I remember the first time I took my baby on public transport just a few weeks after her birth. I decided to take the train into the city whilst she slept in her bassinette. Sounds easy enough but I remember feeling anxious as I mentally rehearsed all the steps. How would I get the monster-sized pram onto the train? Would the gap between platform and train be too big? Could the wheels get stuck? What if the doors closed before I had time to get in? Would someone come to my aid? Would I need to ask a stranger for help?
The first leg of the journey went smoothly but I found myself vulnerable to the kindness of strangers. Someone kindly offered to help me lift the pram off the platform onto the train. But on the second leg of the journey, no offer was forthcoming. I felt like an inconvenience to the group of teenagers I had to squeeze past in order to get inside the carriage. Admittedly I remember thinking my pram did seem awfully large.
When I got to the station in the CBD, I found myself completely lost. I had no idea how to get out. The ticket gates were so narrow and when I eventually found a wider one I only just squeezed through by a millimetre. My next challenge was to get out of the building onto terra firma. I was used to jumping on the escalators and I thought that took a long time. Patience is not my strong suit so I have never been one to stand to the right (or is it the left) and wait to reach the top.
Initially I couldn’t actually find the lift and each minute was eating up time between feeds. My baby was becoming unsettled and I so was I. When I found the lift I also found three other mums and prams waiting. The lift was small and claustrophobic and we had to each take it in turns. When it was my turn I saw a wheelchair approaching. Naturally I offered my spot to him first. Later that night I felt like I had experienced a small insight into what it might be like to live with a disability. A few logistics had never impeded me getting anywhere. I loved the train. I got on. I got off. But now I had to think about everything. Where were the lifts, disability exits, ramps and the helpful strangers I now needed to implore?
I used to jaywalk freely across roads as I pleased but now I seek out crossing lights, zebra crossings and gentle ramps. Sometimes these are the things that influence my movements. If it’s not easy, then forget it. Motherhood also leaves you exposed to the assistance of strangers. That takes a little getting used to. In my early months of motherhood I would never ask for help. I am better at asking now but I am not overly comfortable with it. I find it interesting to observe the types of people that offer to help, and those that don’t.
Not long ago, I was on the receiving end of a random act of kindness. My mission was simple enough in theory but in practice it was thwarted with difficulty. I had to get my three kids (all under 3) out of the car into the childcare centre. My baby was only a month old and Melbourne was experiencing the wettest day in years. As I tried to get my two older kids out of the car, amidst torrential rain and tears, I realised I could not do it. It simply was not possible to cross the road holding the hands of my toddlers’, plus their umbrellas and their backpacks, in addition to my baby in her capsule, all whilst trying to stay dry. Add to this the screams of my younger toddler who had fallen into the gutter along with the entire contents of her backpack. And then also add the cries of my baby who was desperate for a feed; and finally add my lack of sleep over the past month. You might be getting the picture here that I was a frazzled mess.
As tears threatened, a passer by stopped and asked me if I needed some help. She held the umbrella for my girls and picked up the drink bottles from the gutter. She offered to wait by my car with my baby so I could run into the centre with my other two. She looked trusting and fortunately she was!
When I got back to the car I thanked her profusely and she looked at me with such compassion and said, “It gets easier.” When I got in the car I burst into tears. I often think back to this woman and her act of kindness.