"Umm.... can I help you?" I asked cautiously, noting the steam pouring from her ears. I silently searched my brain for what could be the cause. Did I accidentally bang the baby carrier into her car when we got out? Did the dirty diaper I changed on the seat somehow fall out when I opened the door?
"You left the kid inside!!!!" she blurted out, pointing frantically at my backseat.
That's when my heart stopped, my blood ran cold, my hair stood on end, and every other cliche combining body parts and sheer terror. Fortunately, at the same moment my baby let out one of her loudest gurgles to yank me out of my temporary paralysis and back to reality, reminding me she was not in fact trapped in my car, but secure in my shopping cart.
But then my heart stopped again. Where was my other child? Could I have actually left my 2-year-old strapped in his car seat while I wandered the houseware aisles, oblivious to his cries as I strolled the store sipping my decaf skinny chai tea latte?
The answer is no. Noah was perfectly safe and happy right where I had dropped him off: at his daycare, probably coated in a thin layer of paint, or ketchup, or both. But I think every parent has had that momentary feeling of panic when reality blurs around the edges. It's a condition brought on by exhaustion, confusion, and in this case, an irate stranger standing next to my car, screaming something about calling the police.
So what the (*&^ was she talking about?
With still shaking hands I assured her there was no child inside, and kindly asked her to step away as I unlocked the doors. With as much calm dignity as I could muster given the level of adrenaline pumping through my veins, I reached into the backseat and showed the woman the "child" she was so concerned about being "trapped" inside was in fact a large, fuzzy teddy bear. Yes, this woman was, by her own accounts "this close" to bringing in some of Brighton's finest to investigate a shocking case of Stuffed Animal Neglect.
You see, my son will not leave the house without an entourage. Every morning we pile into the car with at least two toy trains, the occasional light-up rubber duck, a musical caterpillar and on this particular day, a large brown teddy bear. I am certainly guilty of encouraging his pack rat tendencies, because it's easier than fighting with him. You pick your battles, right? So while you can charge me with harboring a small zoo in my backseat and driving while disorganized, I'm fairly confident that's the extent of my criminal activity.
My accuser left without an apology, without even so much as a "Gee, what a funny misunderstanding!" over which we could have (maybe) shared a laugh. In fact if anything, she seemed disappointed to see there wasn't a child trapped in the backseat. She didn't get to be a hero after all. She didn't get to be right.
Over the past two plus years I've come to appreciate that having children opens the door to all sorts of unsolicited advice and comments, which for the most part, I welcome. I actually get a kick out of hearing the older, grandfatherly man at the grocery store who tells me my baby will catch pneumonia if I don't put socks on her little feet on a 65 degree day. I love it when the waitress plays peek-a-boo with my toddler and asks him the name of his toy train. Just this morning, the man at the UPS store reminded me I should read to my little boy every night to encourage his brain to grow. I don't need to tell him I've been doing that for the past 2 years- I can just appreciate his interest and willingness to share. Maybe he's speaking from experience, maybe it's the voice of regret. Either way, I'd like to believe there's something about the presence of a child that makes us all want to share what we know, in the hopes that their world might be a little bit better. So is a little common sense too much to ask for?
As we've heard so many times, as it is written on the mug from which I sip my morning tea: It really does take a village to raise a child. We all want that village: a caring, supportive, nurturing community. A village where friends, families, and yes even strangers look out for one another out of true concern and compassion. Now that's my kind of village. It's the village idiot I can do without.