There are so many GREAT things about going to the mall to walk: exercise, getting out of the house, fun friend time if you bring a partner...but it was even better than usual today because instead of turning away or just giving a brief smile, I decided to acknowledge everyone who noticed our entourage. We garner a lot of attention with the stroller that resembles Shamoo filled with two cute babes, especially since one of them is usually in a proclaiming/pointing mood, drawing more eyes to us.
We hear all sorts of comments as we walk, from the typical "aww she's so cute!" and "you have your hands full!" (grr...more on that topic later) to my favorite, "woah there's another baby in there!" when they notice Stockton on the back of the stroller. A lot of the comments are directed to us but I also hear them spoken softly between people passing us or walking behind. Anyway, I normally reply to the people who actively address me, but otherwise I just politely smile when I overhear a remark or catch someone admiring my children from across the way. (I should add that at the time I go, most of the mall patrons are also only there for walking, and it's 90% older folks.) Today I decided instead to fully acknowledge everyone who noticed me and my children with a bigger, longer smile or a wave or even slowing down and having Natalie say something to them.
The result was extraordinary! I loved how when I smiled back at someone who didn't realize I was paying attention, they returned my smile with an even bigger one. Since we normally do several laps we saw these new smile-friends multiple times and added more smiles and maybe some conversation each time, and it really made me feel connected. The mall felt so cheerful with all the smiling and Natalie waving and it just made me feel brighter.
One gentleman is often at the mall when we go and I've never engaged him before but today I smiled at him on the first lap, he smiled at me on the second lap, and we chatted when we saw each other the third time.
A man who I also see frequently is always accompanied by a woman who wrings her hands and mumbles and walks hunched over. It warms my heart to see this husband/brother/father? taking care of and walking with his wife/sister/daughter, but I've never talked to them. Today we made eye contact and smiled as we walked, then later as Natalie was playing by the mechanical horse the man told me I had a sweet little girl and the woman said "giddy-up!"
On one of our rounds we met a woman who was resting on a secluded bench. She was clearly charmed by Natalie and started talking to her, so I stopped walking. We chatted for a minute and then kept going. I made a point of going by this bench on our next loop and she was still there and clearly appreciated us seeking her out. I let Natalie out of the stroller to come say hi to this older woman and it was so cute and dear to see them interact. Natalie climbed onto the bench to sit next to her new friend, and gave her three high fives (the ultimate sign of affection.)
After Natsby was free there was no getting her back in the stroller, so I let her run rampant through the mall. (I love that the mall lets you in to walk before the shops open - less crowded and Natalie can't really wreck anything since there's nowhere for her to go!) She found the little grouping of mechanical quarter rides by Sears and was seriously so excited. It's her dream come true to have free reign over that area! As she was playing one of the people who I had noticed watching us earlier (and exchanged smiles with) approached and we talked for a minute. She's a sweet older lady with old-fashioned hair clips and a clutch purse who looks pretty reserved and observant, definitely the kind who needs to be smiled at first before she'll smile back. She thought Natalie was darling and seemed to reminisce while we watched her play. She left to continue on her walk but when she passed us again she pressed quarters in my hand to use on one of the rides, and waved to Natalie and went on her way. I was so touched!
Human interaction is amazing. I was so restored and boosted by their smiles and waves, and really felt like we weren't strangers by the end of our walk. Maybe I'm reading too much into all this, maybe most people didn't think twice about our smiles, but I know that I personally felt connected. It feels good to add enjoyment to someone's day and to feel appreciated in return, not knowing any back stories or putting on any judgment. I hope our children grow up understanding the importance of caring for people and love how joyful it makes you feel - service, even in such a small and insignificant way, makes a huge difference.