Part of the trade-off for me being able to be a stay-at-home mom is that Mike works a lot. Particularly seasonally, he has times where he works 12-15 hour days, seven days a week for a month or more at a time. Suffice it to say it's pretty awful. About five weeks into one of those busy seasons, I was feeling especially sorry for myself for having to eat dinner alone again, so I took Eli and I out to Chipotle. I'm never motivated to cook for 1.5 people, so it's a huge treat to not only eat out, but to eat a real meal for dinner.
When we got to the restaurant, I was actually in a pretty good mood. I was feeling a lot better about my situation because, well, a burrito bowl has powers to heal many things - one of them being a lonely soul, and Eli and I actually had a pretty good time together. Blowing on our food because it was, "HOT!" waiving and shouting "Hi!" to complete strangers, and showing off our "muscles" to each other. Maybe I looked weird as just a mom and a baby out to dinner together, but I honestly don't think too many people thought much of it.
As we were getting ready to leave, I began to do the usual clean up process before we left. I first cleaned off Eli, then held him while cleaning the high chair, and when it was finished, I dragged it over to its original location near the trash can. Just as I was about to start cleaning up the floor, a man walked over and told me he'd clean it up for me.
I declined with shock and a smile. "No, no, no I told him, I'm happy to do this. I do it all the time. Not a big deal." I'm standing there ready to clean, holding my son on one arm, an overstuffed diaper bag slung across my chest and a napkin ready in my free hand - and before I know it, the stranger bends over and starts to clean Eli's mess off the floor with his bare hands.
I wave my hand and tell him, "Please, don't worry about it - there's a ton of food (Seriously, it''s probably a fourth of the burrito bowl - no wonder I needed a snack two hours later); I can get it." I bend over and he holds his hand up to me. "Not a chance, I'm happy to do this."
He picks up the majority of the food with his hands and takes it to a near by trashcan. I stand there, staring at him with a confused look on my face. He tells me he can't wait to be a grandpa. His daughter just got married, so he's getting closer. I tell him anyone who will clean a stranger's baby's food off the floor will make an amazing grandpa. He bends down to pick up the last bits, picking up the pieces of corn and rice with his thumb and forefinger, removing the evidence of a 14 month old one by one until there's nothing left but bare concrete. He tells me about his other children, how he misses the stage Eli is in and to enjoy it while it lasts. His youngest is 18 and is headed off to college this fall.
When he's finished, I thank him profusely, so much so that most of the restaurant is watching this bizarre scene of a stranger helping a mom clean up her son's mess. I continue thanking him as I back out the door, and Eli (Thank Heavens!) is waiving and hamming it up, giving the man the best thank you he's capable of as well.
I went to my car, strapping Eli in his car seat and thinking about what just happened. Why did he do it? Did I look lonely? Did he think I was a single mom? Did I look needy or stressed or in need of help?
You see, I didn't feel like a stressed out or harried mom. Sure, I was lonely that evening, but I don't think anyone - even a friend - would have been able to tell. As far as I know, that night I think I looked decently put together. I mean Eli was happy and in a good mood, I had makeup on and my hair was only semi-frizzy. Heck, I don't think I even had any stains on my shirt.
As far as I could tell, I don't think I looked like I needed help of any kind. And truly - the fact of the matter is - I didn't need help.
And honestly, I think that's what was so incredibly moving about it. This man didn't need a reason to help me. He just did. I don't know why he did what he did, what moved him to act, I can't read his mind. But all I can know is that I'm so grateful for it. Because even though I didn't feel like I truly needed help, his random act of kindness meant something to me, lifted my spirits and has stuck with me for a few weeks now. I keep thinking about him and what he did. And sometimes, when I'm still lonely because Mike's working so much, I think about my friendly stranger and I honestly feel a little bit better.
One of the many mantra's my parents raised me with was, "See needs and meet them." Over and over my mom would say it to me - usually regarding cleaning up a dirty kitchen (even at someone else's house), helping someone carry in groceries, or things of the like. My mom and dad tried to instill in us eyes that saw needs, and hands and feet that jumped to meet those needs without asking. I've written a few times before about needs that I've seen and tried to meet (here and here), but those were obvious, easy-to-see and easy-to-meet needs.
But that day, that stranger at Chipotle taught me something - that sometimes, you don't necessarily have to see the need. Sometimes, it's worth helping someone, just because you can.