There was a little guy sitting in his stroller reaching for his daddy's Starbucks cup. It was empty, so daddy gave it to him to play with. He kept dropping it off the stroller, and daddy kept picking it up, until they engaged in an impromptu game of daddy tossing the cup onto baby's lap and baby laughing like only babies can. I was sitting outside of Forever 21 in the mall, waiting for my daughter who was shopping for new pants.
A mom and adolescent daughter sat down beside me.
"You're ignoring me", the daughter whined.
"No", said the mother; "I just refuse to continue having a conversation where you refuse to hear me, where you block me out. I'm not ignoring you. I want to talk about this."
The daughter planted her chin in her hands and stared at the mall floor, eyes dark, mouth pouting.
A grandfather across from me carried his infant grandson to the lighted up picture of the polar bears at the zoo. He talked in soft little baby words about the bears, the big bear; the baby bear. The grandson grinned and jabbed at baby bear. I imagined spring, and the trip they'd make to see the bears for real- a stroller loaded down with sippy cup, blankie, bug spray, snacks, diapers..... The chatter they would engage in. How fresh it all would be- first trip to the zoo for the little boy, first trip to the zoo for the new grandpa. And the mommy, so proud to push her little man around and point out the monkeys, the groundhogs, the other little babies.
I thought about Jane looking around for pants, and I sighed a little. So long, her legs. So very nearly impossible for her to find pants long enough to accomodate them.
"Still shopping?", I texted her. "Need any help?".
"No, just trying some stuff on."
"Okay, I'll wander around for a while, then".
I picked myself up from the bench and merged into the Sunday mall traffic. Past the pregnant mamas, the young lady with the purple bangs, the impossibly thin middle-aged woman leaning against a planter, holding her back, the teenaged lovers entwined in the center aisle as though no one else existed, the popcorn shop, the billboard for perfect skin. I walked past the racks of cheap neon sweatshirts and window displays of fabulous footwear. I sifted through some racks of discount clothing marked "Large" and noted the pant waist size 24 and wondered when that had become so large.... How size four could possibly be considered anything but tiny. To my left, a man slumbered on a bench, his girth spreading before him, hands and feet swollen from the pressure of his heart working so hard. The mall smelled like bath soaps and popcorn, coffee and french fries. Women streamed past me, pants tight, boots tall. A huge woman came out of a tiny people store, hair piled extravagently on top of her head, black skirt clinging, breasts bouncing heavily under her animal print lycra. A handsome man greeted her, took her hand in his before they continued along their way, smiling at one another.
Uninspired by browsing, I made my way back to wait for my daughter, and continued to watch the world's people go by me. I wondered about their stories. I wondered if they felt lonely and desperate. I wondered what secrets they hid. I wondered if the little Starbucks baby would grow up playing too many video games, if he'd become sullen and withdrawn at the dinner table, if he'd be the target of abuse some day, if kids at his school would shout at him and mock him for his differences.
I wondered if the mom went to sleep every night doubting herself, questioning her parenting, wondering if she should have been more firm? Expected more of her daughter? Did she wish she could go back to the days of pulling her daughter to the park in the wagon, pushing her on the swings, splashing in the springtime puddles? Was she always that calm, that clear and kind, and did she feel that way on the inside? Why was her daughter so angry? Was it just a phase, or did something go wrong somewhere?
I could watch people indefinitely. I wonder sometimes what our world would be like if we could actually SEE one another. If we could understand what motivates our differing responses to life, our different ways of coping, our different expressions of love, affection, and intimacy. I wonder how we would relate to one another if we stopped being so afraid and threatened by how other people live and behave. I wish that I would live in less fear and judgement of people who annoy, frustrate, and frighten me.
When I'm sitting in the mall, and I'm worrying about raising my own kids, and wondering what it would be like if I had it to do again, if that wee baby with the Starbucks cup was mine, and I could try again, no mistakes this time, it's not because I really want to start over. It's because its all so messed up. It's because I wish we could all just SEE one another. It's because when they're little and in the stroller and they laugh just as easily as they cry, they're so fresh. We get to be so hopeful that they'll grow up loving their neighbours, having courage, being joyful, showing gratitude, loving life. We get to dream that we could show them how to see one another, how to swim upstream when they need to, how to embrace freedom instead of fear. It's because I hope I've given my kids enough so that when a boy comes to school wearing tight jeans and an infinity scarf, it won't be my kids sniggering and mocking. I hope I've given them enough so that they'll spend their energy caring for others instead of focusing on their own rightness and their peer's perceived wrongness.
I miss my kids sometimes. I miss how when they were little, I knew how to gather them up in my lap, make them laugh by kissing their neck folds, reading them story after story. I miss that a trip to the library, the park or the pool was always welcomed. My kids are biggish now, and I know that whatever I've done, said, and shown them is already shaping them forever. The days of the lit up polar bears at the mall are behind us now, and Starbucks cups are only fun when they're full. Shopping for clothes usually means me driving Jane to the mall and being patient while she makes her own selections.
Which finds me sitting in the corridor, watching and wondering.