To the Couple Who Kept Staring at Us:
My daughter was 2 and my son was 5 months old. We had just arrived in Portland from Salt Lake a few hours before and were exhausted. When we first arrived, we stopped by the local grocery store and grabbed some chicken and a sandwich but you know, it’s a grocery store. We hardly ate it.
After sitting in our hotel room for a little while, we realized we needed food so we looked up one of the best restaurants in the area and stumbled upon a restaurant that looked promising. We made our way there but were frustrated by how hard it was to find parking in Downtown Portland on a Sunday in the early evening. We finally arrived and just prayed that our young kids would be good.
When we first walked into the restaurant, we realized we may have made a mistake by taking our kids there – it was fancier than we had expected but it was too late. It was almost 6:30 our time and we needed to get the kids into their beds for the evening so we sat down and stressed over how expensive the food actually was and if we should even be there.
And I noticed you. You were sitting across the way from me and just to the side of and behind me, but I saw you. It made me uncomfortable. I knew that you knew that we were out of place: under-dressed and our children just didn’t fit in. I knew you were judging me. Why was my hair up in some messy ponytail? Why did I look like I hadn’t tried to get ready for the day? Why did the whole family look like we hadn’t tried for the day? And why did we all have circles under our eyes? And yes, the kids’ clothes were hand-me-downs.
I decided to throw a glare your way. I regretted it immediately after I had done it because one, I’m not usually like that and two, you were so well-put together and I was honestly just envious of you. You didn’t look tired. You didn’t seem to be stressed. And you had no children with you.
The more you stared, the more uncomfortable I felt. Maybe if you just knew that we had just arrived hours before on a flight where I was more stressed out than you could imagine – our first flight with two children, both under three. And we were flying standby so we had no idea beforehand if we’d even sit together. Would we even get on the flight? And would the children cry during the flight? Then once we arrived in Portland and got our rental car, we had to find a place to stay for the night. Did we really want to spend the $200 for one night? Or should we go for the $70 room that was a mystery until we paid for it? Ah, yeah, we went with the latter and were sorely disappointed. Plus the homeless men in front of our hotel didn’t put as at ease. Maybe if you just knew these things, you’d stop judging me!
My husband and I ordered some of the cheapest things on the menu, including one of the cheapest appetizers on the menu so we wouldn’t have to eat again that evening, and maybe in the morning if we were lucky. My husband settled with some chicken dish that was about $12 and I went with a fish dish that was $18. Plus my daughter needed something to eat which was about $7. I almost cried when we were done ordering it. Yes, we were on vacation but my husband didn’t have a job at the moment. This was a much-needed getaway so we chose one of the cheapest vacations we could find in a budget we could handle if we were careful. We were using all the extra money we had for this vacation and a $40+ dinner wasn’t actually in our budget. We had something more like $10 to spend on dinner that evening. And I was stressed.
I noticed you and your husband were finally paying for your meal and I breathed a small sigh of relief. You would finally stop burning that hole through my head with that stare and I could move on with my life feeling uncomfortable in my situation without you. Since I was feeling more relaxed, I got involved in a conversation with my husband and didn’t even notice when you left. But I did finally mention to my husband that you had kept staring at us once I noticed your absence. Of course, even though he was facing you and your husband, he had no idea what had happened. He had no idea that you were basically violating me and making me feel worthless, one stare at a time. He had no idea that I was embarrassed we were there and that you had noticed how out of place we were.
Our bill arrived. It was somewhere around $42. It was way more than we should have been spending. My husband and I exchanged words about how expensive it was but hopefully it was worth it, maybe we could make up for it somewhere else and not buy things, and put our credit card with the check book. Our waiter took the book and walked away. After storing all of our extra food in take-home boxes (for breakfast in the morning), our waiter came back. He leaned down towards us and quickly stated that the couple who had just sat in “that” booth, the ones that just left, (and also the ones who had been staring the entire time we had been there) had paid $40 of our bill. Which just left us about $2 to pay plus tip. Our tip was about $8 to make 20%. That $10 we had planned to spend was about all we spent that evening.
And I cried.
You had been staring at us. You probably were listening to what we were ordering. And it made sense as to why the waiter kept talking to you so much. It was way more than was needed to simply hand him your credit card (yes, I had been watching you just as much as you were watching me). Maybe you were reminiscing about when you had young children. And you were probably discussing how happy we’d be when we had $40 less to pay.
To you, at least by the way you looked, $40 was probably nothing. You probably didn’t even think twice about it. But to us, $40 was a lot. To us, that evening, $40 was everything.
I cried that evening from your kindness. In fact, thinking about your kindness, I still cry. I don’t know if you felt like you should help us with the money or if you just do it often. Either way, I am grateful for your generosity.
And I promise, I am doing my best to pay your kind deed forward.
The Mom Who Felt So Out of Place