It was a quick stop at the market at 5 p.m. — yes, the worst time of day to shop — to pick up a few essentials: Cream for coffee, eggs for breakfast and Advil for my splitting headache.
I’d been rushing all day, running errands, checking things off a lengthy to-do list. I did not want to play Demolition Derby with throngs of other weary shoppers. But I told myself it was my last stop before going home to put my feet up and watch my husband make dinner. Maybe I’d buy some pesto. The man is half Italian. He loves pesto pasta.
So I scored a parking place in a green zone, grabbed a bag from the trunk and found a cart that was left on the curb. Then I gritted my teeth, took a deep breath and dove into the fray.
It wasn’t quite as crowded as I expected. I stopped briefly to rummage through a bucket of sunflowers and picked out the least wilted bunch. I can’t prove it, but something about sunflowers always seems to lower my blood pressure.
Next I grabbed a package of linguini and some pesto at the deli and moved on to the dairy aisle for eggs and cream.
That’s when I saw her. She was sitting in the seat of a shopping cart, padded all around with a blanket. She looked to be maybe 9 months old. Short blond curls. Blue eyes as big as hubcaps. Wearing a white lace dress with tights and shiny black shoes.
I would describe her mother, but I barely saw the young woman. I couldn’t take my eyes off the child. We stared at each other, she with her baby blues and I with my bloodshot browns. Then I did what I always do with children: I gave her my best smile. It looks a bit goofy, but it comes from my heart.
That’s a habit I formed long ago when I became a mother. Maybe I did it as a child, but I remember it best as a mom.
It started with my firstborn, in that unforgettable, life-changing moment when he was laid upon my chest and I watched him turn his tiny face up to find mine. I could not stop smiling at him. I still can’t.
At times, over the years, my smile would fade to a look of fear or worry or furious anger. But it never left my face for long. It always came back, even through tears.
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It happened that same way with his sister and brother. Just to look at them lit me up like Christmas. It still does. And now, after all these years, I can’t stop smiling at their children.
But here is what I’ve learned: All children, young and old, need someone to smile at them. Not just their parents and grandparents, but their teachers and coaches, family and friends. And, yes, even strangers at the market in a rush to get home.
The toddler in the cart took her time deciding just what to make of my smile. But finally, she lit up like Christmas.
I wish you could’ve seen her.
I laughed and waved goodbye. And she blew me a kiss.
That put a lingering smile on my face that got a smile in return from every shopper I passed, even from a guy at the check out stand who got a call from his wife telling him not to get fish (it was already bagged) because she wanted to go out to eat.
I was still smiling when I got home and realized I’d forgotten to get Advil. Luckily, I didn’t need it. My headache was gone.
I don’t do everything right. Ask my husband. He’ll tell you. But I smile at children. And old people. And everyone between.
Almost always they smile back. And somehow, in that simple, magical, exchange of human pleasantry, this weary old world becomes a slightly better place.
Want to change the world? Try smiling. At children, young and old. At yourself in the mirror. At people you don’t like and strangers on the street.
Someone will smile back at you. I guarantee it.
If you’re lucky, maybe they’ll even blow you a kiss and make your headache go away.