An open letter to the woman in the Safeway parking lot …

Kristin sends her thanks to a stranger who reached out with kindness during one of the scariest moments of her life.

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Photo by Roland via Flickr.

This blog post originally appeared on our website on July 25, 2012.

You don’t expect a life altering moment to happen at the grocery store.

You expect to buy some honey roasted almonds, maybe, and some lettuce and goat cheese for a salad you’ll be bringing later for dinner with friends. You expect to sigh a little as the prices pile higher and higher at the self-checkout stand — when did grapes become more expensive than a bottle of wine? You expect the fluorescent lights and the elevator music and the Fancy Feast on sale for 66 cents.

What you don’t expect, when you visit the grocery store on a rainy Saturday afternoon in June, is that something might happen in the parking lot, something that will seize your heart and shatter your spirit and leave you sobbing and clinging and waiting for the ambulance to arrive. You never expect life altering moments to arrive when they do, and when they happen you are woefully unprepared, shocked to discover this is happening to you.

***
I don’t know you, and I don’t know that I will ever see you again, but I wanted to try to let you know somehow that your unscripted humanity impacted me in a way I don’t know that I’ll be able to articulate.

I’m not sure if you saw exactly what happened. Did you see me leaning in to touch my nose to my baby’s nose? He was cooing and smiling, you see, and it was our first shopping trip that hadn’t ended it tears. I was proud and surging with love for this tiny baby that I never thought I’d have.

We weren’t minding the rain: This is Vancouver and we pay for the majesty of our mountains and the blue of our ocean with inconvenient droplets at times. It’s a small price.

My Jeep was only a few steps away when the cart hit the yellow speed bump, and you may be able to relay the next moments better than I.

I remember this, and it’s all in slow motion: The car seat sliding from the cart, sickeningly. I remember a woman’s bloodcurdling scream, the green dots of the car seat fabric spinning, about to hit the pavement. I remember my legs, not fast enough, my lunge to retrieve him, weak and trapped in slow motion and I remember a tormented howl that let loose from my throat and hurt my ears.

That is my baby in that car seat, upside down on the pavement. That is my baby, my baby, my baby.

I couldn’t do anything after that. My legs were yogurt and I could think of nothing but black and my baby’s head, suddenly underneath my chin, warm and tear soaked and I was shaking so hard my teeth knocked into each other.

I remember your face and your eyes as people clustered around me.

Oh my god, the baby.

The baby.

How old is the baby, what happened, oh my god he fell hard.

My baby.

He was screaming, alarmingly loudly and I remember you saying that’s good, the cry is good, it’s OK. Your hand was on my back as people asked me questions and relayed their stories. A man in a grey jacket tried to prevent a car from leaving the lot, mistakenly assuming the driver was involved with this scene. A woman with weary eyes touched my arm and said, this happened to my baby too. It’s OK. He will be OK.

You escorted me to the building, out of the rain. You retrieved my purse from the middle of the parking lot where I’d left it with the contents spilling out. You found my keys and worked with bystanders to call 911 and load up my car with groceries. I stood there under the Safeway awning and I cried because I exist to protect my baby from the world and I didn’t, I failed completely and so he is hurt, so badly. I experienced a simultaneous shame and desperate love for my baby and when you asked, I couldn’t even remember my husband’s phone number.

You retrieved my iPhone from the shrapnel of my purse and that’s no easy feat. There are energy bar wrappers in there and socks and loonies covered with mysterious food particles. You somehow extracted the lock code from me and found my husband’s number and passed me the phone so I could tell him: Our baby is hurt and an ambulance is on the way and please get here fast.

“You are not a bad mother,” you kept saying. “Accidents happen to all of us moms.” I am too messed up to thank you for your kindness, to let you know it is saving me right now. You sit beside me as the firemen arrive and look in Jude’s eyes and feel his scalp and undo his tiny onesie to check for bruising and my mind keeps replaying the car seat, over the edge, tumbling down, flipping, trapping my baby.

I clicked the seat in, I heard the click, why did he fall?

I let him fall, I let him fall. His head.

When the ambulance came my husband hadn’t arrived and when I pleaded for them to please wait, Corey will be here in two minutes, they told me: We have to go. We can’t wait around in a situation like this, sorry.

I thought you had demonstrated enough kindness to a total stranger, but you weren’t finished: You stepped into the door to ask if I wanted to give you the Jeep keys so my husband could follow the ambulance to the hospital. When the doors shut and the sirens came on, yours was the last face I’d seen and there was no judgment anywhere on it. You were full of human kindness and compassion and I can’t tell you what you meant to me in those terrifying minutes.

I wanted to tell you that my baby will be OK. That we sat at the hospital in silence for hours, thinking about what could be and what, thank god, is not. I wanted to let you know that I will never again use a car seat in a shopping cart, and that your kindness touched my heart. I wanted to let you know that my baby stopped crying while he was nursing in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, and that he actually smiled at me. And that, because of you, I smiled back.

You have restored my belief in the goodness of my fellow human beings and especially of my fellow mamas. Thank you for lifting me up in one of the darkest moments of my life, and for caring so much for an utter stranger. I’m not sure I’ll ever meet you again, but I know absolutely that I’ll never forget you.

20 comments on “An open letter to the woman in the Safeway parking lot …

  1. oh wow… i went through those same emotions when my 1 month old * he is 6 soon to be 7 * and i fell off our back porch and he bounced out of my arms and hit his head on the sidewalk. i will NEVER forget that sound. long story short, after a week in the hospital and a LOT of prayer, he is doing well and is exceeding his age level. the biggest thing that helped was the hospital staff who could tell that this was simply an unfortunate accident and constantly reassured me that i was NOT a bad mother, that i could not have stopped what happened. they made sure i understood that i did the best thing for him by getting him to the hospital so quickly. give your little guy a hug and remember that you are not alone, kids hit their head, they fall from high places and they have an amazing ability to overcome things. * and i stopped putting our car seat on the cart too, when ours slipped and thankfully, daddy was there to grab it before it fell totally off, we started putting the car seat in the big portion of the cart and pushing two carts.* thank you to the woman who helped another mother in a time that so easily could have went differently.

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  2. Beautiful tribute to an incredibly thoughtful woman <3

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  3. Great article but kind of sad that compassion is so unexpected these days. Maybe I’m naive but I would just expect people around to take charge and look after me and my baby with no judgement as that’s what I’d do. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful story I couldn’t get through without wiping my eyes :).

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  4. Beautifully written story. You are a good mom.

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  5. Such a sad story :(. This is why you are never supposed to put infant seats on top of shopping carts. I cringe every time I see it and wish I could say something without someone taking it the wrong way

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    • lesson learned, not the point of the story… judgement doesn’t do anything for anyone in such a scary and self-punishing situation…
      i was “a better mother before i had kids” and since, the judgment has abated

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    • And this is why the author thought it was amazing that someone showed compassion and not judge and make critisism about the event. It happened, it cannot be undone. Car seats click into a locked position and an unfortunate series of events occurred resulting in the fall. If someone said something to me about the car seat lock on a shopping cart not working, I would still use it, just double check that it’s locked into position. They are meant to hold and secure a car seat so you don’t have to put the baby in the front of the cart.

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      • A–Carseats should NOT be put on the seat portion of a grocery cart. The lock on the seat is part of the system that locks it into the base in your car. Check your owner’s manual.

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        • To think that the takeaway from this story is a restoration of faith in humanity is dangerous — as S said, the click of a car seat onto a shopping cart means nothing about security. This whole article could have been prevented with a single piece of fabric and a “totally granola and way out there” practice called babywearing. I only hope the Moms (and Dads, and Non-Moms) reading this story will extract the true message — never, ever put a car seat on a shopping cart.

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          • After reading this article I am shocked and appalled by the unacceptable judgement of both K and S. It amazes me that you can be so self righteous. Enough with the lecture already. It is so easy to judge a situation from the outside. I am just thankful that the people who were in that parking lot that day were supportive and caring in this situation. I really hope neither of you finds yourself in a terrifying circumstance. But if you do, hopefully the people around you will be the kind of people in this story.

        • @A – Car seats are not designed to lock into shopping carts, they are designed to lock into their own base. Many shopping carts have warnings about not putting the seats on the top. Even if you think the lock is done at the back, the front can slip sideways and the seat can fall off.

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  6. Nearly 29 years ago, my son was in his walker (they are no longer allowed), when he went down the basement stairs. One of my older children had unlatched the gate and forgot to latch it again. I will never forget the sound of the walker bouncing down those stairs. My son was about 9 months old. I scooped him up, seeing the bruising and swelling appearing on his forehead before my eyes. I rushed him to the hospital, and fortunately, he had no lasting effects from the incident; Luckily he didn’t fall out of he walker, but as it bounced down the stairs, his head repeatedly hit the walker tray. I have never been so afraid in my life and I kept thinking “This is my fault, I wasn’t watching him carefully enough”. Your story brought this all back, but you were so lucky to have that woman there to calm and reassure you. My son is fine, but I will never forget this incident. Kids are tough; thank goodness! I am so happy your so is fine too!

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  7. I cried and felt nauseous while reading this article.Accidents can and do happen to the best of parents. I often see car seats in shopping carts and don’t think twice. After reading this I will make sure the car seat is in the big part of the cart when I take my beautiful grandaughter shopping. Thank you for sharing your story and I am so glad your little one is ok.

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  8. There are still a few people in the world that don’t bring judgement…To the woman who stopped to help this young mother I would like to say ” well done and thank you” from a mom who was never perfect and could have used someone to remind her occasionally that accidents happen and no matter what you do you can’t prevent them all.

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  9. It’s great when you here stories of kindness like that. I hope the lady in question reads you’re letter and gets back to you, she sounds like she would be a great friend. Wishing you and you’re family all the best.

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  10. A poignant story showing true compassion and not to forget, heroes walk among us!

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  11. Sad. The point of this story was the kindness of a stranger, and how as Moms we feel completely under the scrutiny of others- mothers and non-mothers alike. What we should be commenting on is how we HAVE ALL BEEN IN A SITUATION similar to this one where an accident happened that was beyond our human control. What is not beyond our human control is our ability to feel empathy and compassion for others especially when the chips are down. The debate about “you should never. ..” is completely out of place here. This piece was beautifully written, and it inspires me to continue to build up my fellow mothers by continuing to treat them with additional kindness for the scrutiny we all know we are under. Those that didn’t take that away from this piece just didn’t get the point.

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  12. I’m so sorry, I couldn’t imagine a scary moment like that, I have a one month old and we went through something scary last night too, I’m proud of you and your ab amazing loving mommy, you are also an ispararion thank you for sharing this, msg me is you’d like :)

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  13. God bless this woman. It is so terrifying to be a new mom and to be responsible for a wee one’s life. On behalf of all of us moms who aren’t perfect, thank you, Safeway parking lot lady, for giving Kristin what she needed most .

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  14. Wow, wow, wow!!!! I’m trying to read this but the tears are pouring down my face. What a incredible story of love, support, kindness, all in the view of non judgement. So beautiful and so rare especially in bigger cities. Love.

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