Why are some people so nice? And why are others such massive arseholes?! They’re questions I often ask myself. Before I had kids of course I came up against my fair share of nasty people at work and socially and sometimes, jarringly, just in the street or while driving my car. You know, people who ruin your day with one horrible comment or unnecessarily mean action. But I always just got on with my life and it never bothered me too much.
Since having my kids, I’ve come to realise the value of nice people even more. Because when you’re out with your kids and people are nice to you – kind, helpful, generous – it can have an absolutely huge impact on your day. It can make your week. And nasty, unhelpful comments or observations from strangers can play on your mind for months, even years.
I haven’t had too many strangers pass judgement on my parenting, although I’ve definitely been on the receiving end of some down-the-nose looks in the supermarket. I also copped a lot of dirty looks during Heike’s toddler hitting/pushing/bullying phase, thank god that’s over. In Hong Kong I get comments and advice ALL the time but it’s different, more of a cultural thing. You have to just adopt the smile and nod approach.
Still, I’ve witnessed a few doozies. One that stands out in my memory is when we were still living in Australia and there was a pregnant Mum trying to wrangle two unruly boys into a shopping trolley (it’s always in the bloody supermarket! What choice do us Mums have?! You need to be really organised to online shop okay!). Her face was red. You could tell she was at breaking point, and I gave her a sympathetic smile as I walked past.
Anyway apparently the old lady behind me was less sympathetic and stopped to have a go at her! I didn’t hear exactly what she said but I DID hear the Mum’s reaction which was basically to break down and scream “I just need milk and bread! I can’t do this anymore!” It was really horrific. The Mum kind of stormed off and about two minutes later I found her sobbing in the chilled section of Woolworths. And she was talking to herself or her boys or anyone just saying please, I can’t do this. So I approached her and asked if she was okay and said I understand, I have small kids too, it’s really hard some days (I didn’t bring up the times when my kids had started smashing eggs on the ground in the very same Woolworths…). She smiled but I could tell she was embarrassed and just wanted to get out of there. Still I hoped I had helped her a little bit. I hoped maybe by one person being nice to her it was a less shit experience.
Yesterday I took Walter with me to the supermarket, and I didn’t take a pram because I am optimistic/stupid like that. He’s a pretty cruisy guy and definitely the only kind of two year old you can actually take to a supermarket successfully, generally compliant and easily satisfied with food. But of course once I had two giant heavy bags of groceries and realised I didn’t have cash for a taxi home my stress levels started to rise. I sloooooowly coaxed him to the ATM and had to rely on him to stand by me while I got money out, and of course he ran away. And not only did he run away, he managed to lodge himself between a wall and a little glass barrier thing, you know, a space big enough for a two year old but not big enough for his Mum to crawl in and get him. I looked at the time and internally freaked that we had to leave to get Heike off the bus. So I took a deep breath and started negotiations.
After about thirty seconds my patience was exhausted (I was not feeling very patient) and I started getting a bit desperate. “WALTER! Please. Get out. Or you will be in big trouble.” I know, I was really not on my game. I was tired. I didn’t have the energy. I could feel the heat rising into my face and the stress tears coming into my eyes (I cry in television ads so it’s a problem for me).
And then a nice woman in her mid 50s, also known as my hero, came over and called out “Walter! Come and look at the red taxis darling! They’re very fast, you might miss them, quick!” And of course Walter giggled and happily emerged from his hiding place.
It was that simple. It was ten seconds of her time. She reminded me of my Mum or one of her friends, all of whom are also nice people and would do a similar thing for a young stressed out Mum. It’s a seemingly small act that made a massive difference to my day and I’m sure I’ll always remember it, even when I’m a Grandma myself and see a Mum my age out with toddlers at the supermarket.
So, maybe that’s why nasty people are nasty? Maybe no one has ever been nice to them? Or maybe they’re just nasty. Either way, I am so grateful for the nice people in the world. It’s the little everyday acts that make such a big difference to peoples lives.
And hey, if you see a Mum with tantrumming kids out, anywhere, I promise you – as much as you might think she does – she does not need your advice! She needs you to ignore it, or help.