Do you ever get to the end of a week and feel like your sole purpose in living was just to make others feel good about their lives? I had a few moments that had me wondering if that was my *high calling* this week.
It actually started a few weeks ago. This run of, day in, day out, train wreck days. Mornings, I woke up praying that this new day would be anything but a repeat of the previous day. Nights, eagerly I climbed into bed early, thinking, the sooner I go to bed, the sooner I can start a fresh new day. I would be doing great in my day and then… ________ (fill in the blank) – there just aren’t enough *blanks* available to fill-in, and, anyway, I have absolutely no desire to relive each of those moments of each of those days…
I kept looking up and asking God “why, why, why?” On Thursday, it all culminated. I had reached the point where I’d had the house reasonably in order, dishes done, laundry done, rooms clean, floors cleaned, and I’d managed to get school with the kids done a bit early.
As a homeschool mom, I am very conscientious about my *hover rating* in any given day… (1 being “My kids are doing it on their own’, and 10 being “I can tell you exactly which direction each strand of their hair is laying on top of their heads”) I try really hard to be very careful as to what I *hover* over my children about.
Thursday morning, I had already demanded a lot out of them in school. They’d had to redo sentences, catch up on reading from earlier in the week, review several grammar and spelling rules, and catch up on writing penpals. From time to time things come up in a homeschool families life and a *catch up* day is necessary. Usually, they aren’t nearly as fun or laid back… at least not ours, not Thursday.
Knowing that I’d be requiring more of them that particular day in school, I’d told them, before we’d begun, that if we could get it all done, with good attitudes, and do our best then I would take them to the movie in the afternoon.
Excitedly, everyone eagerly worked hard to complete all the tasks set before them that day. We all knew it was going to be more of an intense environment that morning as I’d be bouncing between the kids more and we’d be covering more ground etc… The hours went by and we did it! They were so proud of themselves! I was so proud of myself! It was a great success! No tempers were lost, patience was kept, all self esteems securely in tact. Success!
With school out of the way, it was time to let loose! Time to unwind, relax, and have a good time! This was going to be the afternoon that would turn things around! We were going to go see “Smurfs 2”. We were actually suppose to have gone the day before but we didn’t get done with our chores in time so we ended up having to push it back a day. As goes life with kids and homeschooling.
A glance at the clock told me that, unless I wanted to miss the movie again, I had to speed up the *getting ready* process! Knowing they were all anxiously waiting down by the back door I rushed to get my youngest (3) dressed and down the stairs. I brushed my hair in a quick up-do, threw a coat on, flip flops and headed down the stairs turning lights off as I went. Upon seeing my crew by the back door, I wrestled with my heart and my head…
We have been focusing on hygiene and caring how we look for awhile now… we have checklists, books, reminders… you name it, we got it… but in this moment you would never have known. They were all freshly bathed, however, my son couldn’t find his new coat, they both claimed *hair already brushed*. I contemplated opening my mouth and doing it all over for them, or, maybe, keeping my mouth shut and going.
At this point, all I could think of is that, I’d spent the morning making them cross all their t’s and dot all their i’s in school… write, rewrite, read, reread… and I didn’t want to utter a single critical comment anymore that day. I think constructive criticism can be lovingly, understandably, tolerably accepted for a period of time. But, after a certain amount, then it just seems plain ol’ critical. And that is where, I knew, I was… probably @ a solid 6 on the hover scale. So far, so good.
So there I was, a 6, on the verge of a scale tipping experience. Should I tip the scales or should I back off? I chose to take a neutral approach. I asked each one the following questions: “did you comb your hair?”, “teeth brushed?”, “Did you change clothes?”, “are they clean?” “are your dirty clothes in the laundry?” and if they reply “yes” to those, I ask the most important question, “Do you feel good about yourself, and how you look?” They both replied “yes!” Much to my dismay, but not wanting to risk being an nagging mother, I’d decided, they’d had enough of *that mom* today and went ahead and let them get in the van…
Upon arriving at the mall we realized they had changed the movie times and we were now a whole hour early! I decided to park on the opposite end of the mall so we could walk around, take our time, stop at the indoor play area, and just enjoy our time together before the movie.
Off we went, ready to chill. I had changed my daughter before we’d went in and I had brought 3 extra diapers just in case.
Yes, my daughter is 3, and has decided that:
- “I no go potty, because it no safe for me” regarding the big potty, without the potty training ring.
- “that seat no stick on there, it no safe” regarding the big potty, with the potty training ring on, and stepping stool,
- “Mommy, that potty no work, I no use it” regarding the adorable potty chair, that makes flushing sounds, but doesn’t actually flush…
Yes she has, and can, use all 3 methods like a pro, but “No want to”… so go ahead and judge away… but, if your life goes anything like mine… if you choose to judge -watch out, you’ll end up gaining understanding through experience of your own… fair warning…
Anyway, nothing, and I do mean nothing, was going to ruin this afternoon…
We walked through the mall. Feeling generous, I bought the kids some fudge at the little snack shop – which I had never done before. I even let them throw together their own small bag of jelly beans. Their eyes lit up with delight as they discovered each new flavor of jelly bean, this was such a good afternoon. A much needed, healing afternoon.
We made it to the play area. I decided to let my youngest play for awhile. There were some other parents there with their children and my youngest is as social as they come, so it was a great fit! We take her shoes off and she runs in.
The older kids and I sat picking away at our snacks, chatting and watching my youngest play. I noticed one of the mothers had fixated her eyes on my youngest. So naturally, I wondered what was wrong, had she done something? Had she fallen and I didn’t notice? Was her diaper leaking? Not noticing anything from a distance, I walked over to her and checked her out. Asking her if she was okay, if she fell, if she needed a new diaper, etc… After being satisfied that everything was in order, I stood up turned around and realized that same mother had now fixated her eyes on my son… and then later me… and her face was very disapproving.
I have never been one to care much about what others think, I’ve always been pretty level headed, given people the benefit of the doubt, known my convictions and followed them – very secure in what I was doing, why, and who I am.
That particular day, however, I was completely unaware of just how vulnerable I was. No doubt, warn down from the weeks packed with train-wreck days leading up to this. My daughter asked me “Mommy why is that lady staring at us?” I responded “Maybe she is a very *observant mother* who really likes your coat! It is very pretty!” … She smiled.
My youngest was having such a good time – she was loving, absolutely loving, all these new friends.
My son had gotten up to go see what time it was, and that’s when it happened…
I overheard the *observant mother* lean down and tell her daughter, who was around 2 years old, “that little girl has dirty hair.” Surprised that a mother would even point that out, I turned to see who she was pointing at. Even more surprising, at the end of that long gaze and extended finger was my precious, little, happily oblivious, daughter. My sweet, carefree, beautiful inside and out, girl. I stood there stunned. I looked at the *observant mother* in disbelief, mouth gaping…
Knowing that my daughter had bathed the night before, I sat there puzzled. But she was the only girl left in the play area, and she was the only one in the direction of the pointed finger. I looked over my little one… she had clean clothes on, her hair was brushed, everything was on right side out and nothing was backwards — with a newly turned 3 year old – this was considered success in my book!
What the *observant mother* did not know was that my daughter had bathed the night before.
She did not know that during that bath my daughter had a brief lapse of 3 year old judgement & dumped a large amount of non tear-free conditioner on top of her head and quickly rubbed it in really, really, well. As many parents know from experience, if you don’t get all the conditioner out of the hair, when it dries, the hair looks a little stringier than usual… and that is exactly what this *observant mother* had now noted as “dirty”.
She did not know that I rinsed and rinsed but wasn’t able to get it all out before my daughter started crying “my eyes hurt mommy”
She did not know that I was more concerned, in that moment, about my daughters hurt, than her hair…
She did not know that I’d scooped my daughter out of that bathtub, dried her tears, and sang to her until her “eyes no hurt”.
She did not know that I read her, her favorite book 5 times that night and had a tickle war with her before we said prayers and tucked her into bed.
She did not know…
She did not know, what a good mother I really was… and it didn’t matter, her verdict had already been handed down. I was a neglectful mother.
I sat there pondering how ironic this all was.
Pondering how, my attempt at being a good mom:
- by being more concerned about the hurt than the hair,
- by not criticizing how they looked,
- by not giving them a break-down on my *mom analysis*, (mom analysis – a piece by piece explanation of what exactly I see wrong with what they are wearing and why),
- by not climbing all over them before we left,
- by being more concerned about our relationship than having them look *cookie-cutter* cute,
- by caring that my hover rating stay at a reasonable level,
has somehow been misinterpreted by another mom, as being neglectful.
Life is just so funny, isn’t it? As I was sitting there taking it all in, I glanced up and saw that the *observant mother* had now fixated her eyes, yet again, on my son.
He was now walking back from checking to see what time it was and I remembered… I chose not to hover…
- He was wearing my old jacket because he couldn’t find his new one,
- he wasn’t wearing socks with his shoes,
- the tongue of both shoes were sticking up in between the straps,
- he had one pocket pulled inside out,
- his hair, although clean and *brushed* was unruly, only to be tamed by a good head dunking…
Then I looked at my other daughter… my kind-hearted, spunky, awesome, newly 9 year old with a style all her own. She has taken to the belief that red and pink is the best, most match-edy matching color combo ever, she remains undeterred that no matter the shades they always go together – period. She likes to do her own hair, and she lives to wear her cowgirl boots – pink of course. As I look at her, I observe:
- Hot pink fluffy coat (when we went coat shopping, I tried to talk her into a black one b/c it matches everything – but she insisted pink was fancier – and I decided that her having a fabulous coat in her eyes was more important than my need to be practical)
- Light pink shirt
- Fire engine red leggings
- Sequined dark pink layered knee length twirly skirt
- Signature pale pink and brown cowgirl boots
- Her pink & army green satchel (purse) which she carries everywhere and always holds 2 bottles of water.
- And adorning her beautiful head, a black stocking cap with “Schwan’s” embroidered on it — yep, the home delivery food company that has yummy ice cream 😉 You are welcome Schwan’s, we represent! …regardless of the 70 degree weather…
Finally, I began to look at myself, I observed:
- pony tail,
- little make-up,
- yoga pants (yeah I said it),
- flip flops
- Toe nail polish which badly needed a touch up…
I could feel myself sinking as each new thought came into my head… what must people think of us? I said nothing to my kids as they were oblivious, and in the moment I preferred to keep it that way. They were too busy talking about what they thought the movie would be about, and where they wanted to sit in the theater to be bothered with such nonesense… and it was, indeed, nonsense.
We were sitting by the entrance to the play area. The *observant mother* had gotten her things together, gathered her child and started towards us, about 3 feet from us she looked up at my son, swerved as far as she could to the other side of the entrance, dragging her daughter behind her, and proceeded to exit the play area… venting out an over-exaggerated *sigh* on her way. Giving my son, a thorough look over the entire time… my son looked at me and said “Mom, did you see that? That was weird” …Yeah… it was.
After a period of reflection, I decided that it was a good reminder in the importance of not judging others… we clearly had different priorities that day, we were very different from one another. I do not know if *observant mother* had other children… I do not know what her life looks like… all I do know is that day I observed her to be:
- Tech Savvy – seemed to have mad texting skills
- Fashion conscientious – heels, matching handbag, jewelry, make up,
- One child – with her at least
- Well manicured – Long manicured nails, hair beautifully done
- Worked hard on her looks
What did we have in common?
- both female
- both mothers and
- I’m sure we were both trying our hardest to be the best possible moms we could be!
Our priorities, and mothering, just looked different that day… maybe on another day they would look similar… who knows…
Next, we went onto the theater. “Smurfs 2”, none of us had seen the first one so we didn’t really know anything about the movie. I took my youngest to change her before the movie started. (2 diapers remaining) We got our tickets, we bought popcorn (another first), and proceeded to theater #1. We were the only ones in that showing, which was nice, having a 3 year old who is energetic and sometimes forgets to think of others before announcing her most recent observations.
Midway through the movie my youngest turns to me and says “mommy I need diaper” I change her. Noting, I now have 1 diaper left, roughly an hour of movie to go, and a 20 minute car ride home… looking good!
Five minutes later, my youngest turns to me again “Mommy I wet!” Puzzled, I check her diaper and sure enough – soaked! I change her and sit her back in her seat. (using my last diaper)
30 minutes left in the movie and my kids are glued to the screen! They are giggling and captivated. I had just begun to think of my exit strategy remembering I’d parked at the opposite end of the mall and the mall would, no doubt, be busier with school letting out and all… Out of the corner of my eye I notice my youngest had gotten out of her seat and was taking all of her clothes off…
I said “what are you doing?” to which she replied “I spilled, I wet, I need take clothes off.” Upon further examination I realized she was soaked to the bone… everything, even her last diaper… yep…
Determined to stay till the end of the movie, I wrapped her in my coat and sat her in my lap so as to not disappoint my older kids by leaving early and missing the climactic ending… Persevering in my “good mom” mission…
We made it! Movie done. Me, realizing that I now had to carry my half naked child, wrapped in my coat, through the entire mall, through the parking lot, and to the van. That “let’s park here so we can walk” remark suddenly seemed to be haunting me. Both of my older kids had to make a pit stop at the rest room, my arms were exhausted, my spirits were waning, but my determination was well in tact. We finally reach the parking lot, then the van, got everyone buckled in, the van started, I step on the break to put the van in reverse, I look back and see yet another mother walking toward us screaming… a seemingly very *angry mother*.
Startled, I rolled my window down, she was yelling “Are you trying to kill me? Are you trying to run over my children?” (content heavily edited, of course)
I hadn’t even moved yet, I was so confused, and her children were all taller than me, on the other side of the parking lot, and well beyond the range of my vehicle. I just sat there and listened to her, I couldn’t even speak. I didn’t even know what to say, so I said the only thing I could say “I’m so sorry”.
For what? I still don’t know, it was a very busy parking lot and many cars around me were pulling out as well, so I am sure she just had the wrong car. Nonetheless, she was angry, very angry, and boy did we hear it! I sat in that parking spot answering my kids questions for several minutes afterward about *angry mother*. Their eyes were as big as saucers, they were as perplexed as I was. They couldn’t believe *angry mother’s* anger, they couldn’t believe *angry mother’s* language, and neither could I. We had just gotten into the van, we hadn’t even moved, what in the world is going on with this day?
I prayed before we left that God would just protect our journey home. Forget the extra errands I had on my ‘to-do’ list, forget the milk I needed to grab, and the letters I needed to post… just please get us home safely!
We made it home, I changed my daughter, got dinner out of the way, & our night time routine was well underway. As I gave my daughter a bath that night I was reflecting on our day. As she played innocently with her bubbles and toys in the tub giggling and having full conversations with strawberry shortcake. I thought of the *observant mother*.
I thought what if the *observant mom* could see what was on the inside of this little girl. I began to imagine what she may observe:
- Happy heart
I smiled as I’d noted that, I was sure to remove all soaps, conditioners, shampoo, washes, etc from the tub before I even ran the bath and I took extra care to ensure that all the conditioner rinsed out of her hair.
That night as I scooped her up onto my lap for devotions, and looked at each one of my children as we all took turns reading, I was so thankful. Thankful for who they are, for what great people they are turning into. I was filled with excitement to see what God had in store for their lives. Yes, we have a lot of work to do, but it will all come, and the things that really matter, the heart issues, are all there and coming along beautifully.
Admittedly, I climbed in bed early, in hopes that I could sleep the stink of that day off of me… I jotted down some thoughts in my prayer journal…
- “Lord, thank you for the reminder to not judge others. It was a beautiful reminder of your grace and mercy.”
- “Lord, help me to always remember to extend grace”
- “Help me to remember that sometimes that one encounter you have with another is the only picture of you they will ever have.”
- “Lord, thank you that you’ve given me confidence, it is a gift and I am so thankful.”
- “Thank you Lord for the gift of the *observant mother* today, I needed her to be there — she reminded me of what’s really important in my life”
- “Lord, use those encounters today somehow, to make us all better mothers. Maybe someone needed me to be there today just as bad as I needed *observant mother* & *angry mother* to be there… and if that is the case, thank you for putting me exactly where I needed to be today.
Written below my notes was a prayer for the *observant mother* & *angry mother*…
“Father, thank you for *observant mother* & *angry mother*’s lives. Thank you for the gift of motherhood, of impact, of encounters. Please watch over these mothers and take care of them and their children as they grow. Extend grace, mercy, and a great deal of love upon their lives. Please draw them close to you Lord. I love you Lord, I love *observant mother* & *angry mother* too… thank you for them Lord, thank you.”
Looking back on all of this I smile, remembering all of my “Why, why, why?” questions I’d asked God these past few weeks. Now I look at it and ask myself “Why not me?” Now I am praying that I look beyond and think of all the “did not know”s, that may be, before drawing any conclusions of another…
Thank you Lord for the reminder and for the blessing of perspective…