Kindness from a Stranger

She entered the salon where my son was getting his hair cut. Immediately I recognized her…but from where? This happens to me all the time. I drew a blank. She smiled and said, “Oh hi.” But her face revealed she was trying to place me too. Oh good. After a moment she confessed she knew me but…was it from the school my kids attended? We pieced together that she worked for the district and we’d met at a parent input forum I attended last year with principals, parents and others. We laughed at our bad memories.
We chatted about her little guy and how fast kids outgrow clothes. She had a five year old and a three year old. I told her the ages of mine. We laughed at how fast things no longer fit and how big they get. I pointed her to my 5’10” “baby” across the room. Her little boy began asking me questions fitting of a three-year-old. Where were my kids? Three are at home and one is here. Which boy was mine? That big boy over there. Where was my boy’s daddy?
The last question made my breath catch. Should I tell this boy, this toddler-stranger that my boy’s daddy had died? I was grateful for an interruption from my phone. When I finished he was distracted. Relief.
As we began chatting again she asked an innocent question, fitting for her job. “How are your kids liking school this year?” I tried to keep it simple. Though it had been an emotional day, there was no need to burden this stranger.
“Just ok?” she pressed with a smile.  
Tears came to my eyes as I said in a quiet voice, so out of character for me, “My husband died in the second week of school. It’s been a rough year. I have a freshman, an eighth grader, a sixth grader, and a kindergartener. It was already a transition year so it’s been extra hard. (my voice caught in my throat) Its twelve weeks tonight.” The tears spilled over before I could stop them. But only a few.
Compassion filled her face. This stranger was also a wife and mom. Our simple conversation about how fast her boys were growing had connected us on a mommy-level. She seemed to know words were inadequate. After a moment of struggling for control with tears threatening to leave her eyes she said, so kindly, “I’m so sorry.”
Her questions that followed were the normal ones people ask—was it unexpected? How old was he? Are the kids doing ok? She didn’t pry beyond that. She expressed sympathy as she’d lost her brother a year and half ago. She said holidays are the hardest. I told her we were headed to his family’s home for thanksgiving because that’s what my kids wanted to do. Her face lit up. She said, “You are a good mom. My ex-sister-in-law doesn’t see a need to let us see my nieces and nephews.” I told her that was terrible—these were still their grandparents, their aunts and uncles, their cousins. She looked relieved and impressed that this was my attitude.
Just then Jarod finished his haircut and I turned a smiling face to him. No need for his evening to be burdened with our conversation, with my sadness. Her smile was kind as I turned to leave.
It’s amazing the connections we make. I’ve discovered this since Kraig’s death. My chatty nature has connected me to people I hadn’t even realized. I am memorable—for good or bad, I just am. I used to joke I could chat with a kumquat. But this ability to strike up conversations has networked me in my kids’ school district, made connections I didn’t realize with checkout ladies at Walmart, and even moved the people at the health food store to reach out with sympathy to me, simply one of their customers.
Tonight this woman was just being polite at first. We were just two moms waiting in a salon—me for my son, her for a little pampering. But when the conversation turned more serious than she imagined, she was so kind. It was more than I thought would happen just taking Jarod for a haircut.

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