To the woman with the baby

Before my son was born, I spent months finding the perfect apartment. Clean, bright, airy and safe. I decorated his nursery, following tips recommended in the baby books I was reading. I felt that everything had to be just perfect for his arrival.

Around the same time that I was doing this, a big fence was erected around the empty lot next door. A two-story wooden structure with hundreds of tiny dormitory-style rooms was hastily built inside.

Within days, the rooms were filled with migrant workers from a nearby construction site. Trucks arrived at all hours to pick up and drop off workers, everyone wearing the same uniform blue shirt of their employer.

And then you moved into one of the dormitories, with your baby in tow.

Here we were, both with a newborn son, living next door to each other — but in every other sense, worlds apart.

My son played in his air-conditioned playroom; your son played on the ground outside your room. I walked my son around the neighborhood in his fancy stroller; you walked your son around the same neighborhood in a sling.

There were lots of times I wanted to talk to you, but I didn’t. As the boys got older, I thought about inviting you over for a play date, but I didn’t. I thought about bringing you the clothes my son had outgrown, but I didn’t.

Thinking back on it, I don’t know why I hesitated. Of course there was the language barrier, but more than that, I think it was because I didn’t want to make you feel uncomfortable.

I know your situation wasn’t easy, but you and your son did seem very happy, always surrounded by friends, and with hundreds of aunties and uncles, all living together.

Watching your son playing and laughing, growing and learning made me think a lot about what children truly need. It’s not the ‘perfect’ apartment, the baby-proofed nursery, the air-conditioned playroom or the fancy stroller. They just need to be surrounded by people that love and nurture them.

Thank you for teaching me this lesson, albeit from afar.

The woman next door

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