I walked up the baking aisle on my way to turn right toward the dairy, half a dozen rows over. A little girl came around the corner toward me in the baking aisle. She was crying and sobbing ‘mommeeee.’ She went back around the corner to the right before I got near her, and then she crossed in front of me as I was leaving the aisle. No one was with her.
I knelt down. Are you missing your mom? She didn’t say anything. I stood up.. hang on, honey, I said. I saw a worker from the meat counter talking to a customer. I went to ask him if we could use the intercom or something. He kept talking to the customer. It seemed like many minutes went by, but it could not have been more than a few seconds. I looked back at the little girl, about twenty feet away. Another man had stopped to talk to her. Did you lose your mom? he asked. She nodded, still sobbing. I told him that I had set out to try to use the intercom. Well, he said to her, let’s go up front and find your mom up there, ok? Let’s go with (pointing at me) this guy, too. What’s your mom’s name?
Ok, let’s go, here we go.
We walked up the aisle toward the registers. We looked around at the end of the aisle, and the little girl went over to a woman four rows over, near the store exit. The woman was pushing a cart and was talking animatedly (happily, it seemed) on a cell phone. The woman was in motion when we saw her, and as her child joined her she continued talking on the phone and headed for the exit. The fact that her child had been so far away and had been separated from her for several minutes did not seem to make an impression.
Rich Melheim says that he is motivated to help families to connect because of the great connections he enjoyed in the home in which he grew up. I am motivated to do this because I know that when we are kids, everyone, including our parents and caregivers, everyone is big, like trees. This child at the store was terrified. Two strangers helped her to find her way to her mother, but in the meantime she was alone in a forest full of trees, trees that don’t stand still, trees that move and speak in unfamiliar voices. Sitting with a safe adult, with the phone turned off, with real and kind attention, makes a bubble of good in a world full of unfamiliar, indifferent or menacing or terrifying towering trees.