The Old Lady at the Train Station

Last Friday after school we played at the park with friends until it was no longer a question of if it would rain, but could we beat the rain home? We made it to the train station 8 minutes prior to our train arriving with scooters and backpacks in tow. This particular train station has one covered shelter, so we made a beeline for that area to protect ourselves from the wind. An elderly woman, bundled from head to toe in winter gear, had already claimed one corner of the shelter.

My children (ages 6 and 9) are used to waiting for trains. We sometimes play I-spy, but since my daughter always “spies” one stone on a 1000-ft. long stone wall, that game has been a bust lately. My kids sometimes pass the time trying to spot new graffiti, which is so much fun when you have a child that’s learning how to read and spell. If you’re going to graffiti, the least you could do is spell your words correctly.

But on this particular day, they launched into conversation.

Without any preamble or even a moment to brace myself, this is what followed…

Son: Mom, do we hate Donald Trump?

Me: *thinking – we’re going to talk about this right now? Here?* Oh, no, no! Remember, we save the word ‘hate’ for the really big things like murder or war. We haven’t even met Donald Trump. We can dislike or disagree with what he says or the things he does, but we still treat him and all people we encounter with respect. Basically, we treat other people how we want to be treated.

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Daughter: Are we going to celebrate St. Stephen’s Day?

Me: Uh, let’s see…that’s December 26, right? I don’t know how people celebrate St. Stephen’s Day in Ireland. Do you?

Daughter: I read in my history book that they used to kill a wren and put it on a holly bush.

Me: Hmm. That seems a little extreme.

Daughter: Now people just put an ornament bird on a holly bush.

Me: Ah. Wrens of the world rejoice. That’s something we can do. Probably. If we had a holly bush. And a bird ornament.

Son: Can I have a snack?

Me: You just finished your snack 10 minutes ago and we are on our way home. When we get home we are going to make hot chocolate. Remember?

Son: Oh, yeah. Can we take a boat to Hong Kong?

Me: Uh. Not today.

Son: So when someone says “do you want a flower?” And Donald Trump says, “that’s not how you say it!” And that person says “that IS to how you say it.” And he’s not nice – what happens?

Me: *Trying to decipher that whole question, I crouch down on the ground so my son can sit on my knee.*

The only thing we can control is our actions. We don’t have to agree with people and we don’t have to let people walk all over us, but by showing kindness and love and treating other people with respect, we are showing them a better way to live. A world where there can be peace and cooperation and sharing. Hopefully they will learn from our actions and how we treat others and maybe they will be nicer too.

Daughter: My friend told me Donald Trump said women’s brains are like swiss cheese. How can he be married to a woman if he thinks that way?

Me: *wondering why on earth the train hasn’t shown up yet…and how I’m going to explain this in an age appropriate way*

That’s a good question. I’m not sure if he said that. We can’t take gossip at face value. If he did, I don’t have a great answer to your question…

*Then I stand up, cradle her face in my hands and say…*

We know – you and me and daddy and your brother –  that women’s brains are not like swiss cheese. You are just as smart and capable as anyone – boy or girl. Don’t ever, ever let anyone convince you otherwise. And you should never be married to someone who thinks that way about women or anyone, really.

After what was the longest 8 minutes in recent memory, the train FINALLY arrives.

As we do the mad rush to gather our belongings, the old woman – who couldn’t help but listen to that entire conversation since we were in such close proximity – stood up and said to me…

“I can’t believe all of their questions. You’re a good mama.”

I barely got a thank you out before she turned and boarded the train. I never saw her again.

Eleven words.

That’s all she said to me.

I couldn’t help but feel so thankful for the generosity of those eleven words. They were spoken at a time when I really needed to hear them.

After a long week that wasn’t finished.
After 8 minutes of pretty tricky questions that were only just beginning…trust me.
After a week of being questioned by strangers simply because of my American accent.
After wondering whether or not my choices as a parent are working.
After grasping for answers to questions that really have no good answer.
After just the ins and outs of daily life.
After all of that.

Her eleven words were the encouragement I needed to dive back into the fray.

She spoke to me with kindness and without judgment, even after knowing we were Americans. She spoke to me as a mother, after having been there herself.
She spoke to me with the wisdom that only age and experience can bring.
She spoke to me with humility at not wanting to be the one fielding those questions.
She spoke to me in solidarity as a woman.
She spoke to me with generosity of spirit.
She spoke to me with basic human kindness.

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It made me think that I should do that more. I should be more like that woman. When I see a mom out there in the trenches trying her best to raise her kids, I should offer my own 11 words of encouragement. You never know when your words are the happiest blip in another person’s day. You never know when not just your actions, but your words will make a difference.

In that moment, the old woman embodied what I was trying to convey to my kids. In all things: Show respect. Demonstrate love. Live the Golden Rule.

It’s the only way we all win.

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