Courtesy and Kindess Are Currently Unavailable

If you have kids and have gone through potty training, then you know that even when they’re more or less on the other side of the Pull-Up spectrum, you’re not completely out of the woods for some time. Kids aged three to five have remarkably small bladders and an even smaller window of time between when they realize that they really need to go the bathroom, and when they’re past the point of no return (read: accident).

As a mom of four, I am hyper-sensitive to this fact, not just because I’ve been through it before, but because I continue to languish in the throes of toilet purgatory for an unspecified amount of time. Since my twin boys are just three years old and still figuring out how much “lead time” is required before they can actually make it to the toilet without an unwelcome “event,” any time away from home and quick and easy access to the bathroom is stressful.

This reality was played out yesterday at a local street fair.

We had taken the kids the community event which enticed many young families with small children, as well as a healthy complement of middle-aged and older folks. In other words, the streets were packed with people and festivity was in the air.

Think cotton candy, rides, candy apples and games.

Anyway, there we were, with the kids, having a grand old time.

All of a sudden, my son Erik grabs his nether regions and starts frenetically jumping up an down. Being his mom, I recognized this to be a silent nod to his tiny bladder that is now about to explode. What’s a mom to do?

Of course I quickly picked him up and ran to the nearest coffee shop which was, thankfully, just a quick sprint away from where we had been standing. Scanning the establishment with my keen and well-trained eye, I  spotted the desired sign beyond the barista, at the back of the shop –  “Washrooms” with the universal male/female figures beckoning my now-frantic son.

With my boy in arms, I ran to the back, hoping against hope that there was a stall that would be free, or an open door, if it happened to be one of those singular-type bathrooms that only allow one person in at a time.

I quickly figured out that the type of restroom at hand was the latter, and that my dear son and I may be out of luck.

Standing in front of one of the doors was a woman, about 40 years old. As my son increasingly fidgeted and was clearly in need of a toilet pronto, I asked her if both were taken. She said yes, and gave me and my son a look that was particularly devoid of compassion.

As the door of one of the bathrooms opened, and its occupant emerged, the moment of truth was upon us. What was she going to do? It’s as if we both had the same thought at the same time as we looked into each others eyes. Just as quickly, she glanced at my son, now hopping up and down in agony and made her choice: she waltzed into the empty bathroom and closed the door on any hope that we had for relief.

The point behind this post is twofold:

1) To convey how utterly sad I feel that there are folks out there who lack even the smallest shred of empathy for those around them;

2) To ask whether or not the concepts of kindness and compassion exist in our society anymore.

I’ve spoken about the unkindness of strangers before when I was the guilty party in not lending a helping hand to a mother who was clearly in need. I’d be lying if I said that now that my son and I were the ones that needed a bit of compassion,  it didn’t sting to be on the receiving end of things.

For the sake of completing the story, the end result was that was a few moments later and none too soon, the other bathroom door was opened and my son and I bolted in without a moment to spare. But I can’t say that all’s well that ends well.

Is it just me, or have we become a society that is so self-involved that we don’t bother to remember what we learned so long ago: you know, that old adage about “do unto others?” It seems as if we have become so heavily attached to the concept of “every man for himself” that we’ve forgotten about simple acts of kindness and common courtesy.

We see it so little today, though don’t all of us secretly long for that time when life’s pace didn’t seem as harried, and people cared just a little bit more about the person standing next to them? Maybe I’m old-fashioned but I think that children are another story, and if you can help a parent in need – such as in the situation mentioned here – then you should. How hard could it be?

Now of course there could have been extenuating circumstances in my interaction with the woman at the bathroom door. Perhaps she had a “personal emergency” of her own and was on the verge of having an accident herself if she didn’t get through that door pronto. Possible, but improbable as she was calmly standing and waiting for her turn with nary a look of consternation or discomfort.

Perhaps she was taking a personal stand against the fact that children are commonly kowtowed to in what she may feel are far too many circumstances and was making a point to not follow the masses in this regard.

In the former case, I can completely understand, as who wants to deal with the embarrassment of a bathroom incident occurring in a public place? In the latter case, it would have been nice if she had stepped outside of herself for that brief moment in time where an accident of the most unpleasant kind almost happened.

This little interaction has made me think more about how we all relate to one another, kid in tow or not. I admit that I’ve been guilty on more than one occasion of thinking only about my own needs and wants in a public situation, with little concern for others. While I likely would have stepped aside and allowed a mom with an anxious child to go into the washroom first had I been in a similar situation, common courtesy and kindness are not always on the agenda in my day-to-day life. Like many others, I’ve refused to let someone in front of me in a merging lane while driving and I’ve stood my ground when someone with fewer items wanted to go in front of me in the grocery line. Not always, but I admit I’ve done it before.

Realizing how it feels being the one who’s scorned gives so much more clarity to the situation and a renewed commitment to myself to become more empathetic and compassionate to others. After all, each and every one of us could use a small dose of kindness in our daily lives, couldn’t we?

Have you ever been in a similar situation? How did you handle it?

VIDEO: Nick Lowe – Cruel to be Kind

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