I think of myself as a fairly relaxed and open-minded parent. I try to be chill about germs. For example, I have no problem with “floor food”. Obviously, Adeline eats food off the floor at our house all the time. I’m not chasing her around picking up food that she drops to make sure she doesn’t eat it. I don’t have that kind of time. Or attention span. I’m even ok with food that falls on the ground while we’re at the park or on the floor at a museum.
I’m open-minded, too. I mean, really, I am.
We spent the morning at the zoo, admiring animals and fighting over whether Addie was going to walk, sit in the stroller, or have mama carry her. As you might guess, mama carried her a lot. We managed to leave the zoo at a reasonable time and we were only at the bus stop for a few minutes when our bus rolled up. I folded up the stroller, slung it over my shoulder, picked up Addie, and maneuvered onto the bus. There was an open seat toward the front, which is where I usually try to sit if possible to avoid having to carry everything too far back. So I snagged the seat. I swear to you that I hardly thought twice about the fact that there was an older homeless woman sitting next to us.
The bus started up and Adeline bounced happily in her seat. She looked out the window and pointed out trucks and trees and people walking dogs. She was, as usual, adorable. Soon, everyone in the first couple rows was staring at her. Sure, some of them were staring because they are probably miserable about everything in life and they couldn’t believe that a toddler was on the bus and had the audacity to make a little noise. (Bastards.) But most people were staring with smiles on their faces.
Even the older, homeless lady next to us was enchanted with Adeline. She reached out and squeezed Adeline’s knee and mumbled something that sounded pleasant. I smiled and nodded and hoped whatever she said didn’t require a response, because I had no damn idea what it was. It went on that way for a few minutes: Adeline doing something cute and the old lady mumbling something and smiling. Then, things got interesting.
That old, homeless lady reached her hand, covered in odd white flakes of I’m not really sure what, into an old, dirty, plastic shopping bag. She dug around, moving aside an empty McDonald’s cup and stray papers, and she triumphantly pulled out a packet of saltine crackers. She then proceeded to hand the crackers to Adeline. “Here you go sweetie, looks like you could use a snack.” Or at least, I’m guessing that’s what she said.
You guys, I really do try to be open-minded. I really do try to be relaxed. But everyone has a line. Homeless crackers? That’s my line.
Even then, in the face of my daughter eating homeless crackers, I wanted to be polite. I looked out the window: still a few stops until we planned to get off. I wouldn’t have time to make our escape that way. Adeline had the crackers grasped tightly in her hands. She was trying desperately to open them. I was running out of options. In my panic, I froze. The homeless lady was watching her, too. She waited a few moments, then she took the crackers back and began attempting to open them herself. Things were starting to look dire. If she got the packet open, how would I stop Adeline from eating them??
Her old, arthritic fingers shook as she tried to separate the plastic enough to pull it open. Adeline and I both watched, mesmerized. The other people on the bus watched. Time seemed to stand still. The poor woman just could not get that packet open. I found myself almost rooting for her, god knows she could use some accomplishments in her life. I might have sat there forever, resigned to my fate. Thankfully, Adeline doesn’t have my patience. She grabbed the crackers back, thereby breaking the spell.
I snagged them away quickly. “Let’s save these for after lunch.” I smiled at Adeline, I smiled at the old, homeless lady, I smiled at the other passengers. I shoved those crackers in my purse and prayed Adeline would leave it at that. She must have sensed the importance of the situation because she did.
Two blocks later that nice, old lady got off the bus. I wanted to give the crackers back to her. “We really don’t want these, and you might need them. Just keep the crackers.” But somehow politeness seemed more important than the 90 calories she could have gained from that packet of crackers. So I surreptitiously shoved them further down in my purse and managed one last smile.
A little while later, back at home, with Adeline asleep and none the wiser, I dug those crackers out and threw them away. Maybe a homeless man will dig them out of our dumpster later.
[I thought the story was over. But it wasn't. Read the postscript here.]