Spring was all around us this warm morning, like some pastoral painting come to life. It had rained two nights ago and persuaded the trees to turn brilliant shades of green, the tulips were red and yellow and all the shades of a good Tequila Sunrise. Dreams of a strong drink in the back of my mind, I was taking my sons on one of my infamous “field trips.”
I hated being cooped up in the house – caged like some wild animal – so it was ironic that we were visiting the St. Louis zoo. I was using a double stroller; not the sidewalk hogging side-by-side version, but the one that was most like public transportation. While one child enjoyed a perfect view of where we were going, the other invariably fell asleep, lulled by the sight of their brother’s head bobbing hypnotically in front of them. This stroller was not easily wrangled from the trunk of my car, and I had the bruises on my shins and pinched fingers to prove it.
The mighty stroller was set up, with Nate, all of 21 months old, in front and 6-month-old Ben deposited into the back. I felt like a magazine illustration of the perfect, doting mother. Cooing to my babies as we walked along, we stopped to admire the fountain in the middle of the centerpiece lake, leftover from the 1904 World’s Fair. We giggled at all the honking geese and waved to other moms and children on our merry way to see the Prairie Dogs.
As we were walking along, heading down a gentle slope, the trail got a little rocky. Bump, bump, bumpity-bump. I could hear the boys laughing in delight, but couldn’t see over the stroller’s canopy that I had put up to guard against the sun. Suddenly, we were stuck. We must have snagged one of the many twigs or branches scattered across the path, remnants of the thunderstorm. I pushed and pushed, but the darned stroller wouldn’t move. I went around to remove the offending branch and felt my heart constrict into a wad of used chewing gum. It wasn’t a branch. It was Ben. My baby! Somehow he had slipped from the stroller seat and I had been determined to run over and squash him. I grabbed him up and he looked at me with a little confused smile (not certain if I like this game, Mom), covered with wet leaves. I fiercely hugged and kissed him and then gently set him back into his seat, carefully buckling him in this time. Ben was fine: I dissolved into a complete hysterical breakdown.
I ran around in circles until I spied an unsuspecting elderly woman basking in the sun. As I approached her, my sobs began anew and I tried to confess what had just transpired: I had nearly killed my baby! This kind stranger hugged me and patted me on the back whispering the universal words of comfort, “There, there, now.”
We agreed that Ben was a tough little cookie and she pointed out that I must pull myself together, for I was frightening my children. And indeed, Nate had one finger in his mouth, as he gazed at Mom, with tears streaming down her face, trying to catch her breath. ”Momma boo-boo?” I kneeled before him, in some act of contrition, and just hugged him tightly. Ben was already sweetly fast asleep and the wonderful woman quickly removed herself to a less volatile location.
I was still thoroughly shaken and trembling. We didn’t visit the rest of the animals, but we did calm my nerves with ice cream for all. Ben even woke up to accept his reward for having almost been squashed. I wish that I could have rewarded my kind stranger who knew when a hug was needed the most.
Previously published on Mamalode.
Susan W. Goldstein
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