent and about my child. Even if someone began talking with my child, it may change my perspective.

What if…

What if I initiated compliments or even just conversation with someone? How would I feel? How might it make them feel? Could it be as simple as telling the person I like their shoes? “Do you like that brand of chip? I haven’t tried it yet.”Could something so simple mean so much?

We live in our own little worlds. Unless you come into my world for a reason (cashier, waiter, etc.), I can generally ignore you. But should I?

Today I went walking in a new area. As I was getting to the trail, there was a woman shaking out a blanket  to sit on. I noticed she had a to-go bag from a local restaurant. “Great day for a picnic,” I said. She nodded and agreed. “I’ve never eaten there. Is it good,” I asked pointing to the bag. We talked a bit about the restaurant and she even gave me a tip to bring my cup back in for a refill. It was nice to talk to a stranger for just a couple of minutes. I continued walking and wondered if there were any markers for mileage. “Excuse me. Do you know the mileage?” The woman didn’t, but stopped to talk about how she needed to bring her pedometer with her to find out.

It’s not much, but it just seemed nicer out after having two nice encounters. After the first encounter, it made it a bit easier for the second. Did anything profound happen? No. I learned that I really should try out that restaurant even though I don’t like their name. I didn’t learn the mileage of the trail, but I bet the woman brings her pedometer with her the next time she walks.

I’m planning on going to the store tomorrow. I’m going to look for an opportunity to say something nice to a stranger, make a comment or ask a question. What about you?

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 2, 2012 2:15 am

    As an extremely stressed out mom to a 6 month old and 3 year old, I can tell you even a smile can make a HUGE difference. Everyone wants to give my husband huge praise just for taking a kid to the store, but as moms we are expected to have kids that behave perfectly, or risk the dirty looks and muttering. Even the smallest slight when you’re already feeling terrible (not getting any sleep, for example) can set someone like me into a deep dark, hole, where the nasty comments DO come out “why can’t you behave, everyone thinks I’m a horrible mother, do you want them to take you away from me” — yes I have said that, more than once. Usually when I’ve had no sleep, the kids won’t nap at the same time, and my husband hasn’t said one nice thing in several weeks. Everyone has their bad days, maybe you can make their bad days not horrible.

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