Sunday, January 17, 2016
In the Heat of the Moment...
I was at Chick-fil-A yesterday with my youngest. We had our nuggets and traded our book/toy in for a bowl of ice cream (I always pause and wonder if the book on koalas is more important than the ice cream but then I laugh to myself and go through with the frozen Heavenly drug deal), and he wanted to go into the Stinky Feet Room for a playtime with the random strangers he calls friends. (That's a whole other chapter in this book.)
I sat in the room encased in plexiglass, subconsciously feeling like a snob for thinking, "Ew" the entire time at the smelly sock feet fragrance, when a dad sitting next to me said, "It stinks in here," and I felt less judgy. Thirty minutes or so came and went, as did that many children. I saw scuffles, kids stuck in tunnels, a micro-version of hide-and-go-seek, a few big siblings helping youngers get their shoes on, and of course, that ONE child.
He had played a while, clearly a little younger than the average age in there at the moment, but old enough to play alone without his mom. She sat near me, watching him and probably catching her breath for a few minutes, blissfully happy that she wasn't being touched and willing to put up with the smell of a toddler locker room to get the uninterrupted spa-equivalent time of sitting alone on a bench. As it always does, time came to an end and she told Little Preshy it was time to go. He sullenly came down the slide one last time and she went to grab his arm to put it in the sleeve of his jacket when all-toddler-hell broke loose. He screamed. He kicked. He yelled. He did my favorite "Double Your Body Weight and Go Limp" trick. There was weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. Then, in his rage and flailing, he bumped into me. The mom looked at me for a quick and embarrassing, "I'm sorry" and kept wrangling the little Mike Tyson with all her might. In our brief exchange, I felt what she felt- what we've all felt in those moments, and honestly, I wanted to cover her with a blanket to protect her from the judging eyes around us. She wanted to disappear completely, but who doesn't while in the throes of war, as grenades are being launched at your very head?
What I wanted to say was:
Dear, Precious and Embarrassed Mommy,
I don't know why putting on his jacket escalated into a full-on fight for you, but I get it.
I've been you more times than I can count.
I've been the mom with the child rolling around like he's on fire in the aisle of Target. I've been the mom with a screaming newborn on an airplane. I've been in the same aisle with the Perfect Mom and I've seen her cutting looks when my five year old daughter told me, "I WILL get that Barbie before we go home today." I've also been openly whispered about for disciplining my child in public. I was once told by a server in a restaurant that my baby was "bothering others" by crying because she got hand sanitizer in her eye. (We were in a super casual pizza place and I was drinking Pepsi out of a paper cup. Are you kidding me?) I've also had to push a grocery cart so full it was rounded over with just my one hand, because my toddler screamed incessantly every time his butt hit the cart seat and I felt the condescending eyes of "That child should sit down because you told him to" even though he was one.
What I want to say to you is this, dear mommy.
You don't owe me an apology for just trying to make it through this moment in time.
I don't get to judge your parenting, period. But I especially don't get to judge it by the chapter I walked in on.
What I do know is there are ten million variables that led to that meltdown. Mainly because Threenagers happen.
What I don't know is anything at all about his sweet little life.
I don't know his favorite thing to eat.
Or why he was wearing an Easter bunny shirt in January.
I don't know what he ate for lunch, even though you were a few tables over from me.
I don't know his favorite color, if he sleeps with a blanket, or what his bedtime fears are.
I don't know what he's allergic to, if he was sick that day, or if he likes Power Rangers.
I have no idea if this tantrum was out of the ordinary for him or if you go to bed frustrated and broken hearted every day by a pattern of bad behavior.
I don't know if you're just now entering the Threenager stage or if he is just small for his age.
I don't know if you were having an off day with him or if this was just par for the course.
I wondered if you needed me to say anything else to you or just let you be invisible like you wanted to be in that moment.
I didn't see where he woke up that morning and I have no idea where you'll sleep tonight.
I don't know what his favorite gift was for Christmas or if he was dealing with the stress of you and your husband fighting. I don't know if you're happily married or blissfully single. I don't know if he is being strong willed or simply mad because there were pickles on his sandwich and he doesn't do pickles.
I don't know if he is acclimating to a new home or if he has a swingset or recently said goodbye to his favorite dog.
Most importantly, I don't even know his name.
What I do know is that he matters. This moment matters. YOU matter. And the reality is, there is way more to that moment than I could possibly gather in the heat of the battle. Your little boy bumped into me. Yes. Did it ruin my day? No. And if I can give you one piece of advice from this mom who has been there, it's this.
If it ever happens again, be present.
In that moment, however you have to face it all, be present.
Take a deep breath. Ask God for His grace. Get on your knees. Look him in the eye. Grab him and hold him close. (Side note: whispering in a child's ear is MUCH scarier and more effective than shouting. Trust me on this.) Give yourself permission to pretend the two of you are all that matter in that moment in time. People will judge you. Unfortunately, it just happens. But you can't win your son's heart and appease the crowd at the same time. So in that moment, when you feel like you've kicked open a bed of emotional fire ants, choose him.
Choose your son over a group of people who will go home to their imperfect lives with their own set of mistakes and choices. Choose your son, who wants you to fight for him- and know that sometimes in doing so, it will feel like you're fighting against him. Choose your son over the thoughts that are flying through your head of what people are thinking about you in that moment. We're all passing through here. And some of us were given spicier little gifts than others.
Choose your son. Follow through. Finish it.
Choose. Your. Son.
You're not alone, Momma. Not even for a second.
Your heart will break sometimes along this journey. And sometimes, your cheeks will be in a constant shade of embarrassed crimson. Just think of it as a little makeup bonus because if you're like me and in a fast food restaurant's playplace, you probably didn't put any on to begin with.
Then, get you a coffee to go and sit down with this chapter and remember that in the mountains of North Alabama, I am drinking a cup in cheers to you for fighting another day for the heart of your child.
You are loved.