Spreading Good Cheer

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December 21, 2013 by Julia

A couple of years ago (before Jack was even an embryo) I was pushing a toddler-aged Fiona in a cart out of the grocery store when I noticed another mom with a little boy of about the same age.

Like me, the mom had a cart full of groceries to unload into her trunk, but the thing that struck me about her was the way she engaged with her young son while she did it. It was precious, in the true sense of the word. Not overly cute. Just affectionate. She looked genuinely happy to be with him. I think they both laughed at one point, and she gave him a hug as she lifted him out of the cart.

You don’t really expect to see that kind of lovely behavior in a grocery store parking lot. It was between mother and son, not hidden away, but not advertised to the world, either. It had nothing to do with me, but it impressed itself on my own heart – especially as a mother who typically dreads grocery shopping.

As I finished putting our groceries in the car and rolled the cart into the corral, I noticed one of the boy’s shoes had fallen to the ground. I grabbed it and looked up to see if the other mom had driven away yet – she had backed out of her parking space, but didn’t see me waving. Feeling a little crazy, I told Fiona in her carseat, “We have to give this little boy’s shoe back to his mommy!” and I quickly strapped myself in, taking the lost shoe with me.

I just couldn’t bear the idea of that mom getting home to realize her son’s shoe was lost. I knew firsthand what a pain kid’s shoes can be – how quickly they outgrow them, how they will only agree to wear certain ones, how hard it is to find ones that work. Looking back, I’m not sure if I actually meant to follow her home and give her the shoe, or what. I mean, THAT would be crazy, I guess.

But the way it happened was this:

I saw her stop ahead at a red light (which also happened to be on my way home), and was able to pull into the lane directly next to her. I rolled down my passenger window, did a friendly beep and waved the shoe toward her. She looked over and put her hand to her mouth, and then quickly hopped out of her car to reach through my window to grab it, thanking me and saying she hadn’t even realized yet that it was gone. I blabbered on about all the aforementioned shoe troubles with kids and said it was no problem, and then the light was green, and we drove on. We managed the whole thing without holding up traffic, even!

The whole experience made me really happy. Obviously, it’s not like I deserve an award for chasing down this mom with the shoe – especially because I didn’t even have to go out of my way, I just had to rush a little bit more. But I felt a sense of communion with this other mother, this feeling that sometimes we can manage to look out for one another, even when we are strangers.

Now, years later, I wonder if I would have done it if she hadn’t seemed like such a kind, joyful mother. While I don’t think that was my main reason for trying to get the shoe back to her, I do wonder if witnessing her gratitude for her boy is what inspired the faith that it might work out if I just tried. Looking at those moments, I like to think that one good thing planted the seeds for another. And she wasn’t even trying to plant the good seeds in me. They were meant for her son. But some got scattered around and went into me, too, and then the kindness came back to her.

Isn’t it beautiful how that works?

Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant.” (It’s on my refrigerator, recently torn off an organic cereal box.) I love the idea that when we are planting seeds of love in our kids (or anyone, really), we are also affecting countless other people in the world, people we may never meet.

Sometimes, when I am holding one of my children in a public place, feeling gratitude for them, I think of that mom and son in the parking lot, and wonder if anyone is affected by our love the same way I was by theirs. It’s semi-embarassing to admit that, as though I’m hoping to be a public inspiration while hugging my kids. But when the feeling is genuine, there’s no need to hide it. We all feel this way about our kids, deep down. There will be time enough for commiseration about how hard parenting is. We all know the delight in them is true, too, and it does us good to witness it in other parents and kids.

So let’s spread the good cheer…and trust that the harvest is coming (or might already be here.)

Merry Christmas to you!

“Snow Hill,” Andrew Wyeth, 1989



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