New York City has a well-deserved reputation for being a difficult place to live. Especially for parents of small children. We pay a ridiculous amount of money for a glorified closet without a basement or a backyard for kids to play in. We fight for spots in schools -- even preschools! -- because there are too many other kids applying for not enough slots. And many of us, myself included, go about our days of child-schlepping, errand running and grocery shopping without a car.
Car-less, we rely on our strollers an immense amount. My stroller is a car replacement. I use it not only to transport my infant, but also to hold my older son's lunch on the way to school, to help stash necessities and my diaper bag, and to load up with groceries on big trips to the store.
Last week, I made one of those big grocery excursions. When I make the 20-minute walk to Trader Joe's, I literally buy as much as I can stuff into my stroller. That day was no exception: I left the store with a full shopping bag hanging off the Mommy-hook and had filled the entire undercarriage of my Citi Mini Baby Jogger stroller with cans, frozen foods, spaghetti sauce, vegetables and various sundry heavy items.
Walking out of the store, I realized I had 15 minutes to make the 10-minute walk to my 4-year-old's preschool. Score! I am rarely on time for pick-up, let alone early. Just as I congratulated myself on my time management, the stroller stopped moving forward. It just stopped. The stroller was still upright -- the baby safe, facing me, nonplussed. Confused, I looked around. The man standing next to me pointed out the source of the problem: a wheel rolling away. I lunged for it. One of the two front wheels had completely popped off the stroller. Fortunately, the two sets of back two wheels were fine.
The man stopped and tried to help me put it back on. "Be careful," he warned me, "it'll probably just come right back off." It did. I couldn't even move a couple of inches forward without the wheel falling off again. I put it back on. It fell right off. I put it back on, tried to hold it on with my foot, made it a few inches and it fell right off. Over and over I fruitlessly tried to move down the block, but was thwarted at every attempt.
What was I going to do? With my lead time draining away, how would I pick up my older son at school? What would I do with my baby? The stroller? All the groceries? I stood there with no idea of what to do next. I felt completely helpless and trapped.
And then, something amazing happened. The man who had helped me with the wheel was headed to his car, but turned around and said, "I can take you home if you want."
"Oh, that's incredibly nice of you," I replied, "but I'm not even going home -- I have to get my older son from school."
"Well, if you live close and his school is close, I have time to take you before I have to pick my kids up at school."
I hesitated. Did I really want to get into a strange man's car? A) at all or B) with my baby? I watch Law & Order and Criminal Minds. I know what kindness from strangers can lead to. But I took a risk based on his nice smile (and the child car seats in his backseat).
When we went to load the trunk, I said, "I'm Jen, what's your name?"
"Eddie," he replied.
"Are you married?"
He laughed and said, "Yes, why?"
"Because I want you to tell your wife that you win all the karma awards for the day. This is huge. This is amazing. I have no idea how I would have done this without your help."
I loaded all the groceries from under the stroller into the extra Trader Joe's bag he happened to have in his truck, and we threw in the other bag of groceries, my diaper bag, the folded stroller and the wheel. Then we drove the six blocks to my son's school. Leaving all my stuff except the baby (I wasn't quite THAT trusting), I ran in and grabbed my son from the pickup line.
I told him we were doing something extra special and silly and going home in a car with Eddie. "Are we taking a taxi?" he asked. Nodding, I introduced him to Eddie who got him buckled in. After I got myself and the baby buckled in, we were off on the short drive to our apartment.
We chatted about my boys and his kids, and when he pulled up in front of my apartment, he apologized for not having the time to come in and help me bring everything upstairs. "Are you kidding," I said, "You have no idea how your help made our day so much better. You are wonderful, and I can't thank you enough."
With an act of kindness that took less than 15 minutes, this total stranger/fellow parent/guardian angel/New Yorker radically changed the course of the rest of our day and transformed what potentially could have been a disastrously stressful experience into a celebration of one neighbor helping another neighbor.
So, again, I want to say "thank you" to Eddie. Yes, New York is often a very difficult place to live, but New Yorkers make it easier.