At the bottom of a slide, a mother looked up at her children, helpless. Defeated by her own offspring.
“Boys! Climb down from there.”
“Okay guys, stop climbing up the slide!”
“Do not throw your shoes down! You could hurt someone one.”
Those boys did not come down. They kept climbing. They flung both their shoes off the top.
I have seen that exhausted look before. I have brothers much younger than me whom I watched grow up. They, too, were rambunctious like these little boys. Bursting with energy and horrible ideas without a fear or care in the world. Their personalities were way bigger than their sense of reason or their listening ears. My mother, God bless her, needed all the help she could get–not because she was a bad mother. Not because there was any lack of trying. Simply because, every single attempt to make those boys behave was met with failure.
In my own journey with motherhood, there have been moments of defeat. Those times when my toddler is throwing a tantrum at the grocery store. Or not acting friendly with peers at a playgroup. Some days, we are just struck with a weird twist of horrible fate.
The summer before my daughter turned two, I took her to her first kids’ movie. I sat on the aisle thinking if we needed to leave early, we wouldn’t have to disrupt other audience members on our way out. Toward the end of the movie and snacks, she started to wiggle. She wanted to stand on her seat and was short enough to not block the people behind us, so I let her stand. Within seconds, she flipped over the side of her chair and landed right on her tiny face in the middle of the theater. My winning mama moment was crushed. Even worse, so many people stood witness.
One of the flying shoes lands right in front of me…
“I am so sorry”, the mother of the boys says to me. “They are rambunctious. I’m sorry.”
I remember the Golden Rule, and I realize: the best way I can be helpful is to smile and reassure her that it is okay. And as my very observant daughter stands at my feet watching, I know a display of patience and grace is the best example to set for her. So, I smile at the mother and say, “No, you’re fine; it’s okay.”
All of a sudden, from behind me, another mother starts yelling at the boys climbing up the slide. “Don’t you DARE climb up that slide! That is against the rules!” She shouts. Her own son is waiting patiently at the top of the slide to go down.
Now, both mothers are trying to wrangle the rambunctious boys. They finally slither to the bottom. The other little boy slides down to his waiting mother, who grabs him by the arm and drags him away, yelling about how they can’t play at the park anymore because people are not following the rules and they cannot be around that type of behavior. She continues screaming all the way to her car.
The shoulders of the mother of the rambunctious boys slump further. Her cheeks darken into a deep shade of pink. Noticeably shaken by this sudden turn of events, she persuades her boys to go play on the other side of the park. I assume, to escape the humiliation the other woman just caused her. That’s what I would do, at least. Run out of there as fast as possible.
In fact, when my daughter face-planted in the aisle of a movie theater, that’s exactly what I did. I collected our things and darted out to my car, where I cried alongside her.
My heart sank for this mother. As I stood witness to the encounter, I wondered if she worried I had judged her. Because, me? I would worry.
I want people to see and think and feel that I’m a good mother. And in my moments of defeat, I would want someone to look at me with understanding. Frustrated, I would want bystanders to offer encouragement, kindness, and grace. Misunderstood, I would want to be given the benefit of the doubt. Embarrassed, I would not want to be berated in my defeat. We don’t kick people when they are already down. That is the rule to which we should abide.
That is the rule we should model for our children’s watching eyes.
That being said, I get the argument. I understand the risk of kids climbing slides. I understand caring for a small child who is easily influenced by what they see. Especially the behavior of their peers. I get the difficulty of raising your child to follow a certain set of rules that others are not expected to follow. The root of frustration computes.
But I also understand how it feels to be caught in a bad moment, on a rough day. I get how hard it is to make two hyperactive, young children comply. Does that moment at the park with two little rambunctious boys sum up all that mother is? Is it reflective of the woman she is day in and day out? Should it be? No.
Motherhood is no easy feat. It is hard from both sides of the park. It is rough from the top and bottom of the slide. It’s hard on a bad day. And it’s hard when someone is ruining your good day by acting in a way you don’t agree with. It’s hard when you’re trying to stand neutral by the swings, too. It is difficult to manage our kids, bite our tongues, and wipe away beads of sweat in the heat of the moment. Yet somehow, it’s easy to forget that WE are each other’s village.
It’s easy to forget we are all on the same side.
From one flawed mother to another, I am begging you to try harder to remember the Golden Rule. We discuss it with our children constantly, because it is the most important rule of the playground. But it rings true for us parents, as well. Let’s treat others in the same way we hope to be treated.
When a fellow mom is down, can we put away our extended feet and reach out a hand? Can we compromise and let our children climb up the slide all together? Could we offer reassurance and help collect the stray shoes? Can we teach our kids how to build their own village full of love, grace, and kindness? Because, that, my friends–that, would be golden.