This guy parks like an asshole, in much the same way I probably sauntered into the handicapped stall like an equally stupid asshole at some point in the past. Bad me.

This past weekend, Peanut and I went on our first day trip. We traveled 2 hours by car to spend the day with my family. I was nervous about spending so much time in the car with Peanut; the prospect of driving down the interstate with a screaming baby in the backseat frightened me.

(She slept the entire way there and almost all the way back, thank goodness. But I digress.)

I was so nervous about the drive that I didn’t prepare myself very well. I should have grabbed a soda to keep me awake on the drive. Sleep deprivation plus a long, boring drive across a flat Midwestern state equals one very tired driver. Caffeine desperately needed!

I fought it, but finally decided to get a little caffeine boost at a gas station about 20 minutes into the drive. I carefully hoisted my sleeping baby out of the car, still in her car seat, and toted her inside while I got a pop and a cup of ice. (I had to lay my pop bottle in her little lap; I didn’t have enough hands to carry everything!)

I breathed a sigh of relief upon returning to the car, armed with my caffeine, when she hadn’t woken up, despite our little trip inside.

But I’d made a grave mistake. I had forgotten to pee before leaving home, and didn’t realize during my pit stop that I would soon have a full bladder. My mind was necessarily preoccupied.

I fought the discomfort for the next 40 minutes (have you ever tried to cross your legs while driving? It doesn’t work) and finally resigned myself to the fact that a potty break couldn’t wait. I pulled into a big convenience store just off the interstate, and went through the paces (again) of slinging my purse across my body, unlatching her car seat (ever so carefully) and lifting the car seat out. I walked steadily into the store, following two women who were headed to the bathroom just as I was.

The older of the two, a 50-something young grandmother-type, held the door for me, glanced at the cargo I was carrying, and smiled. A kindred spirit! I thought.

The three of us walked into the bathroom in a line, the younger woman first, grandma second, then Peanut and me. The bathroom was clean and nice; each stall had its own floor-to-ceiling door. I spotted three regular stalls, which were quite small, and one generously sized handicapped stall. All four were empty when we entered. I looked down at Peanut’s bulky car seat and set my sights on the handicapped stall, so I could fit both of us and the carrier inside.

To my irritation, the older woman beelined for the handicapped stall. I rolled my eyes, annoyed as hell, and grumbled silently to myself. Stupid woman! I shot mental “you’re an idiot” daggers at her.

She walked into the stall, turned to close the door, and spotted me. Her eyes grew wide. “Oh, you’re going to want this one! Here,” she said, stepping out and holding the door for me.

“Thank you, so much,” I said, humbled, as I stepped inside, feeling a bit like an ass.

I quickly did my business, washed my hands, and we were back on the interstate in just a few minutes.

As I thought about the woman’s small gesture, I couldn’t help but wonder: how many times have I been guilty of what she almost did?

How many times have I made a beeline for the roomy handicapped stall, oblivious to the woman next in line carrying an infant in a car seat? How many times have I yelled at a slow driver, not realizing that particular car held a young couple on their way home from the hospital with a two-day old baby?

Up until now, just how many parents have I annoyed with my childless insensitivity?

In the weeks since Peanut joined us, a few friends have graced us with the ultimate gift for new parents: easily prepared/reheated FOOD. Lasagna, pork carnitas, corn chowder, chocolate chip cookies (okay those were an awesome bonus), and more. I’ve never been so thankful to receive other people’s cooking. After a long day of caring for an infant, there’s nothing so sweet as the knowledge that a delicious dinner is just waiting in the fridge and you don’t have to cook it!

(One particularly conscientious friend, who I’ll call Dawn, divided her gifted food into single-sized portions, vacuum-sealed each, and froze them. Every morning I pick two, throw them in the fridge, and I’m set for lunch and dinner! I love Dawn soooo much.)

When he saw the tasty gifts, my husband asked, “Are we jerks because we didn’t do this for Dawn and her husband when they had their son?”

“Well, kind of. But until you’ve had a baby of your own, you don’t even know what people need. We didn’t know. And I think they understand.” I reassured him.

All the same, I find myself analyzing my past behavior toward friends with newborns. Knowing what I know now, there was so much more I could have done to help out. Hindsight is 20/20, especially in this case.

I can’t change anything I’ve done in the past. But now that my eyes have been opened to the plight of parenthood, all I can do is to be super-sensitive to other moms and dads from this day forward.

“Hello, random new mom! I’m a mom too. I’ve been there and I know what you’re going through. Here – let me get that door for you.”