On Parenting will host guest bloggers on most Fridays. Today, African-American mom Theola Labbé-DeBose writes about raising a black family. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband, infant son and stepson and is a staff writer at The Washington Post.
She said her name was Barbara and she took one look at me — with my 23-pound son strapped to my body in a baby carrier, a stuffed diaper bag hanging from my tiny shoulder, a rolling suitcase and a car seat on top of the suitcase handle — and said, “Do you need some help getting to your destination?”
I almost never accept random acts of kindness. Maybe I’m a bit of a pessimist. But it’s hard to be cheery when you hear about another dismal statistic in the African-American community, where, for example, there is a higher unemployment rate for black men. Even though I’m just one year into raising my son, this cute and cuddly black baby will hopefully grow up to be a black man. Knowing that serious obstacles lie ahead for him, I worry constantly about how I can guide him around the minefields and keep him safe. And he’s only been on Earth for 11 months.
We recently ventured out of Washington to visit my mother in New York for Mother’s Day weekend. It was our first trip alone without Dad and also on public transit. When I was single woman traveling, I would scan every stranger, looking for the next possible pickpocket or shady character. But with my infant, my only concern was whether he was hungry, tired or comfortable with the trip. That might have made me the perfect crime victim.
Last year, a District mother wrangling her children out of their carseats was carjacked. The idea that being focused on the job of being a mom was the moment when you were most vulnerable sent shivers through the community.
Barbara, the Good Samaritan who offered to help me with my bags, seemed so good-natured, so cheery, so playful with the baby. We were walking together when I realized I really had to go to the bathroom before I boarded the train back to Washington. It would have been very hard to do that with my baggage and baby. Barbara offered to watch my stuff while I ran in before the train arrived.
I left her with my suitcase (with my laptop inside), baby bag (with my wallet) and everything else except my son. I felt a tiny twinge of fear but ignored it. I walked into the restroom. But the line was too long and after a minute or two I decided to walk back out.
Barbara was gone.
I scanned the crowd, wondering how far she could get with a suitcase, a diaper bag and carseat? I wondered how me and the baby, with nothing but ourselves and our clothes, would get home. Didn’t we pass a police officer on our walk over?
And then, I spotted a tall woman with red hair. And my son’s carseat. She was a few yards away, snaking along with the other passengers toward the train track. I walked over to her, relieved. She walked me all the way to my seat and gave me a hug before she left.
Was I wrong to trust her? I’m still not sure. “You want to be cognizant at all times of all your belongings,” said Sharon Cichy, co-founder of Capital Baby Planners, a Washington-based service for new and expectant parents. They’re sponsoring a free seminar on Sunday on how to travel with children.
“Really the key is to be organized and pack several days ahead,” Cichy said — one tip I didn’t heed. On that trip I was an overburdened mom who met a stranger and let down her guard.