Mother and baby, family celebration

The ties that bind. Photo: Getty Images

When my son was one day old, I went downstairs in search of sunlight. I stood outside the hospital, dazed. How to reconcile that the world looked unchanged? And how to stay a part of it when my world was now upstairs, asleep?

Once home, my husband and I shrunk the living quarters of our already small home. We needed to be close as we found our feet - the rest of the house, and the world, could wait. I was lucky that my husband had taken four weeks off work, but as his return date drew close, an unease grew inside me.

Like most people, I have pretty much always had somewhere I had to be, something I had to be doing. How was it going to be when it was just my baby and me, in a house alone?

The first day my husband left for work, I walked with him for the first couple of blocks. After waving goodbye, I took my turns at whim. Left, right - I had nowhere to be and my senses revelled in the pace. It was spring and the jasmine was out. Buds were waiting to burst on knobbly branches. There was a lightness and a warmth to the air and it felt good to be out.

Someone once told me that a baby's cry is not nearly as distressing outside and it proved true - absorbed by the trees, the wind, the sympathetic smiles of passers-by. After that, I left early every day. No matter what.

With my days spent within a small grid of streets, I slowly came to know the names of the people in the shops, at the park, in the houses nearby, and then their stories, too. Our lives intersect only briefly, and yet it matters.

I have had strangers tell me to hurry home before the storm, or that my baby was hungry, or tired or even (God forbid) bored. It's taken some getting used to, but it's true what they say - it takes a village to raise a child.

Over time, I've developed a fondness for this way in which people are always looking out for my little boy, from the man, about my father's age, who told my son to look after me - "You've only got one mum" - to the supermarket worker stacking shelves who followed me three blocks to return a lost sock, to the lady at the table next to me who said my son made the whole cafe a special place to be. And that all happened during a single morning.

At the market recently, I heard a voice, booming, behind me: "Oh, you've made my day!" I turned to find a lady wearing a bright red coat with her head in my pram. She glanced up at me: "Sorry, but I could just gobble up those toes!" I'd been heading off to find a coffee, flick through the paper. We ended up sharing a table while she told me about her life - her only grandchild is on the other side of the world.

At the park, on the way home, two young lovers were enjoying the sunshine. He was trying to impress her on his skateboard as she flicked through a magazine. My son, captivated, started to clap and laugh. The skateboarder noticed and moved his show over to us, much to the delight of my baby.

One night, with nothing in the fridge, we braved a restaurant nearby. We chose the noisiest we could find, but sure enough, just after ordering, our son began to cry.

We were close to leaving when our meals arrived - there is nothing that makes you want to sink into the ground quicker than the thought you might be ruining someone else's night. I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned, apologetic. But instead I got, "Could I hold your baby for you so you two can enjoy a meal together? I know how hard that is." I could have cried from her kindness.

One rainy night, not long after, my son and I were returning home from a big day out. Finally, our bus pulled in. A man in a suit darted across the busy road, without an umbrella, to help me on with the pram.

I watched him through the window as he crossed back over, wet through. All I'd managed was a quick "Thanks".

Sometimes, it's more subtle. Near our house is an old pub that I pass many times a day. Outside, a group of men with hard-worn faces gather. We have never spoken, but every time I approach, they press the button for the traffic lights for me, smile at my son and nod.

This past year my focus has often been so narrow that the world around me blurred, my mind so foggy from lack of sleep that I've sometimes struggled to hold a conversation.

But there has been clarity, too. As if all my senses have been heightened, what really matters suddenly becomes obvious. And perhaps what matters most of all is that there's kindness out there, if we just step outside - of our homes, and of ourselves.

From Sunday Life.