On the doorman, and the power of a kind word

Earlier this week, I took Ian to his 6-month ear tube check-up. The ENT (whose name I can never remember) is housed in this large medical office building with a doorman. (Sometimes a doorwoman, but usually a man.) To have a doorman seems like an antiquated practice, but I think it’s because this building is full of different offices, and it keeps people from getting lost. Not to mention, it’s become pretty clear (during my limited observations) that most people entering and exiting the building are elderly; the doorman helps a lot of people to their cars in the snowy winter. One time, I was leaving an appointment right as a snow storm was beginning, and the guy stood with the boys in the doorway while I pulled up the car. So, I had filed the doorman under “a little unusual but very helpful.”

The kids and I are quite a spectacle these days, when I’m brave enough to venture out with all three in tow. Everywhere we go, we elicit comments like, “Wow! You are a busy lady!” and of course, “You sure have your hands full.” At the mall a few weeks ago, I actually overheard someone say, “I feel a little bit sorry for her. My boss only has 2 kids, and his life is miserable.”

I am not the type to give a snarky reply, though I usually think one silently in my head. (I’m nothing if not passive-aggressive.) What bothers me most is that none of these comments is ever offered as an impartial observation; they are always tinged with a hint of pity or even condescension. Sometimes, I really want to say, “Yes, my hands are full, so how about you handle this grocery shopping trip for me? I’ll sit here on this bench.” But of course, I don’t say that.

I walked into the doctor’s office lobby on Tuesday, Leo and Ruthie in the double stroller and Ian tagging along beside us. The diaper bag was slipping off my shoulder, overflowing with everything we might need to survive this outing. As we squeezed through the entrance, the doorman looked at me and said, “Wow! How old are your kids?”

I continued walking towards the elevator as I rattled off their ages and braced myself for the coming critique of my life choices.

But instead, as I glanced back over my shoulder, the doorman looked me in the eye and said, “Wow. You are so lucky.”

I was so caught off-guard by this. Not once–in the entire period of time since I was obviously pregnant with a third kid–has a stranger said something like this to me. I just smiled, and tried not to cry, and squeaked out a “Thank you.” And then the elevator door opened, and we were off to the most miserable doctor’s appointment I have ever endured.

We ended up waiting over an hour to see the doctor, and the actual appointment lasted less than 10 minutes. It fell in the middle of naptime, so all the kids were tired and cranky. In approximately 2 minutes, Leo ate through the snacks I had packed, and no one was interested in the toys I brought. I chased Leo through the office and carried him screaming back to the lobby. I kept straightening the magazine pile they were destroying and rocked the stroller back and forth to console whimpering Ruthie. I tried singing “Wheels on the Bus” loud enough to entertain them, but not loud enough to bother any of the other waiting patients. When we finally arrived into the exam room, Leo threw up everywhere (because, apparently, he had not actually chewed the fruit snacks I had given him 20 minutes before).  I actually considered ditching the appointment entirely and heading home, but we had already endured 50+ minutes of waiting.

I held Leo, trying to get the wet clothes off of him without getting covered myself, and I kept telling Ian not to step in the puddle of vomit he was dangerously close to. As I cleaned Leo with baby wipes, I heard the doorman’s voice in my head, and I prayed. I’m so lucky. Thank you. Jesus, for the privilege of being their mother. And I meant it.

I know me, and let me just tell you: I don’t handle situations like this well. Most days, I avoid going anywhere with all three kids because the chaos of it is too much for me. This was not at all my normal response to a moment like that, but the doorman’s words had changed the course of my morning.

I know we hear it all the time, but our words really are powerful.

When I’m out and about lately, I usually have tunnel vision, focused on the complicated logistics of bringing three needy children out in public. I’m hardly noticing the people around me. I don’t feel bad about it, exactly, because, you know, my hands are full and all that. But now, I’m determined to serve others the way that doorman served me. Even when offered in a quick, fleeting exchange, a kind word is a special kind of generosity.

So, to the parents: “You have a beautiful family.”

To the kids: “You have wonderful manners!”

To the cashiers: “Thank you for the good service.”

To the customer service person on the phone: “I appreciate your time.”And to the mothers with double strollers and heavy diaper bags and sleepy toddlers: “Aren’t we so lucky?”

And to the mothers with double strollers and heavy diaper bags and sleepy toddlers: “Aren’t we so lucky?”


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