When our oldest daughter was about a year old, we stopped for dinner at a family restaurant after a long day in the car. Our baby was tired and cranky, and I became increasingly upset as other diners turned to stare, making it clear that a toddler’s justifiable fussing was ruining their dinner.
My husband and I tried to soothe and distract her, and I ended up taking her outside to walk until she finally fell asleep on my shoulder. Back inside the restaurant and near tears from the dagger-like stares of other patrons, I concluded that I was the worst parent in world history.
Just then, a couple, who were about the age I am now, got up to leave, and as they did they stopped by our table to complement our beautiful daughter and to congratulate us on our patient and loving care of her. “Such good parents,” the woman said, and her husband agreed. Those words, and their smiles, enfolded me like a warm blanket.
That kindness and affirmation meant everything to me at that moment, and its spirit has lived with me daily in the 27 years that have passed since that day. I’m certain that our daughter was nowhere near as obstreperous in reality as it seemed in that moment, but neither was I a model parent.
Still, that couple did something that I have endeavored to do ever since: They looked for the best in me, and in praising what I had not yet become, helped me grow into what I always hoped to be.
From that day onward, I have looked for opportunities to recognize the effort to become, the desire to be better, the determination to grow into the person one aspires to be. Whether in the grocery check-out line chatting with a tired mother of little ones, or someone in despair, or a young person looking to make their way in the world, we can all be the voice of kindness and gentle encouragement, especially when things aren’t working out.
It’s easy to be that person. One small kindness can transform someone’s day, or even their entire perception of themselves. That couple who did it for me all those years ago? I don’t know their names, but I wish I did so I could thank them. They saw the mother I wanted to be, and in so doing, helped me to become. It made all the difference in the world to me.
Every day, I try to be that person.
It feels really good.