I almost didn't write this post. It has potential to paint me (or my kids, or my parenting) in a bad light, and it's downright embarrassing. And then I remembered - I'm not alone. So, I'm hoping this hits home for somebody somewhere and reaches whomever it might be meant for. You're not alone.
It was just a few days ago...
"Well, if somebody would watch their children like they are supposed to, this wouldn't happen!" the grandfatherly fellow sitting catty-corner to me in Chick-Fil-A huffed and puffed. His remark was precisely directed towards me like a laser beam, though his eye contact hit the floor in disgust.
"I'm sorry, sir? Did something happen? Did my daughters do something?" I was instantly offended and embarrassed and I didn't have a clue what he could be talking about.
He turned toward me, hugging his around-2-years-old granddaughter in his arms who appeared no worse for the wear from what I could tell. It was clear, however, that something had him incredibly agitated.
"I don't know, but there's two girls in there who were spitting on my granddaughter!"
Fear rose as my heart sank. As much as I didn't want to admit it, the only two little girls left in the Chick-Fil-A play area were my own flesh and blood.
"I am SO sorry. Please wait a minute." I pleaded with the older man who was getting ready to leave with the sweet little wide-eyed victim on his lap.
Let me tell you, hell hath no fury like a mother whose little ones make her look like a bad parent by behaving like little heathens. My mind instantly flooded with questions about what had really happened and yet, I couldn't help that it did sort of seem like something my little angels might attempt. Ugh.
I burst into the play area and with the growl of a mother bear, I demanded my childrens' immediate presence. Matilda emerged from the plastic-tube-castle-of-fun first, and so I yanked her outta there quicker than a wedding ring from garbage disposal.
"Did you spit on that little girl?" I felt like my voice had reached new depths of seriousness. Matilda knew I was not kidding around. She nodded.
I firmly placed her little body in front of the little girl and her grandfather. "WHAT DO YOU SAY?" I bellowed.
"I'm sorry" came the tiniest of timbre out of the mouth of my babe.
I got in her face, right then and there. "You NEVER spit on anybody. You are never unkind to anyone. Do you understand? Now, go sit down. We're done. We're leaving."
As Matilda climbed up into the chair at our table, I looked up at the grandfather, who I think was stunned more by the scene of the apology than the actual altercation.
"Thank you," said the grandfather. And they left.
As I retrieved my other toddler from the plastic pit of germs, I could feel the adrenaline rushing throughout my body. I was so disappointed. I was so embarrassed. I was so MAD. I was so offended. I was so worried. I was so SAD.
The long ride home was fraught with mixed emotions. We calmly talked through what had "really" happened, and I gave Matilda a chance to explain herself. By the time we got home, I was still choked up over the whole mess of it. I wanted to handle this correctly. I wanted to make sure my child understood all sides of this story. And I wanted to drill into her the impact she can have on others and empower her to use it for GOOD. Good grief.
While my babes went down for nap time, I had a chance to think. Was this really about Matilda? Was this really about making sure she understood? Certainly. But, was there more to it than that? After all, wasn't I also mad and offended about not being able to explain myself to that grandfather? Why did it bother me so much that he didn't know the whole story - that he would never know the whole story?
Here's the whole story:
On multiple occasions, we have had to discipline our girls for "spitting" at each other. It's not exactly spitting - I mean, there's no liquid or drink in their mouths or anything - it's just putting your lips together and blowing and making a silly sound. To them, anyway. To us, it's annoying and rude. Sure. But, when you put it in context, it's just two mischievous sisters goofing around. Yes, we tell them not to do it, but it is a rather mild offense in our home and usually knocked off after a warning (or two).
On this particular day, my girls were being extra-rambunctious. Oh, and it was only 9am. I needed to get them OUT of the house, but it was dreadfully humid outside. They suggested Chick-Fil-A, and the thought of an air conditioned play area where they could be confined and minimally supervised was extremely appealing to me. I set up camp at a table RIGHT outside the play area where I could completely see them, but their sound was curtailed. I brought my iPad along to do some reading for homework while I kept an eye on them. Yes, I understand this could appear very slacker-mom-ish...but, I know my girls and my hearing and sight on them was a-plenty, I assure you.
Matilda explained herself immediately to me after "the incident". She said "But mom, I was just being so funny. I thought it was funny!" Sigh. Knowing how she and her sister are, I can definitely imagine how they egged each other on and then, being the extremely boisterous and social types that they are, wanted to include EVERYONE in on the fun. The poor little girl never had a chance - she was pegged as a "new friend" by the Pardy girls from the get-go and just ended up cornered in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Now...I definitely explained thoroughly to Matilda afterward how "Being funny means EVERYONE is having a good time and laughing. Hurting someone's feelings is NEVER funny." and so forth. But, all in all, it was clear to me that her intentions were pure while her execution of the joke was very poor. (First rule of comedy, Til...know your audience!) Still, she was punished, and "good intentions" never get you off the hook in the Pardy home. Enough said.
I had never before been a position where my child was the bully. I have been the parent of the child who was bullied, however, and that is nearly equally as frustrating. However, this situation shed new light on the stressful scenario.
I don't mind telling you another strategic detail of this story. The family of the grandfather and his granddaughter were not white (though I'm not disclosing any more than that because it is irrelevant). And, I bring this up for a VERY specific reason.
When he made his comment regarding my parenting, it added to the social awkwardness that invisibly already existed. The situation became instantly uncomfortable. I don't know about you, but I don't interact with elderly non-white men on a usual basis. And I'm just going out on a limb, but I'm gonna guess this gentleman doesn't encounter too many youngish hipster white moms like myself.
All this to say, I can attempt to understand his reasoning for not just confronting me about the situation, no matter how much I wish that he would have handled that situation differently. I couldn't help but think, "Just TELL ME TO MY FACE what happened!" in the moment. But, looking back and putting myself in his shoes, I probably would've done what he did too and passively addressed the situation in an extremely stern and obvious way.
Here's my point: It would have been a LOT easier for me to get pissed off, turn my back, and wait the 10 seconds for them to leave. It would have been a LOT less uncomfortable for me to ignore his remark and justify the dismissal since he didn't know the "whole story".
But, I don't live in a world where these uncomfortable barriers are going to disappear without ACTION. So, I took action. I stepped in. I took the chance to embarrass myself in a split-second and decided it was worth the confrontation in order to reach out and make things right. This isn't because I'm extra-wise or super-insightful (again, none of this even registered with me until hours later) but, because I felt the opportunity present itself and it was what I would want to have happen if the tables were turned.
I'm not raising bullies. And I'll never get the chance to tell that gentleman how loving and sweet my little hellions really can be. He will never know that these silly girls are raised in a home where we talk to them about equality and compassion and the love of Jesus. He has no idea that I was doing homework about studying racial inequality in the Family Life Cycle (no joke)...but, one thing is for sure: he didn't leave brokenhearted and angry or without recognition.
Here's the thing. All that "whole story" business - it just doesn't matter. The entire reason I even share it with you is to bring you up-to-speed on the full context of the situation. I'm guessing several of you have been in similar circumstances; and, if not, then you might be someday soon. All of our kids are gonna hurt other kids' feelings (intentionally or unintentionally) at some point. That's life.
But, just like it "didn't matter" that Matilda didn't intend on hurting that girl, it truly "didn't matter" that the grandfather knew the whole story. The hurt here and now is just about all we can handle. The good news is, it's not so entirely outside of our grasp to make a difference.
The next time I'm in an uncomfortable situation where my impulse is to dodge the confrontation, I'm going to do my best to take the leap and reach out and do my best to destroy that wall of social barriers. I want to plow through those inhibitions with the compassionate might that only God can grant me.
Yeah, it was my kid who was guilty. Yeah, it made me "look bad" in the moment. Yeah, it was mortifying at the time.
But, as my little girl has repeated the experience back to me and reiterated the lessons that she's learning through it, I'm motivated to remember that I'm raising more than just a silly little girl.
I'm not raising bullies...I'm raising bulldozers.