All of us parents have been there: Completely and utterly overwhelmed by our small children or new babies — particularly in public spaces or at long events — and grateful for the sudden (and unexpected) offering of help from a kind stranger.
I myself am a mother of four now, but I can still remember being on the other side of things.
Once, when I was a young college student, I flew home alone, only to be seated by a mother and her infant. They had been traveling for nearly 12 hours, and she looked exhausted. As a longtime baby lover and child development major, I offered to burp the little girl after she had nursed. The tired mama happily handed her over after a few seconds and there we sat, talking for the rest of the two hour flight. I was thrilled to get in a cuddle with a wee one, and she was happy to relax for a little while, as her baby was entertained.
A couple weeks later, a package arrived with a note: The mother had sent me a thank you note, along with a book we had discussed. It was my first glimpse into the sisterhood of mothers; and it has stayed with me all these years later.
When my own children began to arrive — the first three in just three short years — I became the object of that same kindness. I soon found myself accepting help on airplanes myself to take an older child to the potty, and once even allowed a stranger in the grocery store to carry my infant to my car. Did I wonder if this was safe? Should I have been more cautious? I really don’t think so, but perhaps I’m wrong.
There is always an exception to the rule, and a recent kidnapping case out of Philadelphia has sadly reminded me of that fact. In newly-released security footage, a new mother can be seen pushing a stroller through the King of Prussia Mall in Montgomery County, while her young toddler walks beside her. Moments later, a stranger stops to ask her something, and the pair can be seen walking off together to a food court, where they sit, chatting. When the baby begins to cry, the stranger offers to calm her, and picks her up just as the mother turns to tend to her 2-year-old. All is friendly, even as the stranger begins to stand, cradling and soothing the baby nearby.
But that’s when the unthinkable happens: The stranger takes off quickly, just as the mother’s back is turned. In seconds, we see her walking briskly through the mall, up stairs, and out of view.
According to news reports, the 7-week-old baby was thankfully found five hours later and unharmed, inside the stranger’s home — who was later identified as Cherie Amoore. In court documents, Amoore said she had no idea why she took the child, but that the trauma of losing her own baby recently had overwhelmed her. So much so, that when she saw the infant in the mall that day, she felt that holding him would soothe her.
“I just wanted my baby,” she reportedly said, according to an affidavit. “It felt like I was holding my son again. It felt so good. I don’t know why I did it … I held him and all those feelings rushed back.”
The details of the story, as well as the images, keep replaying in my mind, on loop. And while many of us move through the world as independent beings, often steering clear of anyone we don’t already know, I’d like to still believe in the sisterhood of women. I’d like to think that this “village” we often speak of needing when raising children is still there among us. And I’d like to think that I can still count
It’s hard to read stories like these and not fill with fear; not hold your children even tighter than before. But I think for every one possible bad example, surely there are about 1,000 more beautiful ones that can restore our faith in the kindness of strangers. If we are to walk away fiercely defiant and mistrusting of others, what example do we offer to our children? How else do we ensure that they learn about kindness and empathy, both the giving and the receiving?
Perhaps then we can all work to be more vigilant, but not fearful, when we hear these stories. Of course, I have wondered if I would agree with that advice, had it been my own infant son that was taken from the mall that day. Maybe; or maybe not. I myself have suffered through life traumas that I have managed to see the light after, but it’s not always so easy.
Why did the kind stranger betray the trusting mother that day? I cannot even venture to understand it; I cannot wrap my mind around how a woman could do such a thing to another, even if she had just lost her own child. Of course, I empathize with her pain. But this story pierces my heart all around.
Still, I choose to believe in the genuine kindness of strangers, and in the invisible village of our sisterhood — which despite all, is powerful and mighty and worth upholding.