Unexpected kindness

Today’s daily prompt:

Is there a person you should’ve thanked, but never had the chance? Is there someone who helped you along the way without even realizing it? Here’s your chance to express your belated gratitude.

We’ve been waiting 45 minutes. The air in the clinic waiting room is stuffy and stale, and one of the harsh fluorescent lights is flickering. Three month-old Monkey is asleep in my arms. Two year-old Bean is sitting on the chair beside me. I am regretting the decision to bring the kids to the clinic, but Bean’s cough sounded so painful this morning. It must be our turn soon.

Bean has been so good. He’s been bringing me book after book from the basket under the clinic’s magazine rack, but now we’ve read them all. He starts to kick the chair. He asks to go home. I tell him we just have a little longer to wait, and he needs to be patient. He kicks the chair harder and asks to go home louder. In the packed waiting room, a couple of heads turn our way. After 45 minutes of sitting still, I know Bean has reached his limit and we’re headed for trouble. And I know I don’t have it in me today to deal with it.

I haven’t slept. I haven’t eaten. Though I don’t know it now, I am at the lowest point in my struggle with postpartum depression. I’m fragile and thin-skinned, imagining judgement and accusation in the eyes of everyone in the room. In my lap, Monkey starts to stir. Within the next two minutes I know that I’ll have a crying, hungry baby and a clinging, misbehaving toddler. I can’t do this.

With one more look up at the clock I tell Bean that we’re going to go home and try another day. Though it’s what he asked for, in typical toddler fashion he is upset at this change in plans. His eyes start to fill with tears, and so do mine.

An elderly man is sitting next to us. Until this moment he has been immersed in his book, showing no signs of noticing us at all. He gently puts his book down and deliberately drops the plastic tab with his waiting-room number onto the floor.

“Oh dear. I seem to have dropped my number. Young man, do you think you can pick it up for me?”

Bean picks it up and hands it back to the man shyly, never meeting his eyes.

“Thank you! What a kind boy you are.”

Bean straightens, puffed up with pride.

“Would you like to see my cane? My son carved the handle.”

My curious boy reaches out a hand to touch the wooden handle of the man’s cane. The tears that flow so often spill out of my eyes and down my cheeks. I look down, hoping no one can see. Just then, our number is called. I take Bean’s hand and whisper to him to say thank you to the man. But as we make our way through the clinic door, I don’t trust myself to look him in the eye, to thank him myself. By the time we are finished he is no longer in the waiting room.

Life with small kids is measured in moments. On some days, each moment has us teetering on the edge, and these small, everyday kindnesses are the difference between isolation and community, between okay and not okay.

So, to that elderly man in the clinic waiting room, thank you. Thank you for your kindness to my son which was compassion for me. Thank you for showing me, in that moment during the dark days, that I was not alone.


NaBloPoMo #14: using the prompt

We’re almost halfway through NaBloPoMo! Shout-out to the two people who actually read my blog – you’re probably getting tired of seeing me pop up in your reader every day, so thanks for not unfollowing me.

Today, I am not feeling inspired to work on any of the 31 unfinished thoughts sitting in my drafts folder. So here’s my take on the WordPress daily prompt:

What’s the best present you’ve ever received that was handmade by the giver, not store-bought? Tell us what made it so special.

This gift was not handmade, but it was hand-designed. Sort of. And it wasn’t the best present I’ve ever received, but it was definitely one of the most memorable. What made it special, if you can call it that, was that it was totally and completely representative of the givers.

For my 22nd birthday, my three brothers gave me this t-shirt. It has a picture of all three of them on the front, along with the words, “I ♥ my brothers.”

Brothers shirt

The t-shirt achieved exactly the reaction they were looking for: it made me laugh and annoyed me at the same time. This summed up my relationship with all three brothers at that moment in our family’s history. I thought the shirt was funny and appreciated the effort that went into making me laugh, but part of me was a little bit put out that the only gift from my siblings was  all about them.

At that stage in our lives, when we were 18, 20, 22 and 24, we got along, but I was an outsider. The three of them were best friends, something that I now know is unusual, but at the time made me feel left out. We shared jokes and liked each other’s company; it was just that we had different interests. We ran in different circles. After any family get-together, they would usually head out to the same party or the same show or to meet the same friends downtown, while I would head in my own direction to my own friends.

Ten years later, things have changed. My oldest and youngest brothers are still close, though not as inseparable as they once were. After a falling-out and period of distance, my middle brother is now friendly with the other two, but I don’t think they will ever completely recover their closeness. And I’ve developed relationships with each of them separately, through shared experiences – parenthood, school, marriage, adulthood.

The shirt lives in my closet. I’m not going to wear it, but I won’t get rid of it either. Maybe Bean will wear it one day to surprise his uncles. Or maybe I’ll just keep it to pull out occasionally and reminisce about times gone by.