Treating Those We Love Like Strangers

I was at the bookstore recently with my kids. The little ones were checking out the Legos while the older girls were lounging like hippies on beanbag chairs reading books we hadn’t bought.

I noticed a mother was sitting nearby in the crowded café with her daughter, who seemed about thirteen or fourteen years old. The mother seemed a bit upset and after an intensely whispered conversation the girl walked off past me to go find a book she needed for school, obviously upset.

There was a young woman about 19 sitting at an adjacent table who asked out loud to everybody in particular if they were having trouble connecting to the wi-fi. The mother of the thirteen year old got up and showed wonderful patience and kindness trying to help the young woman log on to the internet. It was funny because it was a role reversal of sorts with the forty something woman helping the college aged student. She finally got her on the internet. It was a nice thing to witness.

The thirteen year old eventually returned to tell her mother she couldn’t find the book she had to read for school which was starting next week. The woman, who’d been so kind to this stranger was instantly intensely frustrated with her daughter and said, “Ugh, you can never find anything! What’s wrong with you?”

The young girl just stood there and closed her eyes, obviously thinking it was just better to weather the storm. She knew she needed help and so she just stood there waiting for her mother to come help her.  The mother told her daughter to ask at the information desk and the girl said she’d tried but nobody was there. The mother grunted and started packing up her things in a great huff and said, “Now we’re going to lose our table.”

Sweetly, the young woman who needed help logging on to the internet offered to put her bag at the table to save it for them until they returned.

“Thank you so much,” said the mom, earnestly. “Thank you.” And they went off to find the book.

Now, I’ll bet that there’s a ton of history there between that mother and daughter that nobody but them knows but it seems to me that sometimes we should remember to treat those we love as well as we do strangers. Sometimes I think it’s easier to treat strangers with tender care and treat those we love carelessly.

The same goes for me. I know I’m guilty of it. I can think of a thousand times I've been curt, short, nasty, intemperate, and yeah even nasty with my children.

There’s a certain build-up of both frustration and love we have with those to whom we’re closest. And our not-so-nice moments can be viewed as a withdrawal on the account we’ve built up previously with love and acts of kindness. We all get frustrated and upset. It happens. I know that. But seeing this reminded me that perhaps I shouldn’t withdraw so much from the accounts of those I love. Deposits are always accepted gratefully. Maybe sometimes I have to remember to treat those I love like strangers. I know it sounds weird. But it’s true.