You don't know me.
I don't know you.
But, we happened to be at my favorite Indian restaurant at the same time a few weeks ago. It was lunch time, a busy time of day. You were dining with your dog, and I was with my 2-year-old son. My son and I had been out running some errands, and, knowing that he was hungry and loved the saag (creamy spinach) on their buffet, I figured we would have a nice mother/son lunch date as we've done at this restaurant many times before.
But, apparently, my son was also tired. Too tired to behave and sit quietly to eat his beloved saag. Instead, he screamed and cried. In lieu of drinking from his cup, he went fishing in it for ice cubes. He kicked off his shoe. You watched as he refused to eat from his own plate, pushed it away, and threw its contents on the floor. You saw him bang his hands on the table, getting food all over his shirt, and then crawl into my lap as I struggled to grab a few bites here and there, only to get his food all over my shirt too.
As you got up to leave, I got up to soothe my tired, frustrated baby boy. I held him as he rested his head on my shoulder. I patted his back. Told him I was sorry, that I knew now that he was exhausted, and that we'd be going home soon. Your eyes met mine as I stood there. You walked toward the door, looked at me.......and smiled. Then, you put your hand over your heart, tilted your head, and waved goodbye to me.
And I almost bawled right there in that tiny, bustling restaurant.
You see, I was sure that every person in that place hated me that day. I was sure that they thought I was a bad mother, and my son was a spoiled, bratty child. I was worried that the family that owned the restaurant, who knew me as a frequent visitor, was secretly wishing I had never come in that day for fear that I was disturbing their other guests. I was so embarrassed, that I wasn't sure I'd set foot in my favorite restaurant ever again.....but then, you smiled at me....sincerely. You made me feel like it was okay.....like someone understood. I don't know if you have children, or have ever found yourself in that situation. Maybe you just felt sorry for us. But whatever the case, your seemingly casual gestures that day meant the world to me. In all likelihood, you probably walked out of the restaurant with your dog that day and never gave our quick interaction a second thought.
But I did. I thought about it a lot.
I don't know your name, and I'm ashamed to say that if I saw you again, I don't know that I'd remember your face. But what I will remember, is your warmth.
Thank you for reminding me that day that this episode was just a few, short minutes of my life. That it would pass. That it was neither the first nor the last time that this scenario would play out in my life and in the lives of countless other parents. That the fact that this happened was not a black mark in the "terrible mommy" column. That these few minutes bore no weight in determining my worth and quality as a mother. That just because my mind jumped to the paranoid conclusion that everyone around me was giving me the evil eye and passing judgment on me – that wasn't the reality. That even though the lunch date I had hoped to have that day played out differently than I had expected, the situation was only temporary, and I would live to fight another day in this arena called motherhood.
Even now, when I look back on that day, even though I was embarrassed, and even though I was frustrated that I had paid full price for only a few bites of achingly delicious food......what I remember, and what I cherish, is the tenderness you showed me that day, in the most subtle yet resounding way.
Our paths may never cross again. I'll probably never get to tell you any of this in person, but still I'd like to put this out into the universe, from my heart to yours.............Thank you.