Monday, February 22, 2010

Strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet (or not)

I have a line I use on my children when they’re complaining that the house is too noisy to do their homework, work on a dvar Torah, sit and read… or whatever.  It is a terrible line.  It’s the kind of line you should really only say once and then never, ever again.

I tell them, “if they could ___ (whatever it is they’re complaining about) during the Shoah, then certainly you should be able to in our living room… even a noisy living room.”

See?  Isn’t it terrible?  I really don’t use it all that often, I promise.

Still, I wanted to use it today to say “take that, silly paintbrush-shaking man, coming out to tell me that my screaming baby – a boy, by the way, not a girl as you assume from his long, glamourous blonde tresses – is disturbing your art class.”

I stick by what I told him:  clearly he has never been or had a child, because children make noise and there’s sometimes nothing you can do. 

And I wanted to say, so THERE.  Because of the Shoah.  Isn’t that awful?  But I bet there were people on their way to the gas chamber who made better paintings than that man in the cushiony heated comfort of a studio in a recreation centre, who can’t concentrate because a BABY is making noise.

So go shake your silly little paintbrush somewhere else.

Sometimes obnoxious strangers do come bearing wisdom.  Like the time Gavriel Zev was a teeny baby and I took him to WalMart.  He was in his car seat, in the Snap n’ Go (which was not the brand, but it was the same kind of carseat carrier). 

I loved the carseat carrier, by the way:  it was my single-favourite baby purchase for Naomi Rivka, and even more than all the nice baby carriers (gasp!), made my life easier and happier every single day.  We were in cars a lot when Naomi was a new baby.

But this time, Gavriel Zev was in it, and I was in WalMart with Elisheva, and he was screaming, and my only thought was – “let’s just get through this.”  Let’s get in and out and home and just live with the screaming in the meantime.  If you live with Gavriel Zev, you learn to live with screaming pretty fast.

So there we were – maybe we were even shopping for Purim; I remember having that kind of obsessive focus, being in the craft section, needing a specific thing.  And he was screaming.

And a shop lady came, in her dowdy blue WalMart apron and said, “lady, khhhhug your baby.”  Hug him.  She showed me with a gesture, picking up an imaginary baby, before she walked off.

BOY was I mad!  Fuming, smoke pouring out ears, everything.  Who was she to tell me how to take care of my screamy baby???  I was ready to report her, have her fired, whatever it took to wipe her off the face of the earth.

But then I stopped.  Picked him up, held him.  Khhhhugged him.  Put the things that had been in my hands in the baby carrier, had Elisheva push the baby carrier, and I held the baby.

And he did stop crying, a little.  Not much.  Still whimpering occasionally, but quieter.  Still unhappy, but at least I didn’t have to wonder if holding him would have made things better.  And it definitely made me feel better, besides looking far more virtuous, and less negligent.

The woman in the apron was right.  But the man with the paintbrush, today, was wrong.

I guess what that means is you have to listen to strangers and sometimes you learn something.  And sometimes you don’t.  Sometimes strangers are messengers of truth.  But maybe sometimes they’re just dumb.

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