I had just left the grocery store this afternoon and was putting the bags in my car when I heard a child crying. I looked around and realized the crying was coming from the minivan parked next to me. The rear window was cracked about an inch, and inside the van were two small children in car seats without a parent in sight.
The younger one (less than two) was strapped into his seat crying. The older child, a girl who couldn’t possibly have been more than four or five, was attempting to console her brother. Surely, I thought, the parent has just gone to return the shopping cart and will materialize momentarily. I waited outside my car a few moments, but no parent came. I got in the car and put the key in the ignition, but I couldn’t turn the key. Maybe because I’m a mother or maybe because I remember so clearly what it was like to feel small and alone; I couldn’t leave. This is silly, I thought. I can’t really do anything. The kids are locked in the van; it will only scare them if I try to talk to them. But I had an overpowering feeling that I needed to stay. I resolved in that moment to stay there until the parent appeared or I had to call the cops or whatever.
I sat in my car and played on my smartphone, stealing glances at the children and hoping they wouldn’t be freaked out by the strange lady in the big sunglasses who kept looking at them. About five minutes into what felt like the longest 15 minutes of my life, I realized the little girl was watching me. She had her face pressed against the van window. I took off my sunglasses and smiled and waved at her. She smiled and waved back. Then she called to her brother to look my way and said, “Look, there’s a mom.” The little boy looked and his sister waved to me, and I waved back. In that moment, the little boy stopped crying, smiled and waved. Evidently, when your own mom is MIA, anybody’s will do to make you feel better. I was alone with my groceries, so I don’t know how the little girl knew I was “a mom”; maybe I just put off that vibe. Anyway, we smiled and waved at each other and the kids giggled and I realized why I had stayed.
The simple act of staying there with those kids had made all the difference in the world to them. Just by staying put a few minutes, those children felt like they were not alone. That’s what we all want, isn’t it? We all want to know that there is someone close by who cares about us.
When I made the decision to stay with my then actively addicted husband, it was a lot like my experience with those kids. I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing. I didn’t know if it would even make any difference that I was there. I wondered if I was just doing something that was going to cause me grief and aggravation in the long run. I thought that it might be easier to simply get in the car and drive away. But the person next to me was hurting, and I had that same overpowering feeling that I needed to be there. So, I stayed.
As those of you who have stayed with your own addicted loved ones know, it wasn’t as simple as evoking smiles and giggles on the journey through addiction and recovery. But I find that the emotions are the same. We reached out to those people close to us who were feeling helpless, scared and alone; and we discovered that by doing so we helped to heal not only them, but ourselves as well.
P.S. The kid’s mom appeared with her recycled grocery bags after 15 minutes and all was once again right with the universe. I went home and made a milkshake out the ice cream that had melted while I stayed. So, it was a win-win.