She Wore a Hijab
She wore a hijab, a scarf around her neck, a baggy sweater, and a long, black skirt.
She smiled at me with pretty brown eyes as Graham and I settled in beside her and her toddler daughter at our local library’s story time and sing-a-long yesterday.
I nodded and said hello before turning my attention to Graham who had already slipped away and was pounding enthusiastically on the fire exit door at the back of the room.
I corralled him, returned to our seats, and tried to interest him in the librarian whose story seemed to have the rapt attention of the half-dozen other toddlers present.
Graham dashed to the front of the room and began to hunt happily through the box of props beside the librarian while I watched him tensely, calculating whether hauling him back to his seat would be more or less disruptive than letting him continue.
He thrust a stuffed animal in the air with a gleeful snort. I cringed and leaned forward, ready to make my move.
The woman beside me caught my eye and shrugged conspiratorially. He’s fine.
“Here you go!” Graham thrust the animal in the storyteller’s lap, knocking the book out of her hands.
The reader laughed good-naturedly while I scurried forward, scooped up Graham apologetically, and returned him to our seats. Within seconds he had bolted and was playing among the curtains at the back window.
The woman beside me giggled.
“I don’t know why he’s not paying attention,” I whispered weakly. “He’s been looking forward to this all week.”
“Oh, mine same.” She spoke in a thick accent I couldn’t place. She waved her hand at her daughter who was quietly busying herself with a doll.
I nodded grateful, for her kindness.
“Peek-a-boo!” Graham chimed from behind the curtain.
I sighed and started to get up. She stopped me with a gentle hand on my arm. “No worry,” she said. “Really. He enjoy himself, he not bother anyone.”
She smiled at me again, really smiled. I exhaled and sat back down.
A few minutes later Graham wandered up beside us. The woman’s daughter was sipping now from a huge cup, ornately decorated with princesses and fairies and I saw Graham’s eyes widen with interest.
“Juice mama,” he said, pointing. “Juice.”
And it’s quite possible that some kind of a disapproving look crossed my face, if only because I was picturing Graham’s s next move which I felt sure would involve screaming, tears, and a lecture on ownership.
But I wasn’t prepared for my new friend’s reaction.
“No no,” she said. “No juice, no juice. Water only.”
And I realized that her eyes were beseeching me in the same way mine had hers just moments ago.
I shrugged and smiled as reassuringly as I could. She smiled back, obviously relieved.
“I no give juice,” she said firmly. “Only water. Water better.”
And then it dawned on me.
We mothers are all alike.
From Canada to the Middle East, from Europe to Australia.
We all love our children. We all want what’s best for our children.
And we all live in perpetual fear that the mother next to us will reveal herself to be a bitchy stereotype who observes our parenting skills and judges them wanting.