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People Almost Met: Gemma in the Ladies Room—Parenting Lessons

Inspirational essays and articles, with a touch of humor, are favorite topics for Ms. Giordano, a writer and public speaker.

This story is one of a series about people whom I have almost met. The stories are about chance encounters with someone that lasts only a brief minute or two, but makes an indelible impression. It’s about encounters that in a small way change my life.

The encounter is too brief for an exchange of names. We may speak or touch, but we haven’t really met—hence the title, “People Almost Met.”

This story is about a young girl that I almost met one day in December in the ladies room at Costco. I never learned her name, so I’m just going to call her Gemma. The name seems to suit her.

The little girl was a beautiful as a porcelain doll.

The little girl was a beautiful as a porcelain doll.

A Hear a Loud Wailing.

I couldn't block out the sound. It was a few days after Thanksgiving, and I was a captive audience behind the door in the stall of the ladies room at Costco in Winter Park, Florida.

The sound was the high-pitched wailing of a young child, the wail of a cranky child or maybe a child who wants something and isn’t getting it.

When I left the stall and headed towards the sinks, I saw who was wailing. A little girl, about four years old, was standing next to the row of sinks at the side of a woman who I presumed was her mother. The woman, who looked to be in her early thirties, was attractive and well-dressed in an ivory-colored tailored blouse and camel-colored pencil skirt. Her dark-blond hair was neatly coifed. She was placidly looking straight ahead, paying no attention to the child.

I Act on Impulse.

I impulsively walked over to the girl. Standing in front of her, bending slightly at the waist, I put my finger to my pursed lips and said “Shuuush”

At that moment, it occurred to me that I probably looked like a busybody old-lady who goes around scolding other people’s children. In order to provide an explanation for my actions, I quickly added, “The baby is sleeping.”

The girl stopped crying at once except for a few sniffles as she tried to regain her composure.

Now that she was quiet, I could see that she was a beautiful child.She had long burnished chestnut-colored hair down past her shoulders, large blue eyes with a thick fringe of lashes, and a complexion that the phrase “peaches and cream” was invented to describe. She was as beautiful as the finest of porcelain dolls. Her cheeks were streaked with her tears.

She was dressed in a knee-length dark-blue party dress with short puffed sleeves. It was an expensive looking dress, with a gauzy over-skirt embroidered with colorful flowers around the hem.

I Shush the Girl.

“We don’t want to wake up the baby,” I said in a stage whisper. The little girl looked perplexed. Her eyes darted around the room. There was no baby around anywhere.

“The baby is in there.” I said, still whispering, as I pointed to a stall at the far end of the room. “We have to be quiet so we don’t wake the baby.”

I went to the sink, washed my hands, and returned to the girl. Her little chest was still heaving with the struggle to say quiet. The mother had not moved and was still ignoring the girl.

I bent my knee as if I was giving a curtsy, so I could be face-to-face with the girl.

Shuuush! The baby is sleeping.

Shuuush! The baby is sleeping.

I Praise the Girl.

“You are such a good girl,” I said. The little girl solemnly shook her head no.

“You are such a good girl,” I said again. “You are so good to be quiet so you don’t wake the baby.”

She silently shook her head no again.

“You are good, and you are beautiful too,” I said.

She slowly shook her head no again.

“You have beautiful hair, and beautiful eyes, and a beautiful mouth. All it needs is a smile."

I Ask for a Smile.

Can you show me your beautiful smile?,” I asked. She shook her head no again.

“I know you can smile,” I said. “Think of something happy. What makes you happy?”

She mumbled a one word reply. I couldn’t understand what she said. I looked up to the mother. The mother spoke for the first time. “She said ‘nothing’.”

“Nothing? I know there must be something that makes you happy. I know! Christmas! I bet Christmas makes you happy.”

She shook her head no again.

“Ice cream? Does ice cream make you happy?”

She shook her head no again.

The mother said, “Singing and dancing. She loves to sing and dance.”

“Does singing and dancing make you happy?”

She shook her head no again.

“I would love to see your smile anyway. It doesn’t even have to be a real smile. Can you do a fake smile for me?” I knew that a fake smile can’t help but turn into a real smile. I turned my lips up to form a fake smile on my face.

She shook her head no again.

Does ice cream make you happy?

Does ice cream make you happy?

I Leave Disappointed.

This little girl was determined not to be cheered up. I gave up. I had shopping to do.

“Well, maybe you’ll feel like smiling later,” I said. “Thank you for being such a good girl.” I stood up to my full height. “It was nice to meet you.”

The mother was still standing there, patiently staring off into the distance, calm and placid.

As I left the ladies room, I could hear it. The wailing had started again.

What is your opinion?

Post Script:

You might be asking yourself right now, “Why was Gemma crying? Why was the mother ignoring her? Why were they both just standing there in the ladies room at Costco? Why was Gemma wearing a party dress in Costco? Why did the little girl feel that she did not deserve the praise I was giving her?"

I don’t know. Your guess is as good as mine.

Why did I interfere? Obviously, the noise was bothering me. However, I think the main reason was that I can't stand to see an unhappy child. A child's distress breaks my heart, and I want to make it "all better", both for the child and for myself.

I didn't know what had happened before I "almost met" this little girl. She might have been crying because she was over stimulated or stressed. Perhaps she wanted something and her mother had refused to buy it. She could have been crying because something genuinely sad had just happened to her.

The mother may have already tried the remedies that child-development experts recommend—talking to her or comforting her. Taking the child to an isolated space (the ladies room) and standing by silently as the girl "cried it out" may have been the best way to handle it. The experts say that parents should not reward "bad" behavior. The mother may have known from experience that this was the best way to respond to her daughter's crying.

The mother didn't seem to mind my interference, but neither did she waver from her strategy. I assume she stood silent alongside the little girl until the child eventually stopped wailing. I just hope it wasn't a long wait.

An adorable little girl sings and dances.

© 2015 Catherine Giordano