Unexpected kindness. And why Nico is banned from Monterey Market.


Nico is hereby banned from our local produce store.

You know the kind. That grocery store with the small aisles and even smaller carts. The carts you can’t strap your child into because they have somehow, at only 3, gotten too big to wedge their legs into. The kind of grocery store that is always bustling with shoppers and if you are prone to anxiety, you might have to avoid altogether.

The first thing Nico does when we enter the store is sprint for the bin food. He has identified which bins hold the jelly beans and gummies and he frantically grabs as many as he possibly can before the inevitable mama shutdown happens – me, furrowed brow, scolding him and picking him up. Since the bins are only a few feet from the cashiers, I feel like I have to exaggerate my disapproval, say it loud enough so they hear it and then look at them apologetically.

As we wind our way through the store, he reaches out and nabs grapes, pears, raspberries, whatever he can get his little chubby hands on. By the end of the trip, I am left with a cart full of half-eaten fruit – a small price to pay really for keeping him walking next to me.

But the last time we went, I let him sprint off to another aisle while I paid. As I swiped my card, I nervously looked around but trusted that I would find him once I got my bags. I told myself to breathe and kept my eye in the direction of the shampoo aisle where he had darted. When I found him, he was standing with a grandmotherly type who was giving me the stink eye. “You really should watch him more closely,” she scolded. I looked down and saw that Nico had been pulling the caps off of every lip balm he could get his hands on and rubbing them all over his face.

His cheeks were glossy and moist.

I relayed this story to a friend the other day and we laughed… and I wonder why these stories can feel so painful in the moment. The shaming look in that woman’s eyes, the you-are-a-terrible-mother glare that makes you want to cry and hide and ban your child forever from going shopping with you. The kind that makes you grab your baby a bit too roughly and usher him out with a firm “NO!”

It reminds me of a story Brene Brown told about a woman whose card was declined at the gas station and when her 2 year old started crying in the carseat, she lost it and screamed at him. Ugh. We have all been there. The shame that leads to unskilled behavior…

Nico had a meltdown when we got to the sidewalk outside the market. “NO! I DON’T WANT TO WALK!” he shouted and plopped his tush down on the sidewalk. Please come Nico. I can’t carry you with all these bags…

It was getting dark.

“Do you guys need a ride?” A kind voice emerged from the car idling next to us. “I heard you talking. I’m happy to take you. But I don’t have a car seat.”

I surveyed the situation. Steep hill in front of us and a sweet older woman next to us.
Unexpected kindness.
We got in and she drove us up and over the hill. Nico was thrilled to be strapped in a simple seatbelt next to me and he beamed.

Unexpected kindness is some of the best possible medicine. And when it shows up, it’s good to say yes.

Her gesture was simple. The ride was all of 90 seconds. But it meant everything to us. Those 90 seconds of kindness were just the balm we needed.

Do you have a story of unexpected kindness? What happened?





  1. Posted December 6, 2013 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    On the day I was traveling to California because my brother had just died, I could not stop crying. In the bustle to get out of the house and still trying to wrap my mind around this terrible truth — I hadn’t brought any tissues.

    I ordered a coffee and found a place to sit while I waited for the flight to board. I had placed the cup of coffee on the ground to settle in — but when I went to pick it up, I grasped it by the lid which was not tightly secured. A bit of the coffee spilled, and I started bawling.

    It was apparently the straw that broke the camel’s back.

    A small child traveling with her mom and dad, dressed in her Sunday best, came over to me and asked if I needed a napkin.

    She had been watching me cry since I arrived in the boarding area — careful not to stare, but obviously concerned.

    I noticed her watching me before this and had felt bad — my emotions were creating a spectacle, potentially injuring this child. Those are the shameful thoughts that went through my head.

    Unable to control my emotions — bawling because I spilled a little coffee, I accepted her kindness. I knew that she wanted to do something to make me feel better — and my outburst had given her that opportunity.

    It was a tiny respite in that awful day. I will be forever grateful for that kindness. There is something about being noticed and regarded with compassion that is priceless.

  2. Posted December 6, 2013 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing your story. I’m always pleasantly surprised when I experience unexpected kindness. This makes me want to be more aware of the people around me and how I might be able to pay it forward and brighten someone else’s day.

  3. Susan
    Posted December 7, 2013 at 12:12 am | Permalink

    It seems like when I have just about lost all faith in humanity and when I least expect it, someone will reach out and pull me back from the brink. Your story made me laugh and smile, knowing all too well how it feels when your three-year-old tests the boundaries of your patience and endurance.

    I don’t know if it is bad form to advertise another blog here, but one of my favorite posts from my husband’s blog is exactly about the kindness of strangers and some of the truly remarkable acts of selflessness that we have been graced by. I hope you enjoy it. http://fieldnotesfromfatherhood.com/2013/01/09/on-the-kindness-of-strangers/

  4. Posted December 7, 2013 at 12:23 am | Permalink

    Years ago when I was 25 four of us drove from eastern France where we were teaching to Munich for the Octoberfest. In the way of 20 year olds, we figured something would work out for a place to stay. We were eight driving hours from our new home and spoke no German. After hours at a long table at the Haufbrauhaus, we asked the German couple across from us if they had any ideas. Word went around the table, but nothing. We didn’t worry. we were in our twenties. Then the wife of the couple said, in broken English, you can stay at our house and we’ll stay with my parents. And we did. Danke!

  5. Liz
    Posted December 7, 2013 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Many years ago, I met my cat E. I was a human in need of a cat, and she was a cat in need of a human. We saw each other through a lot: countless moves, grad school for me, cancer for her. The day came when her body was failing and I had to put her down. I wept to the point of incoherence at that veterinary hospital. As I walked out to the car, still weeping, a stranger saw me and saw the empty cat carrier. I truly couldn’t tell you whether it was a man or a woman I met that day, but I’ll never forget the hug I got. Such a simple kindness from a stranger.

  6. Posted December 7, 2013 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    Love all the stories of kindness! Your story reminded me of an act of kindness I received in my early years as a mom with a little baby and a 2 year old. My husband (at the time) and I had one car and he used it for work. Fortunately, we lived in a small town neighborhood and I could walk to almost everything I needed to do. Still, that wasn’t always easy with a baby in a stroller and trying to hold on to a rambunctious 2 year old! On that day I was walking to the Pediatrician’s office for vaccines and booster shots. William (my baby) slept peacefully, but Cybany (my two year old)kept escaping my hand hold and either finding mischief (like picking peoples prize roses) or scaring me to death with darts toward the street. All the activity woke William and he started to cry – I think from all the herky jerky movements of the stroller as I tried to reign Cybany in. A huge black 1930′s or 40′s car stopped and the door opened. 2 very sweet older ladies dressed to match the car sat in the back seat and the car was driven by their chauffeur – it all looked like something from the movies or the two spinster sisters who made moonshine on The Waltons (if anyone remembers that show). They sweetly asked if I needed a ride, and I said that I doubted I could get the stroller in the car but thank you so much. That’s when one of them told me not to be silly, their back seat had enough room for a sewing circle – and they were right! Their driver got my non collapsible stroller in the back seat with no problem. They were kind,sweet and eccentric and I fell in instant love with them. Then, when they dropped me off, they said they were coming to sign papers about a legal matter and they would return to pick me up and take me home before they left to go back to their home a couple of towns over. And they did. I never saw them again, but we did exchange letters and cards for a few years even after we moved away – I loved their script writing and the lovely stationary they used and the loving-kindness of their words during a troubled time in my life. When I stopped hearing from them I supposed they passed away.

  7. Posted December 7, 2013 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    Meant to add I love what Sage shared about being more aware of others and paying it forward.

  8. Elisa
    Posted December 8, 2013 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    Late in September, my son and I were camping on Mt. Lassen when an unexpected snow storm came up. I went up to the ranger station to check the weather, and learned that it was supposed to get down into the teens that night.

    We have good sleeping bags, but still, below freezing weather in a three-season-tent did not sound cozy.

    A British woman who was on a bike trip from Vancouver to L.A. said that although she and her husband had been tent camping for weeks, they had rented a cabin for the night, and to please come on over if we got too cold.

    It was cold, and we were on the verge of miserable, so I decided to trust that her invitation was sincere, and we hiked down. We spent the evening playing Scrabble in a warm cabin, and slept on the warm floor.

    Our hostess said she was glad we came, because the Americans had been so kind and hospitable on their travels, they were happy to reciprocate!

  9. Elisa
    Posted December 8, 2013 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    Niko shouldn’t be allowed out anyway. His lashes are too long. Could blow someone over with a single blink, disrupt the migration of birds, or defoliate the trees.

    Yes, it’s best to keep him indoors.

  10. Jill
    Posted December 8, 2013 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    I can’t think of a story right now, although I’m sure that I have several. But I just wanted to chime in and say I love the post and I love the stories that others shared. It is a good reminder to look for ways we can display kindness to someone. I’m inspired.

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    Posted December 10, 2013 at 8:27 am | Permalink

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  12. Posted December 12, 2013 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    Yes, what Jill said. Love these stories! And love Elisa’s comment. :)

  13. Denese
    Posted December 12, 2013 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    “the shame that leads to unskilled behavior…” that hit home. sitting with this one. thank you for sharing from your soul, andrea.

  14. Kathleen
    Posted December 13, 2013 at 1:47 am | Permalink

    I lost my mother a few months ago and it appears that every month that passes, I am faced with the fact that I am an orphan…I try to dodge this issue with overworking, overworrying about my teenagers, over cleaning and over complaining about anything and everything…I try to be strong…or maybe I am just trying not to deal with the fact that I no longer have my “mommy”…but at any rate I came home the other day and started ranting and raving about the messy house, the overflowing litter box, the mound of dishes in the sink..blah blah blah…-and my daughter, who was trying to finish her homework, looked up at me and said…maybe you just need to cry Mom…and she took my hand and propped up a pillow on my bed gave me a hug and closed my door…I cried for over 30 minutes non stop…sometimes the simplist form of kindness comes from those who know you best…, you are an Amazing soul and an Amazing person Andrea-your story—makes us all feel connected…we have all been there..thankyou for sharing and reminding us…we are not “bad mamas!” we are doing the best we can in each moment…and although sometimes it is messy…and skewed…we must remember to lead with love…with ourselves, others and expecially our children..

  15. Kathleen
    Posted December 13, 2013 at 1:50 am | Permalink

    and P.S. Nikko is just BEAUTI-FULL!



  16. Posted December 20, 2013 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    I often come back to this site to read what you have posted, and you offer so much inspiration. I do have a story of wonderful unexcpected kindness… and I am reminded of it every single Christmas Eve since 2011. I am pleased to say that because of this act of random kindness I was able to keep my right arm and my right leg!
    I was in the hospital being treated for a very serious infection, and most of the surgical staff had left for the night. Please read my story at http://www.chickenscratchonacocktailnapkin.com and let me know what you think?

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