Saved By Play Time

, , , , | Hopeless | October 22, 2017

(I am shopping in a department store with my five-year-old daughter. It has been a long, stressful day at work, and I have been on edge since picking her up from school. I just want to get my things and get home as soon as possible. I very quickly realize that my daughter is no longer beside me, and I go into Panic-Mom Mode. I call her name and rush around the aisles, until, finally, I see her sitting down on the floor next to a similar-aged boy, talking and playing. She looks up and me and beams a smile.)

Me: “[Daughter], what did I tell you about walking away from Mommy?!”

Daughter: “Mommy, this is [Boy]. He’s five, too!”

Me: “That’s nice, [Daughter], but remember, we don’t have time to play today.”

Daughter: “Okay. Bye, [Boy]!”

Boy: *big flashing smile* “Byyyyye!”

(I take my daughter’s hand and quickly finish up my shopping list.)

Daughter: “Can we get something for [Boy]?”

Me: “No, [Daughter]. We’re just here for a few quick things, remember?”

Daughter: “I know, but he doesn’t have anyone or anything to play with.”

Me: “His mom will take him home soon, so he won’t be bored for too long.”

Daughter: “No, she won’t.”

(This makes me stop, and I realize for the first time, to my shame, that the boy was all alone.)

Me: “What do you mean?”

Daughter: “His mom told him to wait for her, but she’s been gone for aaaaaages.”

(Knowing I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t go back and check, I find the boy in the exact same space that I left him.)

Me: “Hello, [Boy].”

Boy: *big beaming smile again* “Hiiiii!”

Me: “Where’s your mommy?”

Boy: *smile drops* “I don’t know. She went to look at clothes.”

Me: “How long ago did she go to look at clothes?”

Boy: “A while.”

(Knowing he probably didn’t have a good grasp of timing, I don’t know how to gauge this, but I pursue anyway.)

Me: “Do you know what time it was?”

Boy: “Since school.”

(That is a long time, but it wouldn’t be the first time a parent has left a child alone to play in a store for over an hour. I sit with the boy for another ten minutes while he plays a rhyming game with my daughter. I flag down a passing member of staff and let them know this boy has been left alone for almost an hour and a half.)

Employee: “Actually, yes, I do remember them coming in. That was closer to two hours ago.” *suddenly looking shameful* “Let’s bring him up to the customer service desk, and I’ll make an announcement through the store PA.”

(We do just that. The boy says he was told not to go anywhere with strangers, but my daughter takes his hand and convinces him that they’re now friends, so it is okay. The employee makes an announcement to the store, letting the mother know that [Boy] is at the customer service desk, and asking her to please make her way there immediately. After ten minutes, and no appearance of the mother, the employee makes a repeat announcement. Ten minutes after this…)

Me: “What happens now?”

Employee: “I’ve called my manager. They’ll call the police or social services, I guess.”

(A few minutes later, there is a scream from the other side of the floor. There is a scramble of employees to the area. An employee comes back over to me and speaks quietly to me so that the boy doesn’t hear.)

Employee: “We found a woman collapsed in one of the changing rooms. We think it might be his mom.”

(Very quickly, paramedics are on the scene, but I am focusing on keeping the boy occupied, playing with my daughter. He’s not stupid though, and he’s realizing that something is up. Almost three hours after I first met the boy, a woman walks over to us with a concerned look on her face. The manager has told her who I am and how I’ve been looking after the boy. She introduces herself as being from social services.)

Social Services Worker: “We found his mother collapsed in the changing room. The paramedics are about to take her to hospital, and I will be going there, too, with her son.”

(She then explains to the boy what has happened, in an age-appropriate manner. The boy is very upset, and holds my hand through the whole conversation. When the social services worker tries to encourage the boy to go to the hospital, he squeezes my hand even tighter and gives me a desperate look.)

Me: *to the social services worker* “Would I be able to come with [Boy]””

(The woman looks at me, then at the boy, assesses the situation, and smiles.)

Social Services Worker: “Of course. I will need to be present at all times, of course.”

(We all drove to the hospital together, and my daughter kept the boy occupied with some simple back-seat car games. We ended up spending the evening in the hospital, and the boy’s mother made a full recovery. She had been running a fever and collapsed from an infection. Our kids are now good friends and have grown up to become teenage “besties,” all thanks to my daughter’s playful spirit, and a well-behaved boy who wouldn’t stop waiting for his mom.)

Conversations To Make You Fly High

, , , , | Hopeless | October 20, 2017

I’m a single woman, and I decided I wanted to travel, and do so alone. I’d been saving up money and vacation hours for several years for an international vacation. I chose to go to London. I decided to buy a wheeled duffel bag, with a separate trolley, to use as my carry-on. That decision prompted this situation.

I flew from my small city into a major city for the flight to Heathrow. Since I was coming in on a puddle jumper, I had quite a ways to get to the international gate. On the first escalator, I picked up my brand new wheeled duffel, and the handle broke. I managed to get to my gate without it breaking more severely, but it was very difficult.

After I found my gate, I went into all the stores around me, asking if they had tape or glue or something to repair it. No one did, but one lady went to check their storage room and came back with a handful of rubber-bands that she gave to me. She also helped me determine that a screw had failed, and they happened to have little eyeglass screwdrivers, so I bought one, and some candy, in case she got commission. She’s the first awesome stranger in this story. If you’re reading this, thanks again.

I got back to my gate, and tried to MacGyver a repair. I remembered that I had packed a sandwich bag worth of craft supplies, including some teeny rolls of washi tape, which is decorative paper tape for crafting. Between that and the rubber bands, the handle was holding together, as long as you didn’t look at it too hard. And you wouldn’t want to look at it, because it was really ugly.

While I was fixing it, my bag was in front of me, but I was trying to keep out of the way of traffic. At one point, someone came by, and I said, “Excuse me, sorry,” and nudged the bag a little out of the way. Then he said, “How are you doing?” and since I’m honest and a bit strange I said, “Okay-ish.” I didn’t think much of it, and the man passed me.

I finished fixing the bag, and was sitting there upset at that stupid bag. I even wrote a review for the bag. I was in a rotten mood.

After five or ten minutes, a man came by and asked, “Why did you say, ‘okay-ish’?”

I realized he was the man who passed me, so I explained about the brand new handle breaking, and my efforts to repair it. He commiserated with me and said I needed my money back. He then asked about my plans, and I said I was going to London for a vacation. I told him that it was my first time, but I had always wanted to visit the UK, specifically England. He was from London, but lived in the States, and was on his way home for a little while and then going on to Europe.  

Then, and this is why he stuck in my memory, he asked, “Do you have paper and a pen?” I brought out my travel planner, and he proceeded to give me notes of all the must-dos from a Londoner point of view, including an open-air market because, “You’d like it; it’s quirky like you.” And the must-eats, including good restaurants. I took loads of notes, and I still have them. We must have spoken more than 15 minutes. He was awesome. When he went back to his seat, I was in a much better mood.

Stranger in the airport, if you read this: you’ll never know how much that simple conversation helped me.

Your Brain Is In Park

, , , , | Hopeless | October 18, 2017

I was slower than expected getting my driver’s license. One day, when I was still new to driving and didn’t have class, I had to go run some errands. I went to the bank, and my brain momentarily forgot how to park.

I ended up close to, but not actually, damaging someone’s car, and couldn’t get out of the situation. The woman in it called her husband, a truck driver, who came out and offered to help me readjust my car. I hopped out and trusted him to do so, crying and having a full-out panic attack. It was the first I ever had, and I still feel it a little sometimes when I remember what happened. I noticed the bank security guard coming out to watch the situation; he kept looking at me and smiling, nodding reassuringly but staying near his post.

The guy fixed my car’s position and then went to the security guard, asking him something I didn’t hear as I went and got everything I needed out of my car.

The couple continuously reassured me that everything was fine, not a mark on the vehicles, etcetera, and then the man led me inside, where the security guard was just bringing me a cup of water to help me calm down.

The Power Of A Potato

, , , , , , | Hopeless | October 16, 2017

I’m sharing this, not to show off about how generous I am, but how broken the system is, and how easily well-meaning people can fall through the cracks. This is a message to encourage people to keep an eye out and try to be helpful where you can.

Recently, my wife was admitted to a National Health Service hospital with pneumonia. She’s also eight months pregnant, so it’s all a bit stressful, and we’re hoping the baby hasn’t been affected in any way by the pneumonia, or by its treatment. I visit her after work to take her a few items from home and to speak to her doctor. She’s going to be in for a few days, at least. We also discuss whether she should transfer to a private hospital, as we have private medical insurance.

By the time we decide on what’s happening, it’s nearly 9:00 pm, and I’ve not eaten since midday. My wife sends me down to the cafeteria to get some dinner before they close. In the line behind me is a boy of no more than 11, wearing the uniform of a local primary school, who is doing the same thing. He chooses a cheap sandwich, and looks enviously at my jacket potato with chicken curry. I pay, and move to sit down, but hear behind me that the card the boy is trying to pay with has been declined. It’s at this point I notice there’s only one other table occupied in the cafeteria, by a group of off-duty nurses. This kid is on his own.

He reaches into his pocket to look for change. He has about fifteen pence. By the time he goes to find his parents and comes back, the cafeteria will be shut. Of course, I offer to pay. The poor kid is crying, trying to refuse. The lady running the cafeteria only cares about closing up. I ask if there’s any chance of a cheap jacket potato for the lad, as they’re only going to be thrown out anyway.

“The prices are up there,” she says, pointing at the menu board.

“Fine,” I say to the lady. I turn to the boy and ask, “Chicken curry, or beans and cheese?”

“Beans and cheese, I guess,” he mumbles, tears clearing.

Of course, he’s wary of strangers, as he should be, but I ask him to sit with me. I guess I’m feeling helpless, not being able to do anything for my wife and unborn child, so I’m trying to help in any way I can. After a few bites of potato and a gulp of soda, he tells me that his mum is in the hospital for a second night in a row. None of the family that were supposed to help look after him have turned up, so he’ll be sleeping in the chair by her bed again, and going to school in a dirty uniform again. And of course, he’s worried sick about his mum. This is ridiculous.

I go back with the boy to the ward his mother is on. She is worried, as she just sent him down to grab a sandwich, and he’s been gone about half an hour. I explain what happened, and she tries to pay me back, almost ripping her IV cannula out as she stretches around looking for her purse.

“No need, no need, please!” I protest. She eventually relents, and looks drained from the effort. I have no idea what’s wrong with her, and don’t want to ask. Given the ward she’s on, I doubt it’s life-threatening, but it doesn’t look like fun, in any case. I convince her to make social services aware of her son’s predicament, and ask the ward sister why they hadn’t done so already. They blame shift changes, foreign and new staff not knowing procedures etc.

Eventually, they contact the out-of-hours social services, who promise to send someone home with the boy to get a clean uniform, and to chase up the family for somewhere for him to stay. I tried calling to find out what happened, but of course they couldn’t discuss it with me. I hope it all worked out okay for them.

And in case you’re interested, yes, my wife and baby were fine. A beautiful girl, induced a few days later, and a few weeks early, but absolutely perfect.

Chocolate Cures Everything

, , , , , , | Hopeless | October 14, 2017

I used to be a girl scout. Cookie season rolled around, and my troop was scheduled to sell them outside of a convenience store sometime very early in the year. Of course, this meant it was very cold outside.

Not many people bought cookies or even walked into the store, and we were freezing, tired, and miserable.

After a while, I went into the store to go to the bathroom and warm up a bit. When I came outside, my troop leader was holding several steaming cups of hot chocolate.

I asked her where she had gotten them, and she said that she didn’t buy them. Apparently, a woman had seen us outside the store and decided to buy them for us from a nearby fast food joint. I completely missed her!

Thank you, random woman! You made my dreary day much brighter, and the hot chocolate was delicious.

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