It was lunchtime, and the small diner I had chosen to eat lunch in was packed. I felt a little smug as I slipped by families and groups of people who were stuffed together in the entrance, impatiently waiting for their table. As I settled into an open seat at the counter, I smiled. I was alone. I was without kids or anyone to talk to. I wasn’t stressed out about how long it was going to take to order my food, didn’t have to worry about anyone having any meltdowns while I waited, and I didn’t have to worry about feeding anyone else besides myself. Quite frankly, it felt fantastic.
I found myself with some rare “Me” time this weekend. I took the opportunity to do some Christmas returns (only a few months late), and use some gift cards I had been hanging on to. It felt almost naughty to be out alone and I made sure to take my time and enjoy every second of it. Some quality time to myself had re-energized me. I had been feeling a little down this week- work was hectic, I had a cold, the kids had cabin fever from being inside all winter and my husband and I had begun to snap at each other over silly things. While I waited in the return line to hand in my items at the store, I noticed an activity pack in the discount bin that I knew my boys would love- it had crayons, markers, different Disney themed note pads and some stickers. It was $3.99, so I didn’t think twice about throwing it in my cart. Over the winter, I’m desperate for anything to keep them busy at home and this seemed like the perfect thing, for a great price. I checked out and decided to treat myself to lunch and I was looking forward to it.
As I took my seat at the counter, I was next to two two older women who were looking over a menu and an older gentleman sat down on my other side shortly after. I was enjoying my kid-free experience when all of a sudden I heard a screech. This wasn’t any screech, it was an older child’s screech, which was followed by loud crying. The woman next to me whispered to her friend “That just sent a shiver down my spine.” The entire restaurant turned around to stare at a mother who was making her way over to an open table, 2 children in tow, and one was having a really hard time. He was a large boy, probably between 7-10 years old. His little sister carried a dolly and as they sat in a corner booth, the boy was very upset. The mother was whispering softly to him trying to get him to calm down. At first glance, it would have appeared that by his size and age, the boy was too old to have been behaving this way. People were staring, she looked helpless and the boy was not happy. I didn’t know the family’s situation, but my heart ached for the mother. Here she was, just like me, trying to get out of the house and her lunch was ruined before she even sat down.
My mind flashed to a recent story I had seen a friend post on Facebook. She talked about how difficult of a day she had after taking her non-verbal, Autistic daughter to the doctor. On the way out of the office, the poor girl had a meltdown. She was inconsolable, and as the mom struggled to corral her, her younger brother and all of their bags out of the office, not one person sitting in the waiting room even offered to hold the door for her or help her out. They all just sat there. Staring. Judging. I had commented how difficult that must have been for her and how it is unfortunate that our first inclination as human beings is not to help each other.
It’s funny because I remember noticing this on a much lesser scale after I had my first baby. I’d waddle into the grocery store and strangers would appear out of nowhere to hold doors for me, smile at me in the check out line and even offer to carry my groceries out for me. As soon as I had the baby, all that ended. I’d be on 2 hours of sleep, juggling groceries, a diaper bag, a colicky newborn and about to pull my hair out and not one person would offer anything.
As I helplessly watched this woman try to calm her son down, I also thought about the classic Fred Rogers quote where he talked about seeing scary things on the news and his mother would say “Look for the helpers. You will always see people helping.” As I sat there thinking about all of this, I asked myself a question- was I going to be a helper or a bystander?
I decided that I was going to be a helper.
I stood up, pushed my way through the oglers at the entrance of the restaurant and walked out to my car. I grabbed that activity pad that I purchased earlier and marched back in and over to this family’s table. The boy was sniffling, still upset. I crouched down next to him and offered him the activity pad. I’m not sure if I startled him, or he was genuinely glad to have it, but he stopped crying. His mother had tears in her eyes. She kept saying “Thank you, Thank you… Danny, please say thank you to this woman.” and as I looked at him, he smiled and signed the phrase “Thank you” with his hand. It was the only thing that I could do to help, so I did.
As I made my way back to my seat at the counter I overheard the man next to me whisper to the waitress “Please send their bill to me, I would like to take care of it.” And thus, my faith in humanity was redeemed. The old man and I never made eye contact and didn’t talk to each other the entire time we ate our lunch, but suddenly it was like my crappy week had gotten better. I had been feeling overwhelmed because I felt like I was giving my all to everyone and not leaving any for myself. But by continuing to give, I somehow gained a whole lot more. I drove home to my family happier this afternoon. I felt rejuvenated and ready to tackle the next curve ball thrown my way.
Sometimes, all we need is a little help. Be the helper.