This was written the the late Michigan fall/ early Michigan winter of 2012. I know I mention that it’s 22 degrees in the story, but that really doesn’t help narrow down the exact date/season in Michigan. It may have actually been July. My children were 6 years, 3 years, and about 22 months.
As I work at Starbucks today, I see a Mama at a table with three kids. A Mama trying to talk on the phone. All three little. All three not yet school-aged. All three at a table with treats, the Mama on the phone. And she puts down the phone to scold a small boy, saying, “Do you see what you did, you just caused that gentleman to move, you are being so loud.” And she warns them. She goes back to her call.
Then that’s it. She’s had enough. She tells the children that’s it, we’re leaving, she puts the small boy outside on the cold pavement, outside the door to Starbucks as she gathers, gathers, telling the other two little girls, big tears rolling down their cheeks, that’s it, you blew it, outside. The little boy comes back in on his own. He was put out with no coat and it’s 22 degrees.
She moves the children out quickly. I am amazed by how quickly, amazed at her Super Mama skills, even as my eyes fill with tears. A prayer rises like a lump in my throat as I, even I, am tempted to judge. I know that I cannot. I have been her. I am her. I know the desperation, the frustration, the loss of control. I know, as my dear friend* Glennon says, I know she is thinking can I not have one single peaceful moment, just one outing that goes as I would like. No, no you cannot.
So different to sit in this seat and watch myself. So different to glance over and notice how beautiful are the children. How sincere are their tears. How unrealistic are the expectations to have a phone chat while your three young children sit quietly in Starbucks.
She looks at me as she leaves and says, “Sorry” as she heads out the door. “Don’t worry about it, I have three, I know it.” That’s all I can get out. All I can get out, through the tears welling and the lump rising, is a prayer for the calm that sometimes inexplicably washes over me, even at my highest moments of frustration. Sometimes it does. And sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I say more words I regret, too angered by my lack of control and lack of calm. Sometimes I see the little eyes and sincere tears and cherub faces and sometimes I see that I am a person too, and how is it right that I have no peace, no sleep, no privacy, no control.
I don’t know the right ways. Spanking, time outs, discipline. I just don’t know. The only thing that rings true is that these children are just so small. They don’t seem small in the height of our panic as Mamas. They seem very, very large. But they are so small. All I know to be true today is that I need to give them the right, the chance, the privilege and wide berth…to be small.
I don’t know the right ways. I’ve blown it as a Mama, in some ways so difficult and painful to recall. I’ve also gotten in right, in some ways so tender and glorious, why, I’d love to share. I’ve taught my children, if nothing less, that I am imperfect, that we are imperfect, that only the One who made them is perfect.
But this. This rings true.
What I Wish I Had Known Before I Had Kids (That I Know Now)…
I wish I had known that my children’s behavior was a language – that their actions and words were telling me something about what they were feeling or thinking. I wish I’d remembered that they did not get up in the morning plotting to do things to frustrate me.
I wish I’d known that meltdowns and explosions usually meant my kids were tired, or hungry, or bored or frustrated themselves. I wish I’d known that they needed an adult to help them find the words to express what was troubling them. But they sure didn’t need a frustrated adult.
I wish I’d known more about child development, brain development and behavior. I wish I’d known that growing up is a slow process. I wish I’d known how each development stage has its own way of seeing the world. I wish I’d known that most times they saw things very differently from me.
I wish I’d listened more to what was true about their hearts and spirits and personalities than worrying about what other people thought of their behavior.”
Dawn Hallman, M.A., executive director of the Dallas Association for Parent Education, dallasparents.org.
Mamas, may we, when we are about to blow it, when we are blowing it, when we are distraught because we have blown it, may we. May we. May we remember what we know to be true about the hearts and spirits and personalities of the babies we have birthed. May we realize, in the midst of the rising flush and emerging sweat, that what we know to be true about our children is MORE TRUE than the behavior they are, in that very moment, displaying. May we look from the true to the more true. May we hold our heads high, gather our calm, wipe their tears, usher them out of the restaurant, the library, the bank, the school, pausing only to turn, one hand on the door, and take a graceful and dramatic bow. Applaud yourselves loudly, Mamas. Get them in the car, then squeeze yourselves tight and say, that.was.amazing. YOU were amazing. No one could have handled that with more style and grace. Super Mama. You have super Mama power.
All my Mama love, on my best Mama day, to you and yours.
*Glennon and I are not actually friends in the way people define friends as two people who KNOW each other. More like, I love her and her work and her writing and her art so much I’ve made her my best friend completely without her knowledge or consent. You understand.