Last weekend, that chilly rainy Sunday morning before Memorial Day, I walked over to the local bakery to pick up a few treats for a stay-at-home brunch. There was a bit of a line. Ahead of me was a man in his early 30s; ahead of him, a woman about the same age. They were not together. The woman was holding an infant maybe nine months old. The baby was whining and fussing and close to tears; she was looking over her mother’s shoulder at the man between us. The man, meanwhile, stared fixedly into space with a quiet glower of grouchiness.
It was a feedback loop: the man was grouchy because he was stuck in line next to a crying baby; the baby was crying because of the grouchy man. The mother, used to the noise, had—like most mothers would in similar conditions—tuned out.
I figured I alone had a chance to break this vicious cycle. I caught the eye of the baby and started making my usual goofy “hello, baby” face: wide, smiling eyes, puffed-out cheeks, a look of joyous surprise. It took the baby about half a second to switch from fussy to happy, and when she switched, the change in her demeanour was almost instantaneous.
At that moment, the woman shifted the weight to her other arm, meaning the baby was now looking over her mother’s other shoulder. The baby could no longer see me, her view blocked by the man in front of me—but her happy smile remained, and now was directed at the man. Within moments he was smiling too, and saying hello to the baby. The mother turned around and struck up a friendly conversation with the man, and by the time they were done ordering everybody was in a cheerful mood.
Neither the man nor the woman had any awareness of me. They never had a clue how my input had improved their Sunday morning. That it also saved me from standing in line with a crying baby was just icing on the cupcake.