On those occasions when a parent finds herself out in public with her young child(ren), and it’s a bad day (meaning: crying, screaming, running, throwing and wild abandonment), it’s hard to feel like all eyes aren’t on you. The reality is they aren’t. I have to remind myself often during those times that to the people around me, I am no big whoop, and neither is my melting child. Get my latte and get outta there.
But to the challenging eyes, the eyes that flash “Now what are you gonna do?” when my child ignores my direction and bolts, I have a gentle request for you: Look upon us with compassion, or don’t look at all. You see my boy running circles through the deli, cookie in hand. You see me, chasing, blowing hair out of my eyes, uttering clipped orders through tight lips. You see one moment of my child, of me as a mom—one small piece of a much larger picture.
If you had seen more, even a moment before, you would have seen a 2-year-old boy with one of his best buddies, romping and giggling after having a fun lunch. What you wouldn’t know, is how happy I am that my little guy makes friends and seems to have normal and happy social skills. You wouldn’t be able to tell how grateful I am that I can give him a chocolate chip cookie and not worry about a life-threatening allergy. That the cookie was a special treat because that little boy used the potty for the very first time that morning. You hadn’t seen us the day before, when he accompanied me to the art museum and held my hand every time I asked. You couldn’t have known that he walked through priceless art, eyes wide and hands at his side. That we stopped to watch live music, and he danced in small, controlled circles to the delight of the people watching. That when it was time to leave, I scooped him up, and he wrapped his arms around my neck and buried his face in my shoulder, humming to the mandolins.
My son is so much more than a difficult moment. Yes, I wish he hadn’t terrorized the deli line. I wish I had figured out a way to manage him better. I know I don’t owe anyone an explanation because most people don’t even care. But I do feel the need to defend him to the eyes that were watching, because I wish everyone could understand the larger picture of who he is—a bright, funny, rambunctious, kind, affectionate, curious little human being.
And to my fellow parents out there: If you ever find yourself in one of those tough, public parenting moments, do your best, then leave the scene of the crime. Instead of sitting in your car, ruminating over your failures, rewind until you find a special moment with your child. Keep going until you can see your creativity and love as a parent, until your little one becomes a full, adorable picture that is happy and unique. A picture only you, as his parent, can know.
Finally, a special message to my friend at the art museum: Yes, your runaway stroller nearly crashed into a fragile piece of art. Yes, you were distracted with an ornery toddler. Yes, you were lucky. But don’t beat yourself up. A moment earlier you were showing a quiet, wide-eyed child all the colors of the rainbow.