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

Inspirational essays and articles, with a touch of humor, are a favorite topic 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

I welcome your comments.

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on January 11, 2015:

I like your story, Joyfulcrown, about the little girl and her father. All's well that ends well. Thanks for your comment. I'm glad you enjoyed my story.

Joyfulcrown on January 11, 2015:

What a lovely story. Its hard to know what do to when you see a child crying. I remember seeing a father trying to get his daughter to go into the ladies room by herself. She didn't want to leave her father and was wailing. I offered to go inside with her but she wouldn't go, so I pointed him to the men's room. You just never know what is going on.

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on January 08, 2015:

FlourishAnyway, I see you are working your way through the whole series. I'm so glad you like these stories. People have been coming up with some interesting ideas about Gemma and the woman. It's really making me think. As for me, I was shocked at my behavior too. I just couldn't stand the shrieking anymore.

FlourishAnyway from USA on January 08, 2015:

This series is neat! I don't think I would have had the gumption to talk to her like you did. Your telling makes me think that the woman may not have been her mother (e.g., father's new girlfriend?).

Cristen Iris from Boise, Idaho on January 03, 2015:

I don't know what the right way is to handle those types of situations but I can say you handled it very creatively and theatrically. I would have been appreciative and amused had I been in one of those stalls.

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on January 03, 2015:

Thank you, ecogranny. It's nice to hear from you. I referred to the woman in the story as her mother, but I don't know that for sure. I think there was a resemblance. It is hard to know about when to interfere. I just acted on impulse. The noise was driving me up the wall. But, then my motivations changed. I hate to see unhappy children. I genuinely wanted to cheer her up. You are also so right about parenting. Follow our instincts? Follow the books? You want so hard to do it right and it is so hard to know what is right.

Kathryn Grace from San Francisco on January 03, 2015:

What an interesting story! It's always difficult to know what's going on when we see a child acting out in public and a parent nearby, seemingly disinterested. There can be such a fine line between feeding a child's tantrum with too much attention and ignoring a child's very real emotional or physical need.

Unfortunately, we parents are not given user manuals when our children join our lives, and no matter how many books we read, with their widely divergent parenting advice, we have to handle each situation as it comes as best we can in the moment.

My heart goes out to both that child and her mother, or caretaker, and I pray they have everything they need to have a healthy relationship as the little girl grows up.

Thank you for sharing this vignette. I love stories like this.

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on January 03, 2015:

I appreciate any help of any kind, Annart. BTW, you have probably heard that social media is an important way to promote your own hubs, but it is an additional burden on you time. Thank you, I always appreciate a share or a comment. It's my Sally Fields at the Academy Awards moment: "You like me, you really like me."

Ann Carr from SW England on January 03, 2015:

I'm really old-fashioned regarding social media. I have a twitter account I hardly ever use and that's all! However, sharing this and will mention it when I can.


John Hansen from Queensland Australia on January 02, 2015:

Yes Catherine, it's quite possible my perception was influenced by the video. :)

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on January 02, 2015:

That's an interesting explanation, Jodah. Now, I really wished I had talked to the mother more. But then the piece would have no mystery. The girl kept denying that she was a good girl, so that is strange. My guess would have been that the girl was refused a toy she wanted or something like that and the woman brought the girl into the ladies room to let her cry it out. The woman didn't seem angry at the girl, just like she was patiently waiting for the girl to stop crying. The girl really did stop crying when I told her she would wake the baby. The mother didn't seem to mind that I was interfering. Now I really wish I knew more. Anyway, I'm glad you are liking the stories. Thanks for commenting. Maybe they had just come from an audition and the girl had refused to perform or had not done well and so the girl thought she was bad. When the mother said the girl liked singing and dancing I felt like she was trying to help me cheer the girl up. I'm going on and on about this because now I really want to figure it out. The video I put at the end was of a girl singing and dancing on a stage. Perhaps that influenced your perception.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on January 02, 2015:

This is the third hub I have read in the series Catherine so I must be enjoying them. Reading between the lines this girl you called "Gemma" with her perfect looks and party dress sounds like one of those poor children forced to compete in child beauty and talent pageants (possibly against her will). The mother mentioning she likes to sing and dance and the girl denying this gave me that impression as well as the mother only being concerned about checking herself out in the mirror. It sounds like the cliched failed model trying to live her dream through her daughter. Of course I could be completely wrong, but it gets you thinking. Good hubs do that.

Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on January 02, 2015:

Thank you Annart for your encouraging words. I'm enjoying these "fluff" hubs. A nice change of pace from my usual issue-oriented hubs. This is the third one that I have published all titled "People Almost Met" if you want to search for them. If you like them, I hope you will consider sharing on social media because I don't think I will get views from google with the search term "people almost met."

Ann Carr from SW England on January 02, 2015:

This is the first of this series that I've read but I want to read more. Great idea.

It's a great of way of presenting a situation for us to solve, almost a detective scenario.

Some children demand attention all the time but obviously shouldn't have that; however, some need attention at certain times. I couldn't leave a child wailing like that all the time without talking to her though.

Quite a dilemma!

Great read.


Catherine Giordano (author) from Orlando Florida on January 02, 2015:

Thank you Billybuc. Your praise means a lot. So far views have been slow, but I'm building a brand. (I hope.) I realize there are no good "search terms" in this. However, I have about a half dozen of these already written, so I just have to dust them off, edit, format and find/create pictures. I think the stories are sweet. I feel like I am "freeze-framing" a small moment of interaction with a stranger. They are fun to write and read and they don't leave me emotionally drained like when I do an "issue" hub.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 02, 2015:

This is such a unique and creative series. I have no idea if it will be successful online, but I love the premise behind it.

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