Here’s the scene: There’s a baby. She’s crying. Hard. She’s in a stroller facing outward and her mother is pushing her. She is crying so hard her nose is running, her cheeks are flushed and tears are streaming from her eyes. She looks sick. Sad. Anything but consoled. And her mother, still pushing her, is looking at clothing for her. She’s with another woman, perhaps a friend, a sister. They are talking over a pink or purple shirt, how many ruffles in a dress. Deciding what will look best on the crying baby girl. They talk as if they are alone. They talk as if there is not a baby in front of them crying. Wailing. Screaming for comfort. They talk. They listen to one another, but not the baby.
In the aisle next to them, I listen. I notice. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt. I want to think they’ve tried to soothe her and don’t know what else to do. I want to believe that my observation is skewed, blurred. Over exaggerated. But the crying increases. Her cheeks, those sweet rosy cheeks are desperate for a kiss of comfort. I want to hope the mother treats her tearful daughter with the same love and excitement she felt when she was first born. I want to remind her of the rush of that tiny baby just months, maybe years before, when she was brought to her chest, their heartbeats pulsing toward one another. I want to pray she has hopes of loving her unconditionally, even in times like this, when her weeping is loud, inconvenient and unpleasant. I want to tell that mother, I know it’s hard. Are you having a bad day?
My stomach, as it often does now that I have a child of my own, flutters with the butterflies that always awaken when tears roll and requests heighten. I listen. I want to respond. My feet start to move. My mind swirls. I am outside my body. I am no longer in control. Blood pounds throughout my primal body, heart rate racing, sweat beads forming.
Here’s what I do: I walk to the aisle where the women are shopping and the baby is still crying. I move closer. I look into her innocent face. I say, “what do you need, sweetie?” I cannot believe I am saying this. I am crossing the line of another mother’s space. I am in her territory. And I should not be. But I cannot stop myself. I never thought I would invade another mother. I never thought my stomach would turn at the cries of a stranger. I never thought I’d be so opinionated about raising little beings in this world. I never thought I’d be the mother that I am, willing to forgo my selfishness for the constant needs of another being.
Call it empathy. Call it taking back the years my tears poured, my calls ignored. Call me stupid. Call me smart. Call me crazy. Call me amazing. Tell me I’ve crossed the line. Judge it. Label it. Name it. Critique it. All I know is I heard a child. She was crying. I heard a loud call – for love, consolation, comfort, acknowledgement. And I needed to respond.
And here’s what happened: The two women cease their conversation. They look at me. My eyes, still on the girl breathing love toward her. Her cries stop. Her nose still runs. She and I, eye to eye, are communicating. The mother, in full silence rolls her daughter down the aisle past me. As if I never existed, as if the situation never existed, the three of them leave the aisle and exit the store without making a sound.