Ice Cream Empathy

The little family was heading to the crossway and in my direction as I was sitting on the bench in the sun, thirty yards from the crossway, waiting for a friend to emerge from a store. They made the prettiest picture: the father pushing a stroller, the mother to his left, holding the hand of a preschooler. The little one skipping, pigtails bouncing, dressed in pink t-shirt and purple tutu, light up sandals, little handbag full of turquoise rhinestones and the latest animated princess character; giddy with the unsuppressed delight that kids that age can have. I had me a feeling they were on their way to the ice-cream store across from the bench I was on. The excited anticipation was written all over the little face.

Steps from the crosswalk and probably noticing the commotion on the corner right behind a row of parked cars and flashing lights, the mother tried to circle to the father’s other side. Maybe she intended to put herself and the other adult as barriers to the scene on the asphalt.

There was a person on the ground ten feet away from the sidewalk, right behind the row of parked cars. Paramedics with a backboard. An ambulance. Two police cars flashing lights and directing traffic from the three lanes to just one, keeping a perimeter so the nosier onlookers not get too close to the accident. Another police man stood by a car parked sideways across one lane, talking to the driver who hit the man. There was concern in the air. I’d been sending some good thoughts when I noticed the family nearing.

The child was too short to see over the parked cars, but either the energy of the congregated people or the movement of her mother caught her attention. She stopped skipping. Stood. Tried to see. The mother stopped, as well, then tugged gently on her daughter’s hand. The child did not move. The woman stood a moment–maybe considering the benefit of picking up the child to get them moving away from the area but give the child a vantage point that could be startling. The father bent toward the little one, said something. The girl nodded and resumed walking, but her head kept swiveling toward the street and as they crossed and the cars no longer obscured everything, she slowed. The mother picked her up and rushed to make it to the other side before the light changed. To put some distance, too.

The child kept talking, the mother shook her head and spoke back, tried to turn the child in her arms to face the other way and still the child kept turning her head over the mother’s shoulder–looking at the scene on the street: the paramedics were lifting the man on the board onto the stretcher. The family walked faster now that the little one was in arms. I could sense the parents urgency in wanting to get her away.

I could hear them as they walked closer.

“So you are ready to get some ice-cream?” The father, his voice kind but a bit too loud and  strained in the slightly false cheer of worried grown ups that children always pick up on.

The girl nodded, her attention still divided. She looked back. “Why he has a big Band-Aid?”

The neck-brace. It did look like a big Band-Aid from the distance.

“They are just helping him be more comfortable,” the dad responded. The mom looked upset, walked faster.

“He has a big boo-boo?” the little girl looked again.

“Maybe. Don’t worry. They’ll take him to the doctor and make sure he’s okay.”

“He fall down?”


“I don’t want him to have a big boo-boo,” the little girl said, frowning. Then her eyes brightened. “Maybe he want ice-cream too so he feel all better.”

“He doesn’t want ice-cream,” the mother blurted as  they reached the ice-cream store and walked in.

Maybe not the kind that comes in a cone, I thought, but the energy of sweetness from this child I bet already made him feel better, even if he did not know the pigtailed gold-heart who offered it.

child ice cream2

Evening Standard / Getty Images 1956