One Bag of Tricks = One Thankful Stranger (and a whole lot of emotion)

It’s crazy how much this topic makes my heart pound and my stomach clench. My body was betraying me when it all went down yesterday and it has done it every time I think about it since, most especially as I try to relate it all to you. Obviously there are some things to DIG IN to here for me. ;)

It all went down yesterday at Target. Zeb and I had just left our mama-son move date (Thor, if you’re curious) and were looking at bedroom furniture ideas for his new room, but of course that meant a detour through the LEGO/YuGiOh section of the toy department first.

As we’re standing there looking at droids, and speeders, and things I can’t remember the name of to save my life, I heard a tiny little guy from one aisle over crying loudly.

Now as a mama, my heart aches when any little one cries, because I understand beneath whatever the behavior is lies a whole lot of real, valid, strong, and often overwhelming emotion. It’s HARD being little, being dragegd around by the world, not able to make any choices yourself, completely at the mercy of your body’s limitations and your mouth’s inability to express itself, and your parent’s moods. (And let’s be honest parents: our moods aren’t usually that wonderful to little ones.)

My heart also aches for the parents, because again let’s be honest: handling a meltdown in the store is hard when all eyes are on you and you might very well have zero idea what’s happening in that little head/heart/body of theirs, while you’re also dealing with what’s happening in your own.

But as a human being, my mind likes to go places without my consent. It likes to create meaning and discern situations and think it knows what it’s talking about.

So when I heard the mom speak through gritted teeth to this little boy who couldn’t have been more than 18 months, and threaten him with the physical pain, public humiliation, and emotional fear of a spanking if he didn’t stop crying, while my heart ached harder, my head wanted to judge.

I wanted to judge this mom for not being patient.

I wanted to judge her for not listening and connecting with her little boy.

And I wanted to “save” this little boy.

So I can’t say I went into this situation with total compassion, but I certainly walked out with it.

I told Zeb to hold on and I pulled out of my purse my Mama Bag O’ Goodies. It’s a little pocket I rarely get to use that holds random, inexpensive, Sanity Savers. Stickers. A Wooly Willy. That kind of stuff.

wooly willy bag o' goodies

Then despite my clenched stomach and my pounding heart and my shaking hands, I walked an aisle over and gently said, “Excuse me.” I spoke to the little boy, unsure if he was of a verbal age or not. And I showed him the awesomeness of Wooly Willy. I showed him how to give him a mustache or hair, and how to hold it so it wouldn’t fall off.

He calmed down, eyes all big and gorgeous with the wonder of a strange, bald woman and this magical little toy, and gently took it from me, engrossing himself.

But it’s what happened next that humbled my big ol’ head.

This beautiful mama, who I hadn’t even done more than glanced at (out of my own fear that she would shoot me daggers) looked at me with eyes of relief and gratitude, and mouthed with earnest and emotion, “Thank you.”

And I was struck. Struck with my own awareness. Awareness that I had somehow in my head, without even realizing it, assumed her to be the “bad guy”, somehow separate from me, mean or angry. That I had created this separation between her and I, both of us mothers, a separation that said “We’re not the same, we don’t think the same, we don’t act the same, we don’t struggle the same.” I had failed to even look at her and so had fail to remember that we are exactly the same, that beneath our struggles we are both deeply conscious of our challenges and deeply desiring whatever it will take to love our children (all children) better.

I’m not a judgmental person. I wasn’t calling this woman names in my head. I wasn’t even really aware of the subtle stories my mind was telling about this woman. And yet my heart pounded because I was unconsciously experiencing those stories nonetheless.

It doesn’t surprise me that I have judgments. We all have judgments. They are the constructs of our mind, created to help us navigate safe versus dangerous, good versus bad, friendly versus stay-the-fuck-away. What does surprise me (other than the strength of my body’s reactions) was how quickly I can forget.

I’m thankful that it didn’t impact whether I approached them, or my kindness to her, but it has been a beautiful reminder to seek and see that love and light first, rather than be surprised that it’s once again right where it always is – within each one of us.

I was pretty touched by her energy. By the love and gratitude and connection I felt with her, mama to mama. So touched that I couldn’t hardly answer her and don’t even remember what I said. I know I whispered something small, something that I hoped conveyed the understanding and empathy I had for her, the love and strength I wanted to pass to her, the hug I wanted to give her, the reminder that she’s not alone.

Then I turned to see my own son, who is beginning to tower over me, standing at the end of the aisle, his eyes on the family with a kind smile, looking like he might have been absorbing it all too.

I didn’t say anything else, didn’t bring it up with Zeb for fear I might cry myself. We just went back to looking at furniture, waiting for my adrenaline to settle down, and pretending like it was no big deal.

But you know what? I think it was a very big deal.

Even when we’re self-aware and conscious of our thoughts, we can still pass judgments on each other that simply don’t belong before we even realize what has happened. Judgments that assume the sum of a person is boiled down to their current behaviors. Judgments that fail to look beneath the surface out of nothing more than righteousness. Judgments that help no one. No one. Not a single person.

If I had chosen to respond to her from the judgment I formed of who I thought she was, I probably would’ve been rude to her (even subtly), triggering her own indignation and strengthening her resolve against anything I might have been offering (and towards any possible thought she might have had that strangers are indeed judgmental asshats).

And if I had chosen to respond to my own fear of her response being just that, I might not have made a beautiful impact on their own mama-son day together. I would’ve lied to myself with statements like “it’s none of my business” or “there is nothing I can do” or “I’ll only make it worse“, instead of reaching out with all the love and empathy I can muster with a genuine desire to leave a positive impression on an otherwise stressful-as-shit parenting moment.

So regardless of how long of an impact I may or may not have had, I know choices like these to be a very big deal. Certainly to my own spirit, and quite possibly to theirs as well.

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