Thursday, November 18, 2010

Getting Caught Parenting

Last night, my kids and I went shopping. We were leaving Carter's, me without a stroller, so basically just praying and hoping that the little ones were following me and not getting distracted by things I didn't want to buy. Just as we reached the door, I noticed a really cute mom with her husband and kids. She was beautiful and looked a little familiar, so I did a (rather obvious) double-take, and just as I caught her eye, I saw her clench her teeth and do the angry whisper-yell at one of her kids. You know what I mean. The "I can't yell in public but I'm so freaking angry with you because you're so exasperating" whisper yell.

She saw me catch her. I was mortified. I knew she was embarrassed, and I wanted to run over and say, no really, no judgment here. I know that look, those teeth, the way anger boils over in a way it wouldn't for any other person in the whole world but can't be contained when a three-year-old won't try on the jacket already. I wanted to assure her that I do it too. That I possibly did it this morning. That it was a complete accident that I "caught" her, and that I wouldn't have if she hadn't had such pretty hair (that part sounds creepy), and that I. Totally. Get It.

I managed an empathetic half-smile and high-tailed it out of there to church.

We were having our Thanksgiving Dinner for our ESL students and their families. (More on how awesome this was later). We were supposed to bring our families, but Ben was out of town, so I was accompanied by three hungry kids who don't always respond well to chaos, noise, or you know - expectations of obedience.

I sat them down at a table and my pastor sat with us. Deep Breath. I mean, as if the pressure wasn't on already, this is the man who is preaching a series on Jacob's dysfunctional family brought on by wretched parenting.

Just in time, Simon decided to bury his head in his arms and refuse to talk to anyone. Talya and Charlie just put on a great show of backwashing into the same water bottle. Gross. Simon pulled it together and ended up carrying on pleasantly with our pastor while I tended to the little ones and made really sorry attempts at conversation.

But then disappointment hit. Something he wanted, asked for (nicely), and the answer was no. Crying, whining, oh great, here starts the public parenting. I have no idea what I said to him, but we got through it. We got through dinner. We got through a program and the only casualty was one man after Charlie grabbed an apple from the centerpiece and chucked it at his head from across the room.

I had help from several people, and we made it through the night successfully.


On the way home, I got an email from my pastor. He took the time to encourage me in my parenting - not the judgmental kind of encouragement that I recently got from an off-duty police officer - but genuine, specific, grace-filled compliments.

The compliment was surrounding Simon's meltdown and me getting him through it, and the truth is the compliment was not entirely deserved. The truth is that I have no idea what I said to him and that I was thinking in my head "God, please let whatever I'm saying work, because I have no plan B if it doesn't."

The truth is that it didn't matter. He knew that that one exchange was not the sum total of my parenting, just like I know that the whisper-yell was not the sum total of the Carters-Mom's parenting. What mattered is that I'm often caught in the angry looks, the impatient sighs, the annoyed threats. Last night I was caught in a moment of grace, and it did wonders for my heart. It made me want to start watching people more, and want to say something when I catch them doing great.

(But I probably won't because I'm generally scared of talking to people I don't know. But growth can happen here, too, I guess.)


Erika Duke said...

I just wanted you to know that I noticed Charlie's ability to throw when I had him in childcare for the prayer this month. He and Witten should totally get together. They could do some serious damage :).

DrMommy said...

I took Riley to McDonald's for lunch one day, and he amazingly held it together. The mom at the next table was having a delightful lunch with her two kids, who ate politely, talked in inside voices, and in general seemed to be just a nice little family.

I had to say something -- I went over to her and complimented on her kids, and said, "You know, it is really nice to see kids out with their parents who don't act like barbarians. Thanks for that."

Maybe her kids are demon-possessed 90% of the time, but I hope my compliment boosted her like Pastor Mark's did for you. ;-)