As a parent of a two-and-a-half year old, parking lots are one of my biggest fears.
Here’s my child: so short, so hard to see, so busy paying attention to anything but the cars.
And here are cars: so big, so fast, so busy getting from here to there.
Whoops, was that a speed bump or a toddler?
The other day Dylan and I were at a fast food place with a indoor playplace hanging out with some friends of ours. It’s a well-designed playplace in that there’s only one door out.
I wasn’t standing near that door.
I was over by some benches talking to my friend, while Dylan climbed the play structure.
And then… he was out the door, running across the restaurant.
I dashed out after him, but he’d made it across the room and was now opening the door to the parking lot.
THE PARKING LOT!
I’m sure you’ve been in a fast food restaurant parking lot at noon. They are well-oiled death traps. I usually have a firm grip on Dylan’s hand in parking lots.
But here he was, barreling full speed ahead towards the parking lot, with me several paces behind.
He’s got his hand on the door.
He’s got the door open.
A woman, a stranger, in a nearby booth spins around in her seat to face Dylan and shouts, “No! No! No! No! No!”
He stops in his tracks, kind of bug eyed and confused that someone is yelling at him.
That gives me the three seconds I need to catch up to him.
I gush “Thank you! Thank you!” at her before scooping up my kid and hustling him out into our truck because I know once he starts running away from me it’s all over, and we need to regroup.
I’ve read a lot of opinions from parents about whether they want other people to interact with their kids. I’m firmly on the yes side: I believe that children are everyone’s responsibility, and I also believe in letting Dylan form his own relationships with people who aren’t me.
What made it interesting to me was the fact that she yelled. She was using an “I am going to eat your face off” tone of voice.
Some people might argue that she should have been nicer or gentler or more creative in keeping him from the door.
I think often about the village who’s supposed to be helping raise our children. The lack of village – of extended family, of hands-on community – is a wound on modern family life.
When I think about how to get some of that support back, I don’t have a lot of options. But the places where we interact with strangers out in public is one opportunity to see a glimmer of what it might be like if we were all more connected.
The trickiest thing about getting along with other people is accepting that they are different people from me, with different priorities, different values, and different internal resources.
In order to accept the help of the village, we have to accept that people are different from us, and it’s okay if they interact differently with our kids than we would.
Here was a moment where most people share the same value: the toddler should not run out into the busy parking lot.
Each of us will approach this moment in our own way, especially when put on the spot in the fast-forward pace of the moment.
Some people would respond gently, perhaps catching his attention with something interesting to him.
Some people will respond with yelling.
Another person might have grabbed him, something ostensibly horrifying in the realm of strangers-and-my-child.
But I am simply thankful. I am thankful that there are people in the world who care about the well-being of children who are not their own. I am thankful for people who would make a snap decision to intervene on behalf of a child, even if they don’t intervene the exact same way I would.
To the woman who yelled at my toddler: Thank You.
Additional Reading: Here’s a selection of life-changing parenting books I highly recommend. (These are affiliate links. If you buy, thanks for your support!)