Monday, November 5, 2012

The Bystanders Guide to Helpful Bystanding

I’ve noticed some things since I’ve had kids.

To name a few:

Kids make every trip to the grocery store (/gas station/mall/fast food joint/etc.) take approximately 30 minutes longer.

There are very few things that cannot be solved by candy, toys, or holding bedroom doors shut until the screaming stops.

If you let your kids ride the bikes in Walmart, there will come a time when the “Cleanup on Aisle 10,” is definitely a signal to run to Aisle 10 and extract your child before he makes it worse.

Sleep is optional.

But perhaps the number one thing I’ve noticed since having children is that there are loads upon loads of “helpful” bystanders out there in this world.

I’m pretty sure that many of these people are just standing about in random public places, waiting for a slightly insane mother (aka: me) to stumble along with her little brood and create a scene worth “helping.” I have no doubt that most of them have the best of intentions. Many of them can likely relate to the train of chaos that follows me everywhere I go. Many of them genuinely try to help.

But some bystanders are more helpful than others.

There are three categories of helpful bystander:

  1. Nervous Grandmother
  2. Judge Judy
  3. Mary Poppins

The Nervous Grandmother is certainly possessed by good intentions. She is sweet, careful, and wise. But she is also very nervous. Perhaps her own frailties have made her overly cautious and concerned for others. Perhaps her less than catlike reflexes have given her a sense of unease when she sees little children leaning over grocery carts and jumping down stairways. Whatever it is, bless her heart, Nervous Grandmother follows you everywhere. And Nervous Grandmother gives far too many warnings.

This dear old lady can be identified by such warnings, often directed at the children but intended for the mother’s ear:

“Sit down, Honey, I don’t want you to fall!” “Do you have a jacket, Sweetie? The wind is blowing out there!” “Oh, your little feet look so cold! Where are your socks?” “Don’t put your fingers in there, they might get stuck!”

But as wonderfully cautionary as Nervous Grandmother is, she’s got nothing on Judge Judy.

Judge Judy tends to be around age 50. She tends to have dark eyebrows and does not smile. She does not direct her sage advice at the children, but speaks to the mother. Judge Judy may have adult children she considers perfect, or she may have no children at all. Judge Judy speaks harshly or often just glares and makes annoyed sounds and gestures. Judge Judy is mean. Judge Judy makes mothers run crying from the grocery store and fret late into the night that their children are going to grow up and be serial killers.

Judge Judy says things like:

“Um, hello, your kids are pulling all that stuff off the shelf down there!” “Uh, did you lose a kid?” “Ma’am, you have got to get these kids out of here.” “Are you really just letting them run through there like that?”

I don’t like Judge Judy.

But in the midst of my darkest public crises, I praise Mary Poppins.

Mary Poppins is kind, but firm. Mary Poppins recognizes when help is actually needed. Mary Poppins sees a problem and fixes it, with little ado. Mary Poppins says little, but does much. Mary Poppins is experienced. Mary Poppins is smart. Mary Poppins is practically perfect in every way (I couldn’t resist).

Mary Poppins sees a child running into the street while the mother struggles with two others and a cart full of groceries, captures the child, and returns it before the mother even notices. Mary Poppins watches from the corner of her eye and assists a child who has his finger stuck. Mary Poppins simply rights a child who has flung herself over the top of the grocery cart. Mary Poppins catches items falling from shelves. Mary Poppins assists children in finding their lost mother.

Each of these people has their place in a mother’s life. Nervous Grandmother is great on sunshiney days when you’re on top of the world and just glad someone cares. Judge Judy is great on reality television where she can be turned off with the click of a button. And Mary Poppins, she is there in the moments when she is most needed, just in time to keep us all from going insane.

May we all be the Mary Poppins in someone else’s life.