My Son Schooled Me in Hospitality in a Local Café
I have a rule about the time I spend in the café to work on my writing: I get paid to write things, not to chitchat.
I put my headphones on, keep my head down (unless I’m people watching because I do live in a city after all), and avoid making eye contact with anyone in my vicinity. I especially avoid the people who talk to themselves while they work.
When our youngest was still small enough to fit in an Ergo Carrier, I brought him to the café a few mornings while his brother played at a friend’s house. I could stand at the counter and get a little bit of work done while he uneasily slept through the roar of the espresso machine.
While many people in the café are pretty immersed in their work as well, some people can’t resist saying hi to a baby—even a sleeping baby.
One of my son’s biggest fans is a guy I know from serving meals at the local food pantry. He’s well enough to be in a public space, but he’s just a bit… off. Since I’m an equal opportunity ignorer when I’m at the café, I’d never interacted with him before I started wearing my son at the counter. However, my extroverted child works extremely hard to make eye contact with every single person within sight. He’ll crane his head around, open his eyes wide, and make big goofy grins.
The man cannot resist my son’s smile. He’s quick to start chatting with him.
“Aren’t you the happiest little guy around?”
“Your daddy is so good to take you out places. My daddy did stuff like that with me too.”
“When you smile at me, you make me feel so good inside.”
This last line stopped me cold. The man is holding his hand to his chest. He’s sober and sincere. There is a weight around those words. My son gave him something that he has been craving: someone’s undivided attention—just a smile really.
I look from him sitting on the couch to the people chatting over open Bibles, professionals tapping away on computers, and 20-somethings craning over their iPhones. I’m just one of the faceless masses in this café who won’t give this man so much as a nod hello or a friendly smile that acknowledges his existence.
I didn’t even know what he did all morning while he sat on the couch. Did he read a book? Check out the local paper that another patron left behind? Did anyone other than the café staff, who are essentially paid to pay attention to everyone, interact with him on a typical day?
I’m still resolute in my commitment to avoid the local chatterboxes at the café. They always have plenty of people around to make conversation. This man, however, was different. We honestly had nothing to talk about, a frightening prospect for an introvert like me who struggles to spark discussions with strangers. However, what he needed most wasn’t words. He needed a few seconds of eye contact.
He needed to know that he could make a baby smile.
He needed to know that someone saw him in a sea of screens and coffee cups and could make him feel welcome. Thankfully, my son showed me what I needed to do.
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