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I busted one of the cats squatting on a pile of laundry, so after I drop Lauren off at swim practice, I shoot over to Walmart to pick up another litter box, figuring one box may not be enough for three cats.

I hear them before I ever see them. The entire store can hear them. My mom ear tells me it’s a toddler, about 2, who didn’t get a nap that day.

Sure enough, a harried mom in work clothes is pushing a cart with a weeping toddler and a slightly older girl, maybe 4,  both are in fleece jammy pants, boots, winter coats. Mom probably just needed to pick up a few things on the way home from the sitter and the kids are making it a living nightmare like kids often do.

Been there, done that.

I deliberately make eye contact with mom and give her a sympathetic smile because I can feel the silent (and somewhat obvious) judgement of most of the rest of the shoppers who just want her to shut that kid up.

I get in line behind them because nobody else wants to. She tries to talk the toddler off the ledge, but reasoning with a nap-free toddler at 7 p.m. is a lesson in futility. She jokes with the cashier about leaving the kids at the store.

Now the wailing two-year-old wants Tic Tacs. In a desperate attempt that I recognize all too well, mom gives in, grabs the Tic Tacs. The cashier scans them and mom hands them to the girl, who wants them open now.


Like right that very second. Not 15 seconds later after she loads her stuff on the belt. Not 2 minutes later when she’s done with checkout. But NOW.

Another meltdown is brewing.Temporarily ignored by her mom and stymied by the impossible-to-open Tic Tacs, she flops on the floor and starts screaming, saliva stretching between her open lips and snot running down her nose.

I just stand there and smile in hopes the mom can see that her child isn’t bothering me and that I feel her pain and that I’ve been there and that she’s doing just fine.

I want to tell her that the days are long, but the years are short. That in the blink of an eye, she’ll be dropping her preteen daughter off for swim team practice. But I know she doesn’t want to hear that right now. She’s got a long night in front of her.

Here’s what I wish I had done: I wish that I had put down the litter box, knelt down, stretched out my hand to that wailing child, and said, “Here, honey, let me open those for you.”

As a society, we’re so afraid to interfere. To overstep our boundaries. To get involved. To stretch out a hand to ease someone’s pain and try to make things a little bit better.

Next time, I’m going to.


About Just Write: Just Write is my adaptation of free writing, a technique in which a person writes continuously and quickly without little regard for spelling, grammar, or topic. It helps writers overcome blocks of apathy and explore everything from meaningful topics to mundane observations with the same effort and without the pressure of crafting perfect prose. I just start writing.

“What ends up revealing itself when free writing is that everything has meaning. That is a magnificent gift of writing. If we write from a free heart-gut place, our souls start speaking.”