A few days ago, my son and I had a rough moment. We were at a family fair in Dumbo, Brooklyn, and he was exhausted but just could not calm down and fall asleep. We’ve been traveling a lot over the pats few weeks, and he is such a great traveler that sometimes I forget that even though he doesn’t always show it, all this change and stimulation must be exhausting and overwhelming – and sometimes it just all becomes too much.
I was desperately pushing him in his stroller around the bumpy streets of Dumbo, and he was screaming and crying uncontrollably. In between his screams I could hear a desperate “Mama, mama… Moooo! Moooo!” – “Mo” is what he calls breastmilk. I knew that if I could nurse him somewhere for a few minutes, he would not only calm down but probably fall right asleep – but I couldn’t find anywhere to sit down. Finally I found a ledge coming out of a wall that was just wide enough for me to prop myself on, so I pulled my shaking, screaming toddler out of the stroller, leaned against the brick wall, and started nursing. Within seconds, his body relaxed and went limp. He held on to my breast with his chubby fingers as he nursed, and his eyes closed while tears were still running down on his cheeks. I felt tears creeping up behind my eyes too because the whole thing got me stressed and worked up and I just needed a moment to compose myself, when I saw a construction worker, man probably in his 50s, walking towards me on the sidewalk – and he was staring straight at me.
My child was pretty much asleep, I was calming down, and I really did not want to have a confrontation with anyone. As surprising as it may be, most of us breastfeeding moms are not closet exhibitionists – we don’t enjoy whipping out our boobs in the public for everyone and their mother to see, and most of us will do what we can to be discreet. I had a scarf and a jacket, you could probably barely even see what I was doing – but this man was staring. And approaching. And getting close.
When I was sure he was about to say something, I lifted my eyes and stared him right back – but before I could get anything out of my mouth, he had already started talking.
“Ma’am, I just wanted to say that what you’re doing for your kid is so important and great. My wife breastfed all our four kids for many years, and I know how hard it can be on the mom – but just keep with it. It’s really a wonderful thing you’re doing for him. Have a great day.”
I was so surprised and struck by what he said that I was barely able to get out a “thank you”, before he already nodded and kept walking past me.
Just like that, this stranger lifted all the stress and anxiety I was experiencing. Just like that, he gave me the one thing I needed – support and acknowledgement. In a matter of seconds, he did more for me than he’ll probably ever know – because, let me tell you, this is hard. And I don’t just mean breastfeeding, but this whole crazy thing we call motherhood and everything that comes with it. It is hard enough as it is, with us mothers often being our own worst enemies and strictest judges – but on top of that, there is so much judgement and criticism from people around us, sometimes well-meaning and other times just plain mean and cruel – that the weight of it all can feel unbearable. And that is why such a small gesture, just a few kind words, a pat on the shoulder, a “You’re doing a great job!”, can mean a world to us.
So from the bottom of my heart, I say:
Thank you, stranger in Brooklyn. I can’t even begin to tell you how much those words meant to me.
And to everyone who reads this I want to say: Be kind. Before anything else, just be kind. To yourself, to those you love, to strangers. Kindness is always, always, the best route to take, and will always leave the biggest mark.
Featured photo credit: Flávio Correia Lima / Flickr (Creative Commons)
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