When my son was born I nurtured him and held him, and did not want to take him anywhere.
But, after a few weeks, I plucked up the courage to put him in a baby carrier on my chest and meet my friend in London’s South Kensington for a coffee. It was busy and buzzing, yet he slept whilst we sat in a corner of the café talking. It felt like I was able to reconnect with the life I’d had before.
Afterward, we decided to go for a short walk to talk some more, but I was getting worried about having to breastfeed soon, and although my friend was one of my closest and dearest, he was also a middle aged man with a good suit and a silk pocket handkerchief. I wanted to spare us both the embarrassment of me having to nurse my child, which to do in a discreet and unassuming way requires practice I simply did not have at that point.
We walked and my baby woke up crying, his little head bobbing up and down with his tiny mouth open, looking for milk.
“I am sorry,” I said, “I need to feed Oscar. Can you see a bench somewhere?”
We were in a side street lined with big white houses common for this upmarket neighbourhood and there was no bench anywhere to be seen. Oscar’s infant crying became louder and louder, and I became more and more desperate. So, we stood looking around. “I am just going to have to sit here in this hallway then,” I said.
“Excuse me, are you lost? Can I help you?” We turned around. A dark haired, elegant, and impeccably dressed older woman looked at us with a friendly and curious smile.
I imagine that she thought we were tourists.
“Oh no, thank you. I am sorry, I am just looking for somewhere to feed my son.” She saw Oscar in the sling and smiled at me: “Please, you are standing right outside my home. If you don’t mind, please come inside and you can just sit in my living room all in peace.”
I politely waved my hand: “That is kind, but don’t worry.” The door opened and with a, “Please,” she encouraged us in.
I stepped in to the house and was guided in to a huge front room. She pulled a cloth cover with a firm pull which revealed a beautiful antique sofa with delicate yellow silk upholstering.
I sat down, lifted my distressed baby out of the sling, and tried to somehow cover my breast with my scarf—although at this point I was already in such panic, I did not care anymore. Oscar latched on and all of a sudden it became quiet.
I looked up at my friend, who gentlemanly and awkwardly tried to look elsewhere. The lady introduced herself to him and he to her—he complimented her on her flat.
Their polite conversation filtered in to the background as my gaze wandered over her art work. I could see detailed traditional Asian woodcarving antiques and very old black and white photographs in gold leaf frames. The walls were lined with large black and white abstract paintings that stood in stark contrast to the delicate precision of the rest of the works.
As I was processing what I thought about those unusual canvases, she told me warmly: “They are from my son. He is a painter. He will be exhibiting at the Frieze this year.”
After 15 minutes, Oscar was happy and asleep. I kissed him, placed him in the sling, and rearranged my shirt.
We spoke for a little while longer as she told us parts of her story—her son having had twins, his career as an artist, her own travels.
We exchanged business cards, thanked her, and left.
When we walked back to the station we stopped, looked at each other and laughed. “Wow, what a wonderful woman,” he said. “What a wonderful house,” I said.
That evening I emailed to say thank you. She replied:
“Thank you for writing to thank me. It is very sweet of you.
For me too it was a pleasure to meet you.
I do believe that, within the bounds of being sensible, there is never enough kindness one can put out in the world.
Tina, I wish you all the best with your baby. It is a challenging but wonderful journey to be a mother.
If you are ever in the area and want to pop in, you are very welcome.”
When we celebrate gestures of kindness offered to us by others, it can change our outlook on life.