The Kindness of Strangers

Owen and I just got back from Germany, where we visited my sister Erin, her husband Nico, and their “child” Bagel the dog. It was my first solo trip with Owen, and I was quite nervous anticipating the plane ride and jet lag with a one-year-old. Well, leave it to Owen to make me want to take him anywhere, anytime. Er ist sehr freundlich! He waved and grinned his way through check-ins, security checkpoints, crowded planes, trains and streetcars.

But still, I did get tired. It was new for me to be the only parent, and as much as Erin and Nico helped, I was on bath duty and bed duty and feeding duty (and the mum is generally the one to calm a fussy child… Aunts and uncles are fair-weather stand-ins).

One beautiful evening, after a wonderful day meeting up with some of my friends at the zoo, Nico drove us to W├╝rtzburg. We stopped in at the Residenz, a Baroque palace with spectacular gardens. As it happened, there was a wine festival, and since it was a lovely evening and we had to eat anyway, we decided to stay. Despite the glorious surroundings and the sunset and the cool wine and cool breezes, I was a heart-thumping stress case. There were only benches to sit at, so I couldn’t use my fantastic portable fabric high chair. I tried sitting Owen on the bench beside me, but he was topply and squirmy. Then (before I noticed what was happening), Owen started feeding Bagel some of his flammkuchen and Bagel, excited to get something to delicious to eat, snapped Owen’s fingers along with the crust, leading to tears and more maternal stress.

Erin noticed that I was kind of losing it, so she took Owen across the table, and already it was better. I could see his smiley face and interact with him without being “responsible” for him. Owen started grinning and waving at our neighbour at the end of the table, a middle-aged gentleman with a very kind face who grinned back and started holding Owen’s hand and making faces. My quick-thinking sister then handed Owen over to this man, who graciously accepted the charge. He kept him entertained for about an hour, poking his finger through a hole in a wooden tray, making funny sounds and faces, and dancing (with Owen) around the jazz band that came by. His wife was also delightful; she commented that they have sons in their early twenties, but that her husband certainly looks ready for grandchildren. We separated Owen from his temporary grandpa, and I left the garden refreshed and happy. I will repeat this over and over: full-time parenting is exhausting, and it takes just little breaks to make an otherwise arduous responsibility into a real pleasure.

Owen continued to make friends throughout our trip. An American man carried him (in his stroller) up several flights of stairs in 35C heat so we could reach the castle in Heidelburg. Also memorable were our neighbours on the plane ride home: a lovely Indian grandmother played with him while I filled out our customs forms, a middle-eastern gentleman played peekaboo and held Owen on his lap for about 15 minutes, and a young German woman walked Owen around the whole plane, allowing him to grin and wave at everyone as he passed them.

I don’t know the names of any of these people, but thank you, thank you, thank you!

3 comments on “The Kindness of Strangers

  1. Mary-Ellen O'Neil on said:

    A delightful read, as usual.

  2. Jenn B. on said:

    Sounds like your trip was a success! So glad to hear all about it!

  3. Pingback: The Postmodern Child » Blog Archive » Hats off to Kind Men

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