Are random acts of kindness so rare that they are actual news? Apparently so. A young woman Samantha Welch was on a long train journey with her three year-old son. She did her best to entertain him, playing games with him and letting him listen to music. Eventually he fell asleep and because the train was full, she pulled him on to her lap so that she could offer his seat to other people.
Anyone who has travelled with a child will be familiar with this. Trains and boats and planes. Or actually buses. You try your best to keep the child quiet and happy and it’s exhausting. There are times when they become fractious, whatever you do. There are tantrums that not even a bag of Wotsits can soothe. There are stairs in most stations where people rush by as you bump up a buggy with a child and a heavy bag.
There are times when you need to leave your luggage to take a child to the loo or when a flight attendant will dump a tray of food on top of you when you have a toddler on your knee.
Travelling with a small child can be hard work, work that single parents do all the time. If you are not in that stage of life, it’s easier not to notice: move away from wailing infants and put your headphones in.
One man, however, did notice that this young woman in front of him was doing her best. As he left the train he tapped Samantha on the shoulder and said she had dropped something . It was a note that said:
“Have a drink on me. You are a credit to your generation, polite and teaching the little boy good manners. Man on train at table with glasses and hat. Have a lovely evening. “PS I have a daughter your age, someone did the same for her once. Hope when she has children she is as good a mother as you.”
There was a fiver wrapped inside it.
The Daily Mail reported this story and wants to find this “generous stranger”. Kindness is clearly no longer its own reward. The subtext to this sweetness, though, is that of a decent man acknowledging a good young mother. Who knew such a thing existed? Samantha said: “People look at you and judge you every day when you’re a single mum but getting that note made me feel special and proud. That might sound silly, but all I’m trying to do is make a better life for my son.”
That does not sound silly at all. It makes perfect sense. Where, pray, does the assumption that single mothers do not want the best for their children come from?
Is it only the province of perfect couples to teach their children basic manners or how to behave in public? Actually, as a single parent, it has always been to my advantage to make my children as portable as possible.
But I am happy that this young women’s efforts were recognised. What we need though is not simply anonymous generosity but public respect. This has long been in short supply from the top down as single mothers are spoken of as failures, burdens, and responsible for so many societal ills. Besides dropping us a fiver and helping us with our bags, the ultimate kindness would be to relieve us of the baggage of nasty and negative preconceptions. We mostly try to get it right most of the time.