23 November 2015


I work hard to teach my children to be polite. I teach them to respect others and to be kind. The thing is, they're 4, 2, and 1. Not too young to learn, of course- they're incredibly bright and even more impressionable- but in addition to taking in what I'm teaching, each one of them is also working out how to appropriately handle emotions and frustrations, and how to voice their needs in a world that has little interest in slowing down and listening.

So we have tantrums. We have tears. We have thrashing of limbs and gnashing of teeth. And then we leave the house.

I'm exaggerating.

It's inevitable, though, that upon going out, someone will be hungry. Someone will be tired. Someone will not like the shoes they chose to wear. Someone will be having a hard day. Also, special needs.

Thus, there's meltdowns. This isn't being impolite, by the way. And it's not being disrespectful. This is being a child. This is emotional immaturity.

All the same, they draw sideways glances, straight glares, comments muttered softly in passing, and comments spoken to me directly.

And I don't care. Truly, I don't. Even if I wanted to care, I don't have the energy to waste. I don't give the obnoxious comments any more thought than to think, "Hmm. Well, you're an ass." And maybe I think, "Could you at least hold the door" to those dear souls who can't contain their "Wow. What a handful" remarks.

But as much as I don't care about the negative, I'm incredibly touched by the positive. I was waiting in line to check out at Target the other day. My little boy had been carrying a ball throughout the store, one that I had no intention of buying, but it kept him entertained so I let him hold onto it. I figured it was a step up from the toilet brushes he occasionally holds while I shop.

As was to be expected, he screamed when I put the ball on the belt with the items I intended to buy. He's very loud, not to mention dramatic, but I didn't want to give in. The woman ahead of me was almost finished loading her bags into her cart, so I figured we could hold out. The young cashier looked nervously from me and my crying son to the woman, then back to me again. My son sounded like he was being tortured, by the way, but he was fine, just annoyed at me for taking his toy.

Just as the cashier looked as she was about to cry herself, or give him the ball, the woman turned to me with a reassuring smile and said, "I've been there. You get through it. It gets easier."

She could have given me a disapproving look, or said nothing at all, and I would have gone on with my day just the same. But the fact that she chose to gift me with a kind, uplifting, reassuring comment made my day. I appreciated it so much and couldn't help but think what a difference that would have made had I been on the brink of tears, or a breakdown, as I know so many parents of young children are.

I'm reminded of a similar moment, months ago. We were in the foyer at church, because we were far too noisy to be in the chapel. I was on the couch, trying to keep one crying baby from bothering the younger baby (who'd just stopped crying). Jason was walking with our then three-year-old who was demonstrating her impressively loud yelling skillset. I was exhausted, my head hurt, and I just wanted to get home. I knew we were loud and disruptive, and I avoided making eye contact with anyone.

An elderly couple sat on the opposite end of the couch. At one point, as I was trying to calm one of my children, the older woman caught my eye. "You have beautiful children," she said. "How old are they?" She engaged me in thoughtful conversation for the next few minutes, until she went into her meeting, her husband remaining on the couch.

A short time later, as we finally rounded up our crazy and gathered up our bags to leave, I caught the man looking at us. "It's a hard few years, isn't it?" he said, smiling kindly. "I remember it well."

It took more of an effort for them to say something than it would have for them to stay silent. Whether they remembered how isolating and difficult the early years of parenthood can feel, or just wanted to be kind, I was so appreciative that they chose to reach out and speak compassionately.

I'm inspired to do the same. It's not incredibly hard to offer a few kind words to someone in line or at church. Even though I don't have to bite my tongue to keep from saying something rude, I can do better to speak up and offer a sincere compliment or encouragement. How much better can our days be if we fill them with positive, intentional interaction, even with complete strangers?

Let's one up Thumper, why don't we?

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