Every week, all three of my daughters take dance lessons, and all three are in separate back-to-back classes. This means our Tuesday afternoons are a rush home from school where we spend slightly less than an hour unpacking school bags, going through folders, eating snacks, doing homework, changing into dance clothes, and jumping right back into the car. Sometimes their dad is available to help with dropping off one child and picking up another, but most weeks, I’m on my own. So, I pack their dinners and tablets along with my coffee and a book, and we camp out in the parking lot for about two hours with the occasional kid switch.
It is known within our little dance community that I do this — I’m a staple in that parking lot every single Tuesday. My kids take turns sitting in the passenger seat, sticking their hands out the windows and yelling to their friends. There are lots of waves and knowing smiles as I read my book and occasionally look up at the passing parents throughout the evening.
But one evening, something unusual happened.
I was nose-deep in a lengthy book, determined to make headway in a challenging read, so I wasn’t really paying attention to my surroundings.
*tap tap tap*
I jumped out of my skin when I realized there was an older woman knocking on my driver’s side window. Honestly, I was a little annoyed, because this was not a parent I recognized and I hate being startled. I rolled down my window a little bit and asked,
“Yes? Can I help you?”
“Hi, I’m so sorry to bother you — I didn’t mean to scare you either, I’m sorry! It’s just, well, is your daughter Josie?”
I looked back at Josephine, my four-year-old, playing on her tablet in her pink tutu next to the window. “Yes, Josie is my daughter. Is everything okay?”
“Yes, yes everything is fine, I’m just having a really hard time getting A to go to dance class. She loved it at first, but for the last few weeks, she’s been fighting me on it. The only kid from her class she talks about is your Josie. Can she come sit in the car with you until class starts?”
I looked at the time — ten minutes left until the start of class. My face must have given away my hesitation, because before I could respond the woman said,
“I’ll stay here the whole time of course. I’m parked right next to you.” She motioned to the other side of my car, where A was watching our interaction with her nose pressed against the window. The woman seemed desperate, out of options, and exhausted.
I turned back to Josephine. “Jo, do you know A?” She nodded.
I asked, “Would it be okay with you if A sat with us in the car until class starts?”
“Yes, Momma. I can share my tablet with her!”
With that answer, I relented. “Yes, that’s fine. I’ll unlock the car.”
The woman pressed her palms together with relief. “Thank you! Thank you so much!”
This is the part of the story where my paranoia and protectiveness kicked in. I asked Josephine to step all the way behind the driver’s seat, my hand around her arm, as the woman opened the passenger-side backdoor to let A climb inside.
Let me make clear this woman did not present to me as a threat nor rub me the wrong way; I just thought it was strange she let her child get into the running vehicle of a total stranger. But, she closed the door behind A, then climbed into her own car. I locked the doors but let the back window near A remain halfway open.
“Hi, A. I’m Cailin, Josie’s mom.” She lowered her eyes to her feet without any response. “I heard you’re a bit nervous about dance class today?”
“Ah, Josie gets nervous, too. Would you like to play on the tablet with her?”
This time she looked up at me, a quiet smile across her face, and nodded again.
“Okay then, go ahead. I’ll be right here if you need me.”
Josephine scooted over in the captain’s seat and patted the other half of the cushion. “Come on, A! I got this new game on my tablet! Can I show you?”
A excitedly squished herself next to Josie, and for the next ten minutes there they sat, playing and giggling together in their pink tutus. The woman remained in her car, intently watching A, clearly happy that A was happy.
When it was time to go inside, she thanked me profusely. I told her it was no problem, A was a sweet kid and I was glad Josie could help ease her nerves. She asked me what book I was reading, and we small-talked about our favorite genres before going our separate ways.
It’s been a few months now since that afternoon. We wave and smile in passing every week — except for this week.
This week, she tapped on my window again.
I rolled it down, this time without my blood pumping, and closed my book.
“I just wanted to tell you in case you didn’t know — you really did me such a favor that day you let A in your car. She hasn’t fussed about going to dance since. She didn’t have anybody before, but she has Josie as a friend now, and it’s made all the difference in the world for her.”
My face went flush. “Thank you so much for telling me that. I’m so glad we could help, and that A and Josie are friends. I know what … I know what that feels like, to be that little and to feel…”
She finished my sentence, “…feel all alone in a room full of people? Yeah, me too.”
I nodded, looking down at the book in my lap. I remembered our previous conversation. “I suppose that’s why we love our books so much, huh?”
She smiled, “Yeah, that’s exactly right. I’m always reading two at once–one actual book and one on my kindle. Well, anyway — thank you and Josie again. I can’t thank y’all enough.”
As she walked away, my heart felt like it could burst. Honestly, I had looked at that day as a series of bizarre events that were unnecessary and adrenaline-filled. I had zero idea of the impact that afternoon had made on A until now. My sweet Josephine deserves all the credit–she’s the one who agreed to play with A, the one who chose to have and maintain a friendship with this little girl.
To be four years old and to feel so alone you dread putting on a tutu and dancing? Oh no. Not on Josie’s watch.
While that woman was thanking me for helping her out, all I could think about was how I was originally standoffish and suspicious towards her, and the guilt came in like a flood. While Josie and I may have helped her and A, they reminded me that people are first and foremost good, and that we all need the same basic thing: connection. Her and I. A and Josie.
May your tutus twirl and your books bewitch, and don’t forget to scoot over for a friend in need ♥