My five-year-old daughter and I volunteered at a homeless shelter today.
I’m not sure what I expected to see when I got there, but I was a bit surprised/saddened to meet a mom who had a five-month-old baby. I immediately shared with this mom that I too had a five-month-old at home. My announcement was met with silence. Okay. I guess we weren’t going to launch into a discussion about teething and sleep cycles. I accepted that besides having a baby, I probably had little in common with this woman. Ugh, isn’t that awful that I thought that? But I did.
I proceeded to organize a craft for some of the older kids.
About an hour later, I would realize how foolish my assumption that I had nothing in common with this other mom really was.
The heartbreaking moment I would learn how similar we truly are started innocently enough. The mom was getting ready to feed her baby. The little girl was lying next to her mom on a sofa. I was reading through some volunteer information packets in an adjacent chair as my daughter colored nearby with another girl her age. By chance I looked up to see the baby about to roll right off the sofa.
“Your baby is going to fall!” I called out, but it was too late. As her mom watched, the infant tumbled right off the sofa onto the floor, banging her head on a TV table on the way down. She immediately began to wail in pain.
I leaped to my feet just as the horrified mom scooped her baby up and began to wail herself. I found myself frozen in place watching this frightening yet tender exchange playing out in front of me. The mom cradled her daughter, tears of guilt and fear streaming down her face. “Mommy’s here, baby. It’s okay,” she cooed to her distraught baby.
Without even thinking about it, I began to cry. I saw in this mom the kind of love I feel for my baby. I identified with the guilt of “allowing” your baby to get hurt. Indeed, just a few weeks earlier I’d accidentally clipped the tip of my baby’s finger as I was trying to trim her nails. She’d started screaming and I felt like the worst mom in the world.
Now, I saw this this mom living in the shelter was crying over more than just her baby’s bumped head. I sensed that she was crying for all the ways she’d “failed” as a parent. It was both shattering, relatable and beautiful to behold.
I realized how little it mattered that this mom had fallen on hard times and that I was there as a volunteer. We both loved our daughters immeasurably. We were both moms, and that was all that mattered.
I’m pretty sure my fellow mama felt connected to me as a wiped away my own tears and assured her that I’d been there; I too had seen my little ones get hurt right underneath my nose and I knew how she felt. I told her not to be too hard on herself but I could see wasn’t able to forgive herself yet.
I left the shelter a few hours later but I won’t forget that experience.