A few months ago, I saw an unfortunate version of a young me. I was sitting in the Apple Store, perched high above the masses on a stool at the Genius Bar. The exasperation in my eyes was not doing my youthful, well-toned face any favors. In fact, I blame many of today’s wrinkles on her. My hot, aloof boyfriend sat next to me, looking rested and carefree.
Somewhere in the middle of the store, a toddler was screaming at the top of her voice. And not just normal toddler screams.
Bloodcurdling screams. The kinds of screams that make you wonder if she might be in some kind of pain. Has she broken a bone, you wonder? The kinds of screams that you cannot believe a parent would allow to continue in a public space. Is the mother deaf, you think? I shot the kind of icy glare her way that said, “You are being SO rude. Can’t you see everyone staring at you?”
“Isn’t this driving you crazy?!” I asked my future ex-boyfriend. He shrugged. (“ex” because as you might imagine, good judgment was not my forte back then.) He too was perched on his stool, tap tap tapping away on his smartphone. I said something judgmental. Maybe it was, “She’s doesn’t even care.” Or possibly, “Doesn’t she notice that her child is disturbing everyone here?!” I made no effort to hide my disdain. In fact, I wished for the mother to look up. To see me and others so clearly bothered and uncomfortable. I shifted in my seat and made loud, throat-clearing noises. Then, my tone, tan arms did the unimaginable. They reached out and up and plugged my ears. It was a gesture so bold and selfish, it can only be made by the wildly uninitiated youth.
Today’s me sat inches away, on a rubber ball at the children’s table. After an hour and forty minutes, Lou and I were eagerly waiting for a tech support hero to rescue us from this nostalgic butt whooping. And to fix my phone. But at this point, mostly the former. As you might imagine, I was aghast. Not necessarily at the young woman, high above my purview. Aghast that I can remember being her. Feeling so much contempt that someone could seemingly be so unconcerned about others. Feeling no empathy whatsoever for the mother who so clearly does not want to be in the situation she’s in. But today’s me, she feels much different.
Now I get it.
As a mother, some days you’re just barely hanging on. You’ve picked up, dropped off, ran here and there and everywhere and oh!justlookatthetimehowisitfouroclockalready. Your phone is on the fritz and you’re missing important work messages and this needs to be fixed now and right now. Seems easy enough, right? Just toss the kid in the car and…
Now somewhere, someone may think, that’s no excuse for subjecting the innocent public to the blood curdling screams of one’s tiny tots. And it’s all too easy to dismiss the need for smartphone triage as a nice-to-have and not a necessity. But the thing is, we have No Idea What’s Going On with this woman and her family. We don’t know if this is the only time she can make this errand happen. Or if her husband is traveling for work and she’s unraveling for the last time today. Or if she can only do work on her phone while she stays at home with the kids and so she needs it working, like, yesterday.
We judge first; we think later. At least I know I did before I became a parent. Heck, I still do– I make snap judgments about what I see, every day. It’s in our nature to observe our environment and assess what’s going on around us. But our busy schedules and the chaotic choices we’re forced to make place convenience over kindness all too often. I don’t want it to be this way. Not for me and definitely not for my daughter. I never want to see that unfortunate version of me again.
The girl’s mother never looked up, never locked the eyes with the judgers staring angrily her way. She attended as carefully as possible to the Genius helping to troubleshoot her issue. She calmly held her child and patted her on the back as she continued to scream, squirming and undulating between sobs. And my guess is that mom simply didn’t have the time or energy to notice the icy stares or process other options.
I wanted desperately to go over there. To talk to the child – maybe show her my baby. Get her interested in something else. Anything so that her mother could possibly feel relieved, attend to her issue, and get back to the safety of a judgment-free zone. To give her hope that there is good in the world.
I wish I could say I felt this kind of kind heartedness all the time. But I don’t. (And I also might sound like a pompous holier-than-though jerk if I did.) I lose my patience and feel frustration in public and give strangers looks that say, “Thanks for not holding the door for me and my stroller?!?!” All I can do is hope to wake each day with love in my heart and the ability to approach each situation with kindness, openness, and energy. To behave in the manner in which I wish my daughter to emulate. And to also show my daughter there is good to be had in helping others.
Fittingly, the same genius that helped the old me, assisted the new me. I resisted the urge to ask for his take on the girl, to perpetuate further judgment. Because like the mother, we don’t know what the old me was dealing with. Likely that handful of an ex-boyfriend. Or maybe it was trouble making the grade. For better or worse, we can’t see people on the inside.
As for Lou, here’s hoping the apple falls from the tree and then rolls a bit, picking up bits and pieces of the world along the way to creating something beautiful. Something unique. Something everyone needs a little more of each day. Kind of like apples. The real ones.