From where I sit on my balcony at home, I can see a park and a pedestrian area that is covered with those paving stones that lock together. It’s really quite relaxing, in the evening, to sit there with a cold one and watch the young families gather with their small kids. I find the sound of kids laughing oddly pleasant and, very often, I can watch them as they tear around on their bikes with the training wheels still attached.
The other day I was doing just that when one of the little tykes starting screaming that shrill, ear-piercing shriek that only small children can shriek and, one would believe, that must cause any dogs for blocks around to scatter. It seems his mom was ready to leave and he wasn’t. She was pushing his bike with one hand and had a bag in the other. The little guy was just standing there, shrieking.
Watching a good mom be a mom is nothing short of amazing. And this was a good mom.
She didn’t panic, or yell at her kid or try to negotiate with him. She calmly put down the bag, picked up her kid and walked out of the park. I could hear his shrieking, like the whistle of a passing train, fade off into the distance and be replaced, once again, by the laughter of the other kids, birds and the sounds of the park.
The thing is, the bag she was carrying and the bike were just sitting there. I have no idea what was in the bag, it was most likely things she needed for their trip to the park but the bike was fairly new and of a famous brand.
And it just sat there.
No one approached it. None of the other kids ran over to play with it and none came forward to look after it for her. It was just…there.
About 15 minutes later she returned with her son, who had clearly shrieked himself out of all the shrieks he had, for the moment, and they walked over to the bike and bag. She picked up the bag, threw it over her shoulder, and without a word began pushing the bike home while her son reached up and took her hand.
Then I noticed something. Although no one said anything to her or made any overt gestures, some of the other moms gave her the slightest of nods as she left the park with her son. I didn’t get the impression that any of them knew each other but there was something else at work. It wasn’t just empathy but some kind of understanding of their shared experiences and responsibilities – something they had all come to recognize at some point as a mom – or maybe it was a display of collective momness, if that’s a thing.
They knew what it was like to be in her position, and probably would have offered help if it was needed, but they also saw the mom had it under control and so just went about their own business.
A few days later I was riding in an area of small, nasty roads that twist and turn, are chewed to bits and don’t really lead anywhere. As a result, there is virtually no traffic. It’s great.
As I crested a small hill, I saw a guy standing there leaning over his bike. I didn’t seem like he was doing anything or that anything obvious was wrong, but I slowed down anyway and asked him if everything was ok. He smiled and said everything was good and he thanked me in a way that suggested I should just keep going.
And so I did. I finished my ride and made my way home.
Later that evening, I sat on my balcony listening to the sound of the ice clinking in my glass mingle with the purest laughter. I watched the kids kick balls, run around, fall down on the grass and pedal furiously across the paving stones. And I watched the moms and the dads make it all happen.
As I sat there it suddenly dawned on me; Earlier that day, at the top of a small hill, for the briefest of moments, I too, had been a part of the collective momness. And it wasn’t the first time.
Over the years, I’ve stopped, more than once, to lend a hand. And I’ve been on the receiving end, as well. I’ve even had motorists stop to make sure I was ok and to offer assistance.
As I thought about it I realized that maybe it wasn’t such a rare thing after all. I’m sure anyone reading this has had a similar experience at some point while riding. Maybe it’s just all the shrieking in the last few years that seems to be filling our public spaces that makes it so hard to remember our shared experiences and responsibilities and that makes common things, like collective momness, seem so rare by comparison.