I stand there between the two cars for a moment, concerned and uncertain. I want to do something, but what can I do? I've seen so many cars drive by with children clearly not secured in safety seats or even by seat belts, kids turned and waving through the back window, siblings climbing over each other in the front seat of a pick-up while it eases across the parking lot. It scares me every time. I picture a little girl, maybe 2 or 3, with sandy blonde hair and a pink tank top, buckled into this booster that would clearly offer her no protection in an accident. I picture her parents, consumed with grief at losing their daughter.
Then I remember: I have an extra car seat. It is sitting in our garage, leftover from a yard sale, waiting for me to find it a home. I've been too busy to email friends yet to see if anyone can use it. I'm only a few minutes from home. Maybe I can run home and get the car seat and leave it next to this car. But what if they are gone by the time I return? Should I wait at their car until they finish shopping, tell them I noticed they don't have a car seat, offer them ours? But I don't know long they'll be and what if it's awkward? What if they don't want my help? What if - worst case - they get offended and cuss me out?
I pull a spare deposit slip from my glove compartment and write a short note, choosing my words carefully:
Hi! I have a spare car seat in need of a home. If you'd like it, you are welcome to have it. Let me know and I am happy to get it to you. ~Ellie (phone number)The front window is rolled down, so I drop the note onto the front seat. I walk through the store wondering if each child I pass is the little one in need of a car seat.
When I get home I tell my husband the story. He sucks his breath and makes a face. "What?" I ask. "That's like judging someone's parenting," he says. I like gold stars, but he isn't giving me one. He thinks I overstepped.
Should I have minded my own business, I wonder? It did cross my mind, standing in that parking lot contemplating my options, that the person might be offended or angry. I wondered if my cell phone would ring and an irate parent would be on the other end, yelling at me for having the gall to think they need my charity.
But the thing is, I was not coming from a place of judgment at all. I was concerned. And I was sad that we live in a society where not every parent can afford a car seat to keep their child safe, knows how to get a free one, or understands how critically important they are. That - I thought - is a societal failure, not necessarily an individual one. And I just wanted to help, if I could...which I could. I walked away from that car thinking about how the universe gives us opportunities to help each other all the time. I have this spare car seat and here - right in front of me - was someone without. This opportunity was so concrete, so obvious, but I know that even when they are much quieter, these opportunities to reach out and support one another are all around us.
|Image courtesy of Mattias. Some rights reserved.|
I can't control how the person on the other end reacts. What I can control is me. And I don't want to walk around on the defensive. I don't want to believe that minding my own business is better than extending a hand. I am certain that we have a responsibility to take care of each other.
Monday afternoon my phone rang, an unfamiliar number on the screen. "Hello?" "Hi. Um, this is Kristen. You left a note on my car yesterday." I held my breath. A sweet voice on the other end explained that her mother had taken her daughter's car seat and forgotten to give it back, the booster was a temporary solution that evening. "I just wanted to let you know, so you can give it to someone else." I exhaled with relief. I confided that my husband thought it was a bad idea leaving the note, that maybe she would be offended. "No," she said, "We moms have to stick together." Yes, I agreed, we moms have to stick together.