Just like every other day, so many people have their judgement pants on, especially concerning the young single mother who’s trying to study and manage her quiet but curious child a few tables down. This is a mother. This is a child. They are a family, and they are beautiful. Other people’s approval are not needed, yet scrutinising eyes seem to disagree.
Some mothers are rich, some are poor, and some are somewhere in between. Some dress in a way that seems prim and proper with styled hair that’s falls just passed their shoulders, faces accentuated by a mineral foundation and subtle touches of colour. They may have a purse or handbag that matches their outfit, traveling in groups of mothers who look similar to them. And some are dressed in a black Misfits t-shirt, cutoff shorts that expose her large tattoos on her legs with a buzz cut and no make-up. Her backpack has seen better days and it’s sitting in a nearby chair instead of friendly company.
Kids are kids. They laugh, they cry. They live. Sometimes they spill things. While this young Misfits mother is comforting her small child who is devastated that his simple delight of fruit juice has crashed beneath him, she’s also rushing to contain the liquid on the floor. Other patrons in the café are so quick to shoot glares of scorn and eye roll as if they could do better, as if their lives have been rudely interrupted by an inappropriate annoyance. Though she’s focusing a great deal on her child as well as the mess, it’s clear that she feels the stares of dissatisfaction, of disgust, peering over laptops and newspapers. She’s reminded yet again that she’s alone in this parenting endeavour, that there is a shame to be associated with not being that prim and proper woman the world would rather see.
Her books are still open on the table. Her quick glancing at them confirms they were far enough away from the reaching of the spilt drink, but then a flash of worry appears in her eyes; perhaps discouraged that her studies may be further than she could reach herself. The mess briefly left alone, she holds her child dearly, drawing comfort from this precious life as she calms him in his mourning of the lost juice. Amidst the scorn and worries, she clings to what she knows she can do well in that moment; that is, be a comforting mother. As the child quiets, stares from the unmoving patrons lessen; though their sting lingers.
Now, when I was having to live life experienced as a woman, helping someone like this mother drew little attention; as if it was expected that perceived women would help another cover the shame of being alone and an aire of “sorry I dragged you into this” is present. Yet not helping her would be just as socially acceptable. After all, she’s “made her bed” to lie in. “That’s what happens when kids have kids” kind of a thing. But now that I am rightly experienced as a man, all due to some thick serum of which I self-inject into my leg every week, a wave of mixed bag of stares intensify when I make my way to offer more crappy napkins and a gentle smile while quickly bussing the wads of dripping paper to the bin.
Most people are pleasantly surprised that a man, and a ring bearing clean cut one at that, would do such a thing; especially for a woman and a child who obviously “aren’t his”. You know, because women and children are somehow possessions. Even if I did know her, it would be socially acceptable if I didn’t help clean up the spill. “Men just don’t do things like that.” Why shouldn’t we? “She’s not your problem.” Why is she a problem?
As I am careful to show her I mean well, the young mother is greatly relieved that a stranger, who also happens to be a man, is gladly trying to make her life a little easier; even if just for the moment. “Thanks. I guess nice guys still exist,” she sighs, which says more than most would care to admit.
The stares continue, some distant whispers are exchanged. I don’t care. I’m not doing these things for the entertainment of the other patrons. I’m not dirtying my hands for recognition either. As far as I’m concerned, what would be dirty is remaining idle.
In moments like these, we can either be dismissive and hurtful, or we can be understanding and kind. Like most choices we make in life, what we do and don’t do affect others more than ourselves. So when we are there for one another, even strangers, we validate people as people. The worries of life are still there, but when we look past what makes us different and help others feel they have worth, we make the world a little more reachable.
We are all people. We all have feelings. We all need a little help sometimes. We are a community and we are only as beautiful as we’re willing to make it.